Book Review: Slipstream – Book #1 of A Crisis of Two Worlds

Slipstream was a debut science-fiction novel written by Michael Offutt published in 2012. It was the first book of the A Crisis of Two World series. I came upon this book on Goodreads because I was searching for a good LGBT-themed science fiction to read and it was one of the good ones. I didn’t manage to buy it because it’s not available in store here. It was only after I got the Kindle app on my phone before I bought the e-book.

The book is about a teenager who discovered he had the ability to manipulate space-time after a car accident. And that was in addition to his innate ability to fix situation that have gone bad. As the story went on, we will see his talents with the sciences and mathematics and how he used those knowledge to help him navigate the world.

For a start, I like the writing style of the author. It’s concise, easy to read and does a good job of showing what’s going on. And there aren’t any words used that forced me to stop and use the dictionary, which will pull me out of the fiction world. That’s something I hate.

The second thing I enjoyed was the story. The story started out showing a teenager, Jordan, navigating through high school, struggle with drug use, having to deal with dreams and the drama from sharing those dreams with his sister. This help establish the brother-sister relationship that was way more interesting than the one I have in real life.

Then a car accident happened and it sets off a chain of events that put Jordan, who discovered he had the ability to manipulate space-time, his sister and a stranger, known as Kolin, in an alternate Earth that an apocalyptic event which wiped out most life due to a nuclear test gone wrong. By now, I’m truly hooked because I’m interested in how societies turn out on an alternate Earth that suffered some kind of world-changing event. And I love stories about people having special abilities. The inclusion of cybernetics, fantasy-related ideas like vampires and succubus further made the world the story is set in interesting.

And after arriving on alternate Earth, or should I say parallel Earth, Jordan and his sister were recruited to help bring down Shadow, the half of the AI that gone mad. To achieve that, both of them had to undertake various missions with the people who work with Light, the other half of the same AI. This is where I knew I wasn’t going anywhere else as I love a good AI-related story. The book also reminded me of my favourite movie, i,Robot, where a conflicted AI ultimately resort to taking power away from humans due to the wrong conclusion drawn from the Three Laws of Robotics.

And during one of the missions in the book, the characters encountered a monster. To me, monsters in science fiction are aliens or rogue AIs, not a monster monster you typically find in Japanese monster movies. And I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s just delightful to see how well it fits.

The other thing I like is how the relationship between Jordan and Kolin unfold. Even though this is the first fictional male-male relationship story I’ve read, I can tell the pacing wasn’t too slow or fast. The attraction and ultimately love for each other didn’t come across as fake or pretentious. And the way the two of character struggled with the potential truth and the discomfort arising from being judged that they are queer, and how they actually feel about each other throughout the story made me sympathise with them.

But the book isn’t without its own flaws.

Other than Kolin and Jordan, the remaining characters seemed boring and doesn’t really resonate with me. For characters like Kathy, Jordan’s sister, she looked interesting at first but after a while, she started to look like she was an extra and came across as an enigma because there wasn’t much shown about her personality or thinking. There were also attempts to show certain amount of closeness or intimacy between some of the characters but those actually felt weak and not as memorable.

The end of the book actually felt like it was kind of rushed. The fight scenes ended too fast. The enemies, although made to look like they were invincible and powerful initially, went down very quickly. Finally, the reveal of Jordan and Kathy’s origin just make me feel a little meh.

So I will give the book a 3.5/5. As for whether I will read the next book in the series, I can’t decide yet because I got myself the Greg Mandel series by Peter F. Hamilton on Kindle and would prefer to finish that first.

The Tainted Forbidden Love – Chapter 5

Dexter was out in the woods for a stroll when he heard the sound of leaves cracking under someone’s feet. He turned around but didn’t see anyone. At first he thought it was just some animals and continued with his stroll. A few more steps, he heard the cracking sound again, forcing him to spin around only to see brown and green that was the forest. He narrowed his eyes as he scanned his surroundings. There was no one there. He swallowed a lump of saliva and gripped the strap of his messenger pouch around his body tighter. He thought about being hunted by aliens or food for some animals lurking in the woods and the nearest help was at least two hundred meters back the way he came. Usually, he would have his afternoon strolls within the five hundred meter wide buffer zone established by the military around the camp. He got tired of being stopped by soldiers from time to time and was bored of the scenery, so he went further into the woods. But he also understood the purpose of the buffer zone was to give the military enough time to react should any alien ever came close. Drones and soldiers patrolled it twenty-four by seven and that meant he would encounter either the soldiers or drones every so often, which kind of defeated the purpose of taking a stroll in the first place. He wanted to clear his head and get away from people. He heard another cracking sound coming from his right and he turned to see no one was there. There were more cracking and crunching sounds but this time they sounded like they were coming from everywhere. He started sweating and regret was settling in. He re-oriented himself towards the direction of the camp. Another cracking sound and he started running.

He ran past a thick tree to his right, not noticing who was hiding behind it. His heart nearly thumped out of his chest when an arm wrapped around his waist from behind, pulled him back while another hand went around his mouth to prevent him from screaming. He felt his back and head pinned against someone’s body. He tried to pry the hand away from his mouth and pounded on the arm to get the person to let him go, all the while never looking up to see who it was. He couldn’t as his head was tightly pinned against the chest of whoever’s behind him. Tears started rolling down his cheek and landed on the person’s hand.

The unidentified person whispered in a low voice, “I’m sorry. I’m gonna let you go now. Please don’t scream, ok?”

With fear being the primary emotion and overwriting his rational mind, Dexter thought the voice sounded familiar. All he wanted was to get away. So he forced a nod and started running as soon as he was free, not even turning around to see who it was.

“Dex! Dexter, stop running!”

Dexter froze when he finally recognised the voice. He turned around and saw who it was standing by the tree. He stormed towards the person with arms swinging back and forth, and his jaw clenched. He shoved Shane who stumbled backwards a little, “What the hell was that?”

Mildly surprised by Dexter’s strength, Shane gestured with both hands trying to placate Dexter, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I was just playing with you.”

“Fuck you, Shane. That wasn’t funny. You have no idea how scary that was!” Dexter started sniffling. “I thought I was going to die in the hands of some humans looking for food scraps, be used as a sex slave or get rape again!” Tears started rolling down his cheeks as the memories of what his father did came flooding back.

Shane went closer to pull Dexter towards him before wrapping his arms around Dexter’s body. Dexter buried his face into that broad, chiseled chest and started crying. Of all the words Dexter said, rape was the most prominent one to Shane’s ears. He had never once heard his boyfriend mention anything about it.

“Hey, I’m here. I will make sure nobody ever lay a finger on you ever again,” Shane’s right hand went up and caressed the back of Dexter’s head, running his fingers through that thick mop of hair. He was suddenly aware of how small Dexter actually was and never really seemed to grow any taller especially for a teenage boy still in puberty. Despite having eaten slightly better meals provided by the military, gone for health checkups and taken supplements, he was still that scrawny kid from before the alien invasion.

But that’s just the way Shane liked it.

They had grown a lot closer over the last few weeks and people rarely see one of them without the other. During this time, the dynamics between the two also settled into something that was not dissimilar from that of older and younger brother. Shane, being the older, one was always leading and very protective but that didn’t mean he was more mature on certain things. He tends to let his fists or sheer size do the talking and Dexter had always been there to stop him from going too far. And never once did Dexter accused him of being unruly, unreasonable or immature. It was almost like Dexter had seen through that facade of his and knew how broken he was. And he still hadn’t forgiven himself for how he treated Dexter in the past and was doing everything he could to make up for it.

At night, it was always Dexter doing all the caring. Shane never quite forgot what he saw or experienced while he was trying to get to school and nightmares consistently haunted him. He always mumbled in his sleep and cried out from time to time. The worse he thought he did was when he woke up violently covered in sweat to see Dexter looking at him with a cup of water in hand and a towel. He only went back to sleep after Dexter climbed into bed with him and they cuddled. Come morning, they pretended nothing happened at night and went about their day activities.

Dexter unburied his head and looked up at Shane with pleading eyes, “Don’t ever do that to me again.”

Shane grew mellow on the inside and revealed a soft grin, “I won’t. I swear.”

Dexter gave a slight nod and Shane kissed him on the top of his head.

“I’m gonna continue with my stroll. Do you want to come?”

“Why not. There’s nothing to do anyway.”

They released each other. Dexter took the lead, heading deeper into the woods with Shane trailing just a couple of steps behind. After flattening countless undergrowth, they came upon an old man-made path and decided to follow it until they reached a wooden cabin. From the outside, it looked big enough to house a family of four. On first sight, it looked like it was abandoned judging from how tall the grass around the cabin had grown. It was like no one did any maintenance work. To be sure they weren’t trespassing, they searched the area around it first before taking peeks into the cabin through the windows. Given how dark it was on the inside, they couldn’t see far. On the outside, they also didn’t find anybody except for the spot a couple meter west of the cabin where a vehicle of some sort had parked. They both came to the same conclusion after seeing the shape of the stunted foliage took. Satisfied that they were all alone, they tried the door and were surprised that it was unlocked.

Shane was first through the door and found himself recoiling from the strong musty odour. It felt rather damp inside too. He called out to see if there was anybody home. Silence. Dexter took it as a signal to enter only to see Shane putting his hand out Dexter’s chest, signalling stop. Shane didn’t want Dexter to come in just yet as he didn’t know for sure if it was safe enough. What if there were aliens? What if some violent scavengers were hiding in her? He called out again. When only silence greeted him, he felt safe enough and signalled Dexter to follow in.

They left the front door open to let in more of the afternoon light with hope the musty smell would go out the same door while they searched around for a light switch as it was not by the main door. If not the light switch, at least something like a torch or lamp to light up the interiors would suffice. It didn’t take long before Shane found a switch by the fireplace. He flipped it.

The fireplace lit up immediately followed by the single strip of LED light above the couch.

The square living room had two set of two-cushion couches arranged by side-by-side at a ninety-degree angle. The grey couches themselves looked like they haven’t been sat in a while with a thick layer of dust on top. A single dark-oak coffee table was between the couches and the fireplace. On top was a white table runner that spanned the length with a small pot of fake plant placed right in the middle. Along the wall opposite the fireplace were some pictures of the family that owned the place. Beneath those pictures was a two-door modern-style wooden cabinet.

Adjacent to the living room, directly opposite of the main door, was the kitchen with an island marking the boundary. On the left of the living room was a single hallway leading to the bedrooms.

Shane and Dexter explored the rest of the house and flipped on any light switches they found.

There were three bedrooms. Two of them had beds and were well-made. Unlike couches, the beds looked like someone had cleaned them due to the lack of dust. The cabinets and wardrobes on the other hand were cleared of any belongings.

“Maybe we could stay here for a while and rest up. Just the two of us,” Dexter said in a nonchalant manner.

“Alright. Let me lock the main door first. I don’t want anyone to burst in without warning.”

Dexter nodded in agreement and made his way into the first bedroom on the right. He slapped one side of the bed that was in the middle of the room against the east wall to stir up any dust and fanned the air with his hands. Satisfied, he sat on the bed and took a couple of sips from the small bottle of water in his messenger pouch.

He took off his messenger pouch and placed it on the bedside table before lying down. He straightened his legs and placed one over another while he crossed his arms over his chest, staring straight up at the ceiling. His mind started wandering and didn’t hear Shane come in.

Shane put down his backpack by wall, climbed up the bed from the other side and laid beside Dexter in a similar manner except for the arms. He placed them behind his head.

“Shane.”

“Yes?”

“What happened to you before the school?”

Shane sneaked a glance to his right to see Dexter looking at him with puppy eyes. It was one of those I want to know how are you conversation. Shane wriggled his jaw and sucked the inside of his cheek.

“I don’t feel like talking about it…I’m…I’m not ready,” Shane took in a deep breath, “What about you? What was that in the woods?”

Dexter stayed quiet long enough until it was getting awkward between them. Shane was getting up to leave when Dexter spoke, “My step-dad raped me at least once a week ever since I turned thirteen. Before that, there were a lot of inappropriate touching when my mom wasn’t looking. He even watched me as I sleep”

Shane laid back down, arms straightened by his sides, speechless. He was horrified and embarrassed. It made him even more guilty. I’m such an asshole! All because he wasn’t ready to accept who he was.

“I’m really sorry. I didn’t know.” His voice suddenly hoarse and weak.

“It’s ok. It’s in the past. My dad is dead so he can’t hurt me anymore.”

Shane’s tongue started licking his teeth and the inside of his cheek because his mouth felt dry. He took a deep breath while recollecting what happened to him. He knew keeping quiet about what happened wouldn’t be fair to Dexter since his boyfriend shared something so private about himself. The most private one since they got together.

“During my journey to the school, there were things I saw that can’t be unseen. Yeah…There were the usual battles between the aliens and soldiers. At first I struggled to hold myself together. Then it got easier as I found myself caught in more of those battles and escaping. I hid for hours and used whatever empty paths I could find. In a way I guess…I was lucky.

“It didn’t take long before I stumbled upon…” Words refused to come out of Shane’s mouth as the memories of what he saw came flooding. “Stumbled upon…” He repeated those words several times and felt his throat tightened. He swallowed a lump of saliva to clear his throat. Still no words.

“Stumbled upon what?” Dexter turned to see his boyfriend sweating and face turning red. He grimaced a little from concern.

“aliens resting and dinning…”

By now Shane who was hyperventilating, his face completely red with cold sweat droplets forming all over the forehead, hands clenching the bedsheet so tightly that veins were about to pop out. Ideas started running through Dexter’s mind about what the aliens were dinning on. Rats? Cats? Dogs? Humans?

“There were bodies…many headless…” Shane took in another deep breath, “strung up by their feet…most were children…no…teens…no…I don’t know!”

He curled up into a ball, faced the wall, and started crying.

Dexter moved closer and hugged Shane from behind like a koala bear albeit a little awkwardly because of their size difference. He kissed the back of his boyfriend’s neck before resting his head on top.

“It’s ok. It’s over now,” Dexter whispered softly.

They laid in that position until Dexter no longer felt his left arm as it was pinned underneath Shane’s body. By then, Shane had mostly calmed down and tried to straighten himself, making Dexter release his grip in response.

Shane turned around to face his boyfriend and hug him, looking straight into those brown eyes. He caressed Dexter’s hair before revealing a gentle smile. A hoarse voice came out of his mouth from all the crying, “Do you know you are really cute?” He could see Dexter’s face redden almost instantly. “And I just can’t say sorry enough for what I’ve done to you in the past. It’s still hangs over me.”

“Shane. Stop. I have already forgiven you for quite some time now. We should move forward and stop dwelling on the past. Can you at least promise me that?”

Shane felt relieved at first then warmth inside knowing now the size of Dexter’s heart. He responded without considering, “Yes. I promise.”

“Good,” Dexter kissed him on the lips, pulled his head back slightly only for them to stare at each other straight into the eyes. As though on cue, Shane’s head leaned closer and caught Dexter’s top lip between his own. Dexter returned the favour. Their mouths, soon, was all over each other’s and tongues swirled. As they kissed, they began to feel as though the temperature around them was rising. Their breathings increased in rate and started sounding like hissings. They both felt their hearts thumping away faster with each passing minute. All from the growing intensity of the desire they had for each other.

It didn’t take long before their hands and legs were entangled. In the heat of moment, Dexter rolled on top of Shane and sat on his toned abdomen, his legs bent by the side of Shane’s torso as though he was kneeling. He bent down to kiss Shane’s face and neck while resting his hands on that broad chest like a cat resting its paws. Shane felt Dexter’s penis becoming hard against his abdomen. Instinctively, Shane wrapped his arms around his boyfriend’s body before his right hand graduated to grope Dexter’s erected penis and massage his balls through the dark-grey jogger pants. It was obvious Dexter didn’t wear any underwear because of how easy it was for Shane to play with those organs. He knew he had achieved the right level of pressure and stimulation when Dexter started moaning. It got intense enough for Dexter to stop what he’s doing, sit up straight with an arched back and let Shane do his thing.

Dexter enjoyed how his sex organs was purposefully yet gently squeezed and massaged by a bigger hand. He couldn’t help but moan louder in a higher pitch. Despite the intense sensation, he maintained enough awareness and self-control to take off his shirt which prompted Shane to peel the front of his pants down to release the erected, upward-pointing penis.

Seeing that five-inch erection and a nearly hairless pubic area made Shane’s eyes sparkle. He grinned. He excitedly pulled down the rest of the pants to the knees. He yanked that erection down like a level and let it flopped back up. The penis glans, though wrapped in foreskin, was sensitive enough to make Dexter winced when it struck his body.

“You like that?” Shane asked with a playful face.

Shane giggled when Dexter slapped the side of his body in response. Then he got off and sat on the bed to take off his pants and shoes, tossing them to the floor.

Shane sat up and started taking off his clothes, tossing them to the ground to the floor too. He also cleared the bed of anything that would get entangled up or dirtied.

They went back into each other’s arms again and started kissing, rubbing their now naked bodies against each other. They rolled on the bed with each other embraced before settling down with Dexter sitting on Shane’s pubic area. He reached down to pull down Shane’s foreskin, revealing purplish yet shiny glans. Dexter sat on Shane’s penis before sitting moving his hips around to rub his scrotum, perineum and anus against the head of Shane’s penis, smearing pre-ejaculate all over. Shane used the chance to stroke Dexter’s penis, pulling the foreskin down and behind the glans before pulling it back up again, using the pre-ejaculate now gathering at the tip of Dexter’s penis as lubricant.

With the knowledge that Dexter was raped by his dad at the back of his mind, Shane didn’t take any more lead as he wasn’t sure if he would do something to upset Dexter. It was Dexter taking charge throughout the whole thing. It was a weird sensation when he found himself loving the fact he’s not taking charge.

Then this boyfriend of his decided to push that eight-inch erection into that small ass, simultaneously delighting and worrying him.

With the penis halfway through his anus, Dexter looked at Shane with an intensity that would burn through any soul, “Fuck me.”

Shane swallowed a lump of saliva before thrusting. At first the motion was slow and deliberate as he didn’t want to hurt Dexter in anyway. After a few more thrusting motions, it became obvious that Dexter was ready. Shane went in harder and faster, making Dexter groaned and moaned louder.

He felt the pulsating sensation in his groin and knew he would ejaculate anytime. He called it out and was ready to pull his penis out when Dexter stopped him by slapping his hand away. Shane ejaculated a moment later.

Dexter’s penis remained rock hard throughout intercourse because Shane was good at it. His prostate gland was stimulated well enough for him to achieve orgasm at the same time as Shane. Ropes of milky white fluid flew out of his penis and landed all over Shane’s body. They started giggling as they looked at each other.

Shane tapped on Dexter’s thighs, “Come closer, let me clean up your willy.”

Dexter pulled out the semi-hard penis from his ass and went closer. Shane pushed himself up to rest his back against the headrest in a semi-sit up position. He took Dexter’s penis into his mouth, started sucking and licking the penis while one of his hand went to massage those low hanging balls.

It didn’t take long for Dexter to reach orgasm one more time, dumping more white fluid into Shane’s mouth. Shane gladly swallowed everything.

They French kissed for a little while longer.

“Time to clean up,” Dexter said with a wink before ruffling Shane’s hair. He got off the bed and picked up his clothes from the floor as he made his way out of the bedroom. He turned right and continued towards the bathroom at the end of the hallway.

Shane sat up and found himself smiling as he watched Dexter walked out. He had never felt so happy before in his life. Once Dexter was gone, he went grabbing a towel he packed earlier from his backpack and took his clothes from the floor. He joined Dexter in the shower.

As the water ran down both their bodies, they scrubbed each other in every crevices and corners. They engaged in another kissing session to end off their shower before towelling dry and got dressed.

After gathering their belongings, they picked the other room to rest in as both of them were exhausted from that sex. Shane climbed into bed first, laid on his back and waited for Dexter to climb in. Dexter rested his head and his right arm on Shane’s chest while Shane wrapped his right arm around Dexter’s body.

Before Shane could say anything, Dexter started snoring and was in deep sleep. He giggled to himself and kissed the top of Dexter’s head before dozing off a moment later feeling content.

Dexter stirred and opened his eyes to find himself looking at a mostly dark room. The sun was halfway below the horizon but it didn’t matter in the forest. The trees were so tall. He sat up and found his stomach growling. It struck him that he hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast.

He walked slowly towards his messenger pouch while feeling his way across the room. He was afraid of falling down. When his toes struck something soft on the ground, he knelt down and started touching. It was the bags. It took a while before he found own. When he did, he rampaged through it searching for a high-energy snack bar he packed. He found a small torchlight first and used it to help him in the dark. When he found the snack bar, he heaved a sigh of relief and undid the wrapper.

The sound of wrapper opening must have woken Shane up, who stirred and groaned in bed. He sat up and saw a small patch of light with some kind of shadow near where their bags were placed.

“Dexter?”

“Yeah,” Dexter responded and went back chewing. He pulled out another snack bar and went over to the bed with the torchlight and snack bar in one hand, and another holding hold to his own bar, taking a bite from it as soon as he finished chewing and swallowing. He climbed into bed and handed over the packet of snack bar to Shane. He didn’t wait and got down to eating too.

Once they filled their stomaches, they decided simultaneously that it was time to go back to camp. It was early evening when Dexter and Shane leave the cabin and began walking back towards the refugee camp.

They managed to find their way to the man-made path in the dark with just that small torchlight to light the way. They followed it back.

As soon as they leave the path, a series of fiery explosions from the direction of refugee camp lit up the forest. They froze, feeling both dread and awe. Startled animals called out. More explosions came and suppressed their calls.

Shane pulled Dexter back just in time; if not a deer would have run him over. After catching a breath, Dexter spoke excitedly masking the anxiety he was feeling beneath, “We should go back! We don’t have supplies to last us out here!”

“It’s not safe! At least we can get away first before the aliens find us! We can go to the next refugee camp.”

“But…”

“I know. We can only hope the next refuge camp is not hit in the same way. I am scared. And buddy, I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Dexter gritted his teeth, “Fine. Let me call someone first and we will go.”

Dexter pulled out a military-grade communicator from his messenger pouch. It was a rectangular piece of polymer-glass with metal edge and double as a portable computer. His thumb and index finger manipulated the graphics on display until he found the one number saved in its memory. A quick suck of air through the gaps in his teeth, he dialled the number.

He waited for the connection to go through. At first he wasn’t sure if anyone would pick up. Concerned grew as the ring tone continued for nearly a minute before someone on the other side picked up the call.

A familiar voice came through, “Sergeant Amin speaking.”

“Help! The aliens just hit the refugee camp. We can’t go back.”

“Is that you, Dexter? Which camp?”

“Yeah. It’s me. Camp Sierra, California. We will travel to the next camp.”

“Do you have enough food and water until then?”

“Enough for two days max.”

“Hang tight and keep the communicator with you at all time. I will find your location using that and I will be there as soon as I can.”

“Please.”

Dexter put the communicator back, stuffing it deep into the pouch so that he doesn’t lose it and pulled out an old-school compass from his pouch. He placed it in his hand and oriented himself as as he began recalling the geography of the area and the location of the remaining refugee camps.

“This way,” Dexter pointed straight.

He started walking and Shane trailed behind. It didn’t take long before they walked by the cabin. They turned east and continued their journey. It didn’t take long before Shane started to doubt the direction they were taking.

“Dex, you sure we are heading the right way?” He tried very hard not to sound whiny or dismissive of Dexter’s ability. He had seen first-hand the level of his boyfriend’s intelligence and knowledge during those months together.

“Yes.”

That confident response was enough to subdue any doubts Shane had.

They didn’t know how far they went when they heard rustling coming from around them, causing their hearts to skip a beat. In the distant, explosions were still going off but albeit softer. The forest at night did get echoey and nearby sounds were especially loud. Accompanying those rustling were some low growls.

“What’s that?” Shane asked with eyes wide open scanning his surroundings, hoping to catch a glimpse of shadow of something.

More thumping sound came from the rear that sounded like footsteps followed by more rustling. This time the growling became louder. They could hear the rhythm in those growls. A sign of intelligence. Dexter reached out to grab Shane’s left arm and pulled as he moved forward. It didn’t take long before they broke into a run, crushing undergrowth beneath their feet, ducking underneath any low hanging branches and jumping over fallen logs.

Multiple explosions went off behind them as plasma bolts struck the trunks and branches around them. Birds in the trees, awoken from their slumber, gawked loudly followed by loud flapping sounds. A few bolts struck the ground near where they were, flash turning the soil into glass and the micro explosions sent debris flying through the air.

With adrenaline coursing through their bodies, they didn’t even feel anything when flying glass and other debris cut their arms and bodies.

They came upon a stream with water heading east. They looked at each other, then at the water. The night was dark, making it impossible to gauge the depth of the water or if there’s something in there that would harm them. The good news? The water wasn’t gushing.

Behind them, the rustling sound continued as aliens made their way through, hunting their target with excitement. They didn’t take too long to think and went in together. With hands interlocked, not wanting to lose each other, they waded across to the other side, all the while huffing and puffing as their legs struggled against the water pressure.

Midway across, the water reached above their chests and their feet struggled to find any holding as their bodies’ natural buoyancies took over. They lifted their legs and swam across until they were in shallower waters.

The aliens reached the stream bank at roughly the same time when Shane and Dexter climbed out of the other side. They started running the moment aliens started firing. It was an arduous task running up the incline with their drenched clothes but they didn’t complain. They just kept going.

Dexter went over the slope first. Shane was about to go over when a plasma bolt whizzed by just inches away from his left forearm. He cried out in pain and instinctively pulled his arm close to his body. He studied his arm as he went down the other side of the slope. His arm was already showing signs of second-degree burn. Any attempts to move the arm made Shane whine.

Dexter turned around to take a look,”Are you okay?”

“I’m fine! Just keep going!”

Their physical fitness and adrenaline kept them running for another forty to fifty minutes not knowing if the aliens were still after them. After that, their mouths and throats started to feel dry. Hypothermia was also settling in, especially for Shane, with the overall temperature in the forest near zero. The cold had an equally numbing effect on the second degree burn that Shane’s brain didn’t seem to register as much. Even so, they knew they needed rest and warmth but the area they were in was so dark and thick with vegetation that it was impossible to make out where to go. Not even the compass could help. They tried scanning the area with their torchlights but those light beams were barely enough to penetrate through the darkness and allow their eyes make out any features beyond twenty meters.

“Whaaaa…whaaattt…shouuld…weeee…do…do?” Shane asked as he crossed his arms, gripping his elbows, shivering intensely from the cold, “I can’t…can’t…continue any more.”

“Me either,” Dexter replied as he tried to scan the forest with his torchlight but the light beam was unsteady from all the trembling. Despite that, it was enough for Dexter to see there was some sort of a fog starting to form and couldn’t see what’s beyond. He turned his attention to the compass in his hand and looked up. That’s when he saw some kind of clearing in the northeast direction. “Let’s try this way. There’s some sort of clearing. Maybe we can find a spot to rest for the night.”

“Alllrrrighhhht…”

It didn’t take them long to find an area that had thick undergrowth and multiple fallen logs surrounding an oak tree with trunk that was thick enough to hide two person behind it. On closer inspection, there was a gaping hole in the trunk that was wide enough for both of them to enter. Dexter looked up with his torchlight and realised the tree was dead with no leaves yet he couldn’t see the night sky due to the thick black canopy.

Shane went through the hole first after checking it to make sure there was nothing hiding in there. He picked a spot and put his things down. He grunted from the sudden pain that surge through his arm. He rampaged through his bag with his good arm to find a picnic mat he packed earlier. After laying the mat down on the ground, he stripped naked slowly. He struggled the most freeing his left arm from the shirt and needed Dexter’s help. After that, he sat down on the mat.

Dexter went out to collect several branches and dried leaves for the fire they needed. When he came back, he dumped them on the ground in front of the mat before joining Shane on it. Like Shane, Dexter stripped naked too. The clothes were laid out on the mat to the side. Then, he went ahead to setup a mini campfire before sitting down on the mat with his legs crossed.

That was when Shane realised Dexter wasn’t affected by the cold as badly as he was despite that scrawny nature. He was equally amazed by how calm Dexter had been throughout the ordeal.

“Who the hell are you?” Shane asked with a raised eyebrow.

Dexter turned his head to look at Shane with a cocked head, “What you mean? I’m me.”

“Look at you, the cold doesn’t seem to affect you as much as it did me. And I’m like dying over here.”

“Really? I didn’t notice…” Dexter trailed off when he saw the red blisters forming on Shane’s arm, “Your arm looks pretty bad. Are you alright?”

“It still hurts but I think I got some medical sprays for the pain in my bag. I think they can also disinfect,” Shane turned around and started fumbling through. With one disabled arm, it was a slow process.

“You sure have a lot of things in that bag,” Dexter said wryly before getting up, “Let me help you.”

“We are in a middle of an alien invasion. One can never be too casual when it comes to surviving in the wild. But in hindsight, I should have packed two more sets of clothes.”

Dexter took over the search and pulled out a bottle of military-issued medical spray, a grayish-sliver cylinder with the words ‘Medical Painkiller and Antiseptic’ printed across the top in green and LED strip beneath on the side indicating the solution volume in the cylinder. He knelt down in front of Shane and aimed the nozzle at the wound before pressing down on the top button. A blast of aerosolised solution struck the skin, rapidly cooling it while the chemicals went to work by inhibiting the nerves endings, making Shane moan from pleasure. Unseen to the naked eye, the antiseptic killed off any bacteria, viruses, and spores gathered on the red, blistered skin.

“Thanks. I feel better already.”

“The first chance we got, we are seeing the doctor at the next camp.”

Shane smiled and stared into the gentle fire. Although the fire was small, it was enough to heat up the space inside the tree trunk and he doesn’t feel as cold anymore. In the meantime, he was worried that the aliens would see the fire and come after them. But it had been maybe two or three hour since and there hadn’t been any sound in the forest other than those of the animals and insects making mating calls. Dexter on the other hand fed the fire with more dried branches and leaves from time to time as he sat on Shane’s left, contemplating what’s next.

Later that night, Dexter took the first watch shift that lasted four hours while Shane went to sleep. During that time, Dexter looked out for any alien activity and keep the fire going. After that, Shane would take over for another four hours. As it got closer to dawn, the four hour shift became two hour shift so that both of them got at least six hours of rest.

Dexter kept watch until the sun was up. He patted his clothes and found them dry. As he slipped on his shirt, he gave Shane a gentle kick in the butt to wake him up. Shane groaned for a bit, refusing to get up. Dexter gave him another kick.

“Alright, I’m up. Jeez.” He saw Dexter all clothed and did the same.

While Shane put on his clothes, Dexter pulled out a pair of snack bars from his pouch, which happened to be the last two. He handed one to Shane who grabbed it readily and didn’t hesitate to strip the wrappers.

“It was quiet night huh?” Shane asked as he took a huge bite out of the snack bar.

“Yeah. I don’t know what happened to the aliens. Maybe they lost interest.”

“Maybe.”

After they were done with their mini-breakfast, Dexter helped Shane packed up the rest of the stuff. He then gave Shane a helping hand by holding the backpack up from behind so Shane had an easier time to put his arm through the strap. They stepped out into the woods and Dexter gave the compass a quick study before setting off on their journey east towards the next refugee camp.

***

Unbeknownst to Dexter and Shane, the reptilian aliens did manage to cross the stream but didn’t make it further than five hundred meters when they were killed off one by one and their bodies liquified into natural fertiliser for the plants with special chemicals.

Once the area was safe, the enigmatic helper got up into the trees to follow the two boys in secret, watching where they were going. When it became clear they were stopping for the night, the helper chose a tree that overlook the dead oak tree and stayed there all night to make sure nothing got near it.

When dawn came, the helper continued to monitor the area up front and around to make sure it was clear of aliens. Then the helper watched in amusement as the pair went about their morning. The moment they sets off towards the camp, the helper did another sweep of the area with the help from the array of sensors deployed around the woods and satellite imaging. Although it was only another two-hour walk to the next refugee camp and the area appeared clear, a lot of things could still happen. A recent report of the aliens deploying highly advanced cloaking technology across various combat theatres had the helper concerned. Especially since the satellite imaging couldn’t see cloaked objects and even though the sensors could detect movement, their coverage was limited in scope.

***

The FVH-88 Armoured Transport VTOL carrying a squad of marines approached the refugee camp with two VTOL gunships by its side for support and two fixed-wing combat drones for air-defence.

At one kilometre out, the transport VTOL came to a stop in the air while the gunships continued forward and followed a delta-shaped flight path before coming to a stop four hundred meters from the edge of the camp. While hovering, the gunships fired their air-to-ground radars that swept through the camp. Given the fan-shaped radar output from each gunship, the signals overlapped each other in many places and generated strong echoes for each gunship that the onboard computer was able to render all detected objects in three-dimension on the consoles for the pilots to see.

The pilots, who also doubled as gunners, manipulated the graphics on the consoles in front of them to bring up the weapon system to start tagging the aliens who were out in the open. As the gunships were sharing data in realtime via a proprietary wireless protocol, both pilots could see what each other was doing and synchronise their actions.

They squeezed their respective triggers at the same time.

The 30 mm auto-cannons under the crafts’ nose roared to life spewing out armour-piercing and high-explosive rounds. With muzzle velocity of 1200 metres per seconds and at the distance of 400 metres, the rounds had more than enough kinetic energy to punch through majority of the materials on the ground while the high-explosive aspect did the remaining damage.

Aliens stood no chance. The covers they picked to hide behind also stood no chance. After the cannons were done, what’s left of them were just puddles and splatters of blue blood, and chunks of fused inorganic and organic material.

Meanwhile, the fixed wing drones circled around an area five kilometre wide in a staggered formation to ensure no alien aircrafts came close.

Two alien transport crafts, which looked like they each had the body of an elephant and the head of an eagle, came soaring out of the woods some six kilometres east of the VTOLs with their plasma cannons armed. One of the alien craft shot and missed the nearest drone. The second drone, following closely behind, unleashed its payload of two anti-aircraft missiles. Just moments before the missiles struck, the drone unleashed a two-second burst of rounds from its 25 mm chain gun. Unlike the alien spaceships, these in-atmosphere transport craft don’t have shields or particularly heavy armour. The transport craft lost most of its rear when the missiles struck with its’ front pockmarked by the bullets. It went spiralling towards the ground with a trail of smoke following behind.

The other transport craft performed an evasive manoeuvre as the drones flew past. It then chased after the drones with surprising speed and fired again. A few plasma shots got close enough to sear away layers of armour on the first drone, causing multiple malfunction across its various sub-systems. But the drone was designed and built with multiple redundancies, especially in the area of flight control and weapon system. As long as the drone had functional engines, retain its wings and tail, and decent functionality of both wing and tail flaps, the drone would continue to fly. And it would continue to engage any enemy until it ran out of ammunitions.

The drones executed a tight turn, something that only autonomous drones could do as the resulting g-force could easily killed human pilots. Missiles surged out of the wing pylons and punched multiple holes on the side of the transport craft, sending it careening towards the ground with smoke streaming out of the holes. A quick scan of the airspace showed the sky clear and the drones continued their patrol.

After the gunship pilots reported that the camp was clear of aliens, the VTOL transport moved closer and landed in a small clearing one hundred meter northeast of the camp.

The ramp opened.

A squad of marines equipped with exoskeletons poured out of the VTOL and beelined for the edge of the clearing, going down on one knee with their weapons raised as the marines swept their surroundings for enemies.

The transport lifted off when its passenger bay emptied and went on a circular patrol around the camp with its side gunners scanning the ground with the fifty-caliber machine guns.

That liftoff served as a cue for marines to execute their plan. Amin gave the signal and the squad broke up into two fireteams of six marines each, designated Alpha and Bravo.

Amin, now a Gunnery Sergeant, took Alpha into the forest first. The team maintained a single file as they went in. Staff Sergeant Landon Boey took Bravo and followed after.

The fireteams advanced through the forest in single files and maintained a distance of twenty meters from each other with their ears and eyes wide open for any potential threat. The HUDs on the inside of their helmets showed them multiple blue blips moving in a diamond formation overlaid on a square graphical panel at the top right hand corner. Every couple of seconds, a white circular ring swept across the panel and any moving object larger than a rat showed up as white blips. Even larger ones like a humanoid could show up as red unless they were marked as friendly via some kind of chip implant or without signs of weapons. The latter were marked as green. Thus far, there was only blue and the occasional white.

Halfway through, Alpha team stumbled upon on the bodies of four soldiers in their combat suits. They showed signs of plasma burns. Nearby was the carcasses of two combat drones, also showing signs of plasma burn.

Bravo team reported they found three dead aliens within the undergrowth moments later. Unlike the ones from the initial invasion, these were wearing a different set of combat armours. On closer inspection, the armour looked thinner, lighter, and darker. Even the weapons they carried were different with a longer barrel and bigger stock. One of the corporals jabbed the armour with the tip of his carbine causing the armour to shimmer before reverting to its original dull blackish-grey. He staggered back fearing further reaction.

Landon eyed the aliens with a raised eyebrow. He had seen these before. The thought finally came to him. “Scouting party,” Landon commented, which was broadcast over the radio. “Looks like they had all been shot. One in the head, the rest in their bodies.”

“They must be good. We got four dead friendlies and two downed drones,” Amin responded. “There’s nothing we can do here. Continue with the mission.”

Amin took the lead with his team trailing behind. As he walked through the forest, index finger on the trigger guard and watching his surrounding with intense eyes, there was a thought that kept nagging at him. He couldn’t stop thinking about what happened to Dexter and Shane as it’s been almost two days since that phone call and there hadn’t been any further communication. He hoped the aliens hadn’t found them yet. Initially, he had wanted to come down here on his own because he didn’t have the authority to call for a mission. He would do so once he’s done packing up his bags for the next three days as he was given time-off to rest up. His superior wanted to make sure he had sufficient rest since he had been participating in combat operations against the aliens for three weeks non-stop. As luck would have it, E.U.S.N High Command received the call for help from the refugee camp but they didn’t agree at first because of other higher priority missions. When the camp stopped responding to any communication hours later, they finally decided to deploy marines to find out what happened and rescue any survivors. Once he knew of the mission, he signed up immediately and refused to back down.

Now he’s here and he couldn’t be happier that he got also support from his fellow marines. He just hopped he wasn’t too late.

Bravo team reported they found several more bodies, both aliens and humans. It looks like they were engaged in close combat. The fight was obviously a draw but not a fair fight since there were more human bodies. To be precise, it was three humans to one alien. And there were two dead aliens.

Compared to humans, the aliens were much stronger in every way. No single person would stand a chance engaging in a fist fight without some kind of help. Even a marine equipped with exoskeleton would have a hard time fighting head-on.

Landon would know that because he fought one before. He managed to hurt the alien in a few places with his fist and knife. He thought he was invincible and allowed his ego to get the better of him. So he didn’t react in time to dodge a punch from the alien. That punch landed on his chest that sent him flying backwards through the air for a couple of meters. He then crashed into an abandoned car and caused his exoskeleton to malfunction. He also knew that if it wasn’t for the exoskeleton’s chest plate to absorb the full force, his chest would have caved in and he be dead now. It took him two weeks to recover from the injury and that was under specialist care with the latest medical procedure. Of course he did kill the alien with his sidearm just in time, after he freed his arm from the exoskeleton.

The fireteams continued their journey through the forest, crushing grass and branches underneath their boots. It didn’t take long to reach the edge of the camp as it was uneventful.

From above, the camp resembled a malformed because of the wavy placement of the shoulder height concrete wall surrounding the center. During the operation planning stage, it was pre-divided into east and west sectors down the center along the northeast-southwest axis. Alpha would take the east and Bravo would take the west sectors.

They didn’t take long to sweep through their respective sector. All they came across were bodies after bodies. Adults or children didn’t matter. The aliens didn’t discriminate and were thorough in their extermination of the camp. And judging by the number of soldiers, at least sixty and most of whom looked like they were fresh out of bootcamp, guarding the camp using the type of equipment they had, there was just no way for the camp to effectively fight off the aliens although there were only eighteen of them. Then there was a lot of civilians. In large number, especially if there were lots of children, their presence could also affect the soldiers state of mind in combat situations. That much the marines knew since they had seen for themselves such situations over the last few weeks.

What they didn’t know was there were more aliens that participated in the attack only to break off to hunt Dexter and Shane through the forest.

Amin was in the midst of updating High Command of the situation at the camp when he received an incoming call. He recognised the number shown and accepted the call.

“Dexter, where are you?”

“We are in the woods. We are almost at the next camp.”

“I’m coming to get you. Camp Sierra is gone. No survivor.”

Dexter’s voice went a little high pitch, “What?”

Amin kept his voice calm, “Don’t worry about it. I will come get you. Just focus on staying alive.”

“We will…what’s that…”

“Oh shit! Dexter, run!” Shane called out.

“Fuck…”

What Amin heard next were the sounds of explosions followed by rustlings.

“Dexter!” There was no response and the call ended. “Shit!”

He turned his attention to his wrist computer and activated the communicator’s tracking function. A red blip, representing the communicator, showed up on the map he brought up on his wrist computer indicating it was moving eastward and fast.

Knowing there was no time to waste, he called for the VTOL to land in the camp while he gathered his men. He gave them a quick brief of what’s happening before they all climbed onboard the VTOL and off they went.

During the flight, Amin kept a close watch on the red blip as he directed the VTOL pilot where to go. The red blip came to a stop in an area that was below a thick canopy, which prevented anyone from seeing what’s going on. He requested the pilot find an opening for the squad to rappel down.

The pilot found a good spot a moment later. There was a clearing fifty north of the last known location of the communicator. The VTOL went over and hovered while the rear ramp lowered. Two of the marines hooked up the rappelling ropes before pushing the coils out and let them unravel with the help of gravity.

In the meantime, the drones had to fly back to base to refuel while the gunships remained behind to watch the clearing.

Two by two, the marines hooked up their military-issued belay devices to the ropes and went out of the VTOL, sliding down the ropes. The first four marines spread themselves around in a circle with the rappelling ropes in the center, establishing a defensive perimeter as they waited for the rest to come down. They kept a close watch on the forest around them for any sign of movement. Once everyone was accounted for, Amin took the lead to guide everyone to the spot.

While advancing through the forest, they encountered several aliens in front of them and put them down rapidly. Then they jogged towards the communicator’s last known location while maintaining high levels of vigilance. Make one mistake, it would be their deaths.

Amin’s radio crackled to life.

The voice from the other side belonged to one of the gunship pilot, “Sergeant, we can see smoke coming from the second refugee camp… we are getting radio chatters of an ongoing attack.”

“Go. Help them. We will find the civilians on the ground.”

The engine roars gradually became softer as the VTOLs flew ahead. Along the way, every time the pilots saw any alien out in the open on the ground below, they opened fire. Aliens who didn’t find cover in time became shredded chunks.

After killing two more aliens near the spot where the communicator was left in a grass patch, the marines spread themselves around and scanned their surroundings for any threat.

Amin picked up the communicator and found it non-functional with a crack spreading downward from the top like vines. He looked up at the forest around him and called out, “Dexter! Where are you?”

One of the marines, who was the furthest from the group, called out, “Sir! They’ve gone this way!”

Amin jogged over and looked at what the marine was looking at. A section of undergrowth seemed like something heavy stomped on them, forming paths headed deeper into the forest. Their helmets picked up on the sounds of micro-explosions coming from the same direction.

Amin turned around to look at the rest of his men, “They are headed…”

A plasma shot sizzled past above Amin’s head. He dropped to the ground immediately. As he fell, he pulled the marine beside him down to the ground. When he turned around to see how was the marine doing, he felt his heart ached. Another plasma bolt had struck the marine’s upper body during the fall. The ceramic-based armour on the back absorbed most of the heat and prevented the plasma from causing serious injury but the titanium helmet simply boiled away, allowing the remaining plasma to burn through the marine’s neck and lower skull.

Multiple marines yelled the same thing into their microphones, “Contact!” The sound of carbines firing followed next, reverberating across the forest as the marines engaged the aliens. They used the trees as cover even though wood don’t really stand a chance against plasma. But it was definitely better than being out in the open. Trees and branches around the marines exploded into splinters from the hot plasmas. However, it didn’t reduce the marines’ overall effectiveness. One by one, the aliens dropped dead on the ground as high velocity projectiles punched through their body armours and hides, shredding organs.

A marine cried out in pain when a plasma bolt struck his arm. Another marine engaged the aliens as he ran over to provide medical attention. Two other marines closest to Amin went down immediately when aliens blew their heads off from the right.

“Fuck!” Amin cursed as he rolled over to a nearby tree, went on one knee and killed the aliens with his carbine. He was both angry and upset. Those were good marines who had been fighting alongside him since the school. A plasma bolt struck the tree he was hiding behind. The explosion knocked him off his feet. Wood splinters struck the visor of his helmet, cracking it. He shook his head to recover from the blurry vision and shock, got up and engaged a couple more aliens.

“Grenade!” another marine in front of Amin shouted when he saw an alien grenade landed beside him. Instinctively, he used his body as a shield and laid on top of the grenade. The grenade exploded with the ceramic plate in his chest absorbing most of the damage but it wasn’t enough to stop the remaining blast energy from shredding him into unrecognisable pieces. The remaining blast wave radiated outwards, carrying pieces of the obliterated exoskeleton and bone fragments along, striking the marines around at roughly the same time and knocked them off their feet, causing severe heat and penetrative injuries.

Amin too was thrown backwards from the blast. He suffered multiple cuts, second-degree burns, and contusions all over his limbs. As he was only a couple of meters away, the blast damaged his exoframe. The whole left side was non-functioning. The good thing was he had the tree to protect him from most of the blast and adrenaline was numbing most of the pain.

He struggled to get up. With his right hand, he tried to release the exoskeleton. Midway through, he heard a crack in the woods in front of him. He saw the head of an alien approaching him with a raised plasma rifle. He fumbled for his sidearm, a .44 Desert Eagle. He managed to get it out of its holster just in time and shot the alien a few times. The first few .44 Magnum armour-piercing rounds didn’t pack enough penetrative energy to go all the way through. They struck the thick alien armour and ricocheted but did their job of slowing the alien down. The gun finally clicked when he squeezed the trigger.

It was empty.

Amin realised that was it for him as the alien raised its rifle with the intent to kill.

Then the alien grunted and arched backwards before dropping to the ground limp. Its rifle dropped to the ground with a clatter.

A wave of panic struck him. Amin fumbled as he got himself out of the exoskeleton and tossed his helmet aside. He reloaded his sidearm as he got up, leaning against the tree and scanning his surrounding for signs of the enemy with his gun raised. He didn’t know what had just happened. He wondered who was it that killed the alien.

When he realised it was clear, he went down on one knee, picked up his carbine, flipped the switch just above the trigger guard, so that it showed ‘Unassisted’. This meant that the carbine would now fire with reduce muzzle velocity as the average human won’t be able to handle the recoil without suffering from kind of injury. Without the exoframe and only his standard-issue combat suit protecting him, death would come rather easily but it also meant he could move around less encumbered.

He got out of his hiding spot, running from tree to tree as he engaged the aliens. Above the sound of carbines firing, he could hear the groans and moans from around him. A quick count showed there were only five marines who remained standing and uninjured. They spread themselves out to help the rest as they engaged the aliens as best as they could. Those furthest away from the blast—about four of them—got back into action relatively quickly and provided covering fire for the rest.

The battle finally ended after lasting for what it seemed to be hours although only a few minutes had past. During all that time, there were signs that somebody else was out there killing the aliens swiftly and silently. Not wanting to fight on two fronts, the remaining aliens stopped and retreated.

Amin did a quick assessment of his squad and determined there was just no way any one of them could go after Dexter and Shane. He also couldn’t believe he led his men into an ambush that killed most of them. But what’s done was done. He focused on getting the rest of his men out alive and started attending to the injured, patching up wounds as best as he could. He was joined by the only still standing medics on the squad. The other medic was the one who decided to use himself as shield against the grenade.

It took a couple of hours before the squad was able to move back to the landing zone, carrying the dead with them. The VTOL pilot made a smart call to fly further away from the combat zone so that the aliens don’t get a chance to shoot the VTOL down. When Amin called, the pilot came back and landed the VTOL at the clearing.

The injured went onboard first while the rest scanned the forest for more threats. When everyone was onboard, the VTOL lifted off and flew back to base.

On the way back, Amin continued to wonder about what had happened. There was no trace of anyone out there and yet the alien dropped dead without any signs of physical trauma.

***

Dexter kept running. Even after tripping over rocks and fallen branches, and bloodying his legs and arms, he picked himself up and kept running towards the sound of gushing water. All the while tears rolled off the side of his cheeks.

The forest gradually gave way to a rocky cliff overlooking a river with a waterfall fifty meters east.

He came to a stop just as he was about go over the edge off the cliff. A couple more steps and he would plummet a hundred and fifty meter into the river below. Chances of his survival would be low. But he wasn’t sure he even wanted to live. Not after what had happened. He broke down and dropped to all fours. Tears flooded his face just as memories came flooding, reminding him of both the good and bad times in his life.

The last thought he had was about the run through the forest.

Both of them were trying to get away from aliens. The aliens were relentless. In the heat of the moment, they didn’t know where they were going but they didn’t care. They just wanted to get away. Dexter led the run. Plasma bolts were striking near them, causing them to cringe. They didn’t know how far they went.

Then he heard it. A couple of explosions that sounded too close followed by a loud cry.

He stopped and turned around only to see Shane down on the ground with his left arm and right leg blown off. He wanted to help but Shane kept yelling at him to run. He cried even harder. He forced himself to run and never once did he turned to see what was happening.

Then he thought about the very idea of him surviving all by himself during this alien invasion. It was simply unbearable. And pointless.

He got up and wiped away the tears with the back of his hands. He turned around so that he faced the forest. He eyed the forest in front of him with both marvel and sadness before taking two steps back and went over the cliff with his hands spread out. Just before he closed his eyes, as he didn’t want to see how far he has gone, he caught a glimpse of a flash of light on the edge of the cliff. He ignored it, thinking it must be an illusion created by his fear-filled mind…


You have reached the end of The Tainted Forbidden Love.

Click here for Chapter 4.

The Tainted Forbidden Love – Chapter 4

Spending the last few days in the shack with his mom was the easy part and they never went beyond a couple of meters from each other. At night though was a different story. He continued to have night terrors from his ordeals and could not get over the fact he almost died that day. Hayley spent countless hours trying to calm him down and get him back to sleep.

Hayley was doing a quick audit of the food, her eyes studying the labels intently while Dexter was beside her, placing cans on the shelf. He was attempting to place a can of beans on the shell when he dozed off and the can slipped from his hand. It landed on Hayley’s feet. She yowled, held on to the shelf for support and pulled up the injured feet to rub it.

With a deep sense of guilt, he uttered softly, “Sorry.”

After the pain subsided, Hayley put her feet down and sucked in a mouthful of air. She let it all out and attempted a weak smile, “It’s fine.”

He continued stocking up the shelf until the box he had on the ground was empty. He went to the storage area to bring out another box of cans. It was fine at first until his head started to feel light. He swayed left to right while struggling to hold onto the box. He started seeing double until he crashed into his mom, slamming her into the shelf. Moment before he understood what happened, the box slipped and hit the ground, causing some of the cans to burst open and covered the floor with rainbow coloured liquid with chunks of food.

Hayley turned around with a scowling face that was all red. She shoved her son, “Why are you so clumsy!”

The push caught him off guard. He staggered backwards until one of his foot was on the puddle. He lost his footing and started flailing as he went crashing to the ground. His butt impacted the hard, grey ground first before the back of his head. The pain didn’t register at first. Even when it did, he was expressionless and remained completely still on ground.

She didn’t move. It was as though rigour mortis had set in. She continued to glare at him while breathing rapidly. When she became aware of what happened, every muscle in her body became like jelly. It felt like she was in a dream but she knew it wasn’t. She had hurt her boy and felt her heart ached. Guilt and shock was all she felt. “Baby, I’m…mm sor…sor..sorry. I…I didn’t mean it.”

He didn’t quite heard what his mom said and all he got were flashbacks to how his stepdad had hurt him. It was like reliving the nightmares again. When the flashbacks ended, he pushed himself up albeit shakily and ran towards the stairs.

Hayley only reacted when her son was near the stairs. She started moving, carefully navigating around the puddle of rainbow on the ground as she called out repeatedly, “Come back! Dexter! I’m sorry!”

He didn’t look at where he was going. He just kept running, unaware that aliens and Earth Union soldiers were battling it out in the town in a tedious and deadly urban warfare. Hayley just kept running after him and called out his name. The gap between them got wider as Dexter was faster due to his age and gender.

One of the alien soldiers, a large humanoid over seven feet tall and resembled a bipedal lizard, stepped out from one of the houses. He heard the shouting and saw two humans running. He raised his plasma rifle and targeted the female human. He squeezed the trigger. A blue sliver plasma bolt went flying out at sub-sonic sonic speed and struck the human on the side. On impact, the bolt discharged as much energy as a thumb-sized grenade, blowing out a fist-sized hole just inches below her armpit. The shouting stop. She crumbled to the ground lifeless.

Dexter heard the explosion but didn’t stop until he realised his mom had stop calling out. He turned around to see Hayley lying face down on the ground.

“Mom!”

He started running back to Hayley and tears started rolling down the side of his face. He saw the alien stepped out onto the street with his raised rifle. The alien saw him and fired but Dexter jumped to the side at the last minute when he saw the blue bolt. The shot sizzled past inches away from his right ear. He could feel the heat. If the bolt had been closer by an inch, he knew he would suffer from second degree burns. And he also knew the next shot would probably hit him. He started running on a zigzag manner only to trip over his own feet. He put out his hands to break the fall and scraped his palms, forearms and elbows against the asphalt in the process. He was surprised he didn’t break his arm, considering it was a rather hard fall.

“Shit!” Dexter looked up and knew the alien was about to fire its weapon.

His body jerked when he heard the loud boom. The alien’s head exploded, splattering blue blood and brain matter on the surfaces nearby. It dropped to the ground lifeless. He turned around to see a lone soldier with an assault carbine raised and pointing in his general direction. There was still white smoke rising out of the barrel.

The soldier came closer while scanning his surroundings for more threats. He heaved a sigh of relief when there was no response from the enemy and lowered his weapon when he was an arm’s length away from Dexter. He put his carbine to his side, letting it hang lazily from the strap with the barrel pointing to the ground. He put his hand out as an offer to help the boy up, “Hey kid, what are you doing here? This town isn’t safe anymore.”

“My mom and I were hiding out in our basement,” Dexter reached out and grabbed the soldier’s hand, which started pulling him up. He started sobbing, “Now she’s dead. It’s all my fault.”

The solider looked behind Dexter and saw the dead woman sprawled on the ground, “I’m sorry about your mom. What about your dad?”

“He’s dead too in our house.”

“Is there anyone else that can care for you?”

Dexter shook his head and started sniffing.

“We should get you to the school. There are some soldiers there who can protect you.”

Still sniffing from blocked sinuses, Dexter asked, “Are there other people?”

“Yes. You will be safe there.”

Dexter wiped away his tears with the back of his hands and took a deep breath. He gave the soldier a quick study. The soldier was a member of the elite Earth Union Orbital Drop Marines (ODM). Cost meant not many military units got the exoframe. And there was a unit patch on upper right arm that identified the soldier as such.

The People’s Republic of China developed the original version of the exoskeleton in the late twenty-seventies to give its soldiers an edge over its adversary as it strived to maintain its dominance of western pacific against the North American Union, also known as The Free Union. The Free Union and her allies jointly released their own version later that combined American innovation and German engineering. The exoskeleton saw its first combat use in the war between The Free Union and South American Confederation. Since then, there were multiple variants developed by nations around the world and soon became an arms race in its own right.

Dexter also knew that ODMs operated in squads of four and wondered where the rest were.

“Ok,” Dexter replied. “Are you alone Mr. soldier? I thought there should be more of you?”

The soldier sighed, “My teammates were killed in battle yesterday.”

“I’m sorry too.”

The soldier nodded in acknowledgement.

He debated with himself whether to share what he had with this soldier. He knew he won’t be able to survive on his own without help but didn’t know for sure if the soldier would just kill him and take what he had. Before the soldier could speak, he decided to take the leap of faith and asked, “Shall we have a deal? You get me to the school, help me bring my mom back to the house, and protect me. I will give you whatever food and water I got at my house?”

The soldier didn’t hesitate and put out his hand. Dexter shook it. The soldier smiled, “We got a deal.”

Both of them carried Hayley back to the shack. On the journey back, it dawned on Dexter of how far he had ran. He was upset and guilty about getting his mom killed. She was the only person in the world that cared about him. If not for his mom, he would be dead at his stepdad’s hands. When they placed her down in the basement and covered her up with a blanket, Dexter rested the upper half of his body and arms on her body as though he was praying. The emotions he held back came flowing out like the flood gates had opened. He started bawling. The soldier did his best to comfort Dexter.

He stopped crying some five minutes later. With puffy eyes, he directed the soldier to the stash of food and a bag. The soldier started packing as much food and water he could. At the same time, Dexter found his own bag and packed his own food, water and clothes that he might need for the journey.

It was seven in the evening when they left. Other than the occasional explosions and gunfire going off in the distance, the town was eerily quiet. The soldier led the way to an abandoned vehicle further away from Dexter’s house.

They both stared at the car. It was a four-seater and judging from the fading, peeling paint job, the owner either was broke or couldn’t be bother. And judging from the model, it was one of the earliest version of software-driven vehicle that could connect to the city’s vehicle management network.

“This car can’t move without the city network to perform the initial authentication process. Manual driving requires the physical key. I don’t see the owner anywhere”

“I can bypass that requirement.”

“You sure?”

“Yep.”

Dexter tried the car handle and found it unlock. He went in via the driver side and started working on the electronics of the car. It didn’t take him long to figure out the circuitry and did a bypass to allow manual drive. The engine roared to life when it received a surge of electricity from the batteries.

“Done,” Dexter said as he got out of the vehicle.

“You can’t drive?”

“I don’t have my driver license. I’m only fifteen.”

“Oh…then let me do the honours.”

The soldier went in and he had to push the seat back to have more leg space. His exoframe was making things very difficult but he couldn’t take it out just yet. He placed his carbine on the dashboard and closed the door.

Dexter went in from the passenger side. He fastened his seat belt and looked at the soldier, “I didn’t get your name.”

The soldier fastened his seatbelt too, “Amin.”

“Dexter. And thank you for saving me.”

Amin nodded his head with a smile, “You are welcome.”

The rest of the drive to the school wasn’t as smooth as they liked. They came upon a few alien checkpoints. Not wanting a confrontation, they had to take a detour via some of the smaller roads and alleyways. The drive took them by many of the houses that were badly damaged and some were on fire. Out on the streets, there were the occasional bodies. Dexter believed that these people couldn’t get away from the aliens in time judging from the charred holes on their bodies.

They arrived at primary roundabout that separated the suburbs and the main city. Without any electricity, the holographic signboards that were at every junction were off. Amin relied on his memory of the city map and turned the car to the left, ignoring right-turn rule. After all, there was nobody to enforce and give them a ticket.

The car followed the roundabout and turned left on the first junction onto a parkway. It would be at least fifteen minutes before they reached the school at the rate they were going. Dexter having gone through this parkway a few times, knew they would only see trees. Under normal circumstances and broad daylight, it would be a pleasant drive. But since they were in a middle of an alien invasion and with the lack of street lighting, those trees only made him afraid. The parkway was so dark that neither of them could seeing anything further than the side of the road in any direction except for the front where the headlights enable them to see just a tad further. During the journey, Dexter sneaked a few glances at Amin and saw that he was equally tensed.

When Amin and Dexter arrived in front of the school entrance, they finally managed to breathe properly. They were covered in sweat too. Amin gave quick glance at the clock on his wrist computer just as two of the soldiers guarding the school entrance came over. It was five minutes past nine.

“Staff Sergeant Amin Yerli, 8th ODM Division, Delta Squad,” Amin said. The soldier standing by the driver-side window bent over to look inside. Amin pointed at Dexter, “This is Dexter, a civilian I picked up from Dunk Town.”

“Master Sergeant Chris Haddock, California National Guard.”

“What happened to Luke? He was on duty when I left for Dunk.”

“Killed this morning when some aliens decided to test the perimeter. We killed them and avenged him.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah. And how’s the situation over there in Dunk Town?”

Amin sighed, “Bad. This kid is the only survivor I found since yesterday.”

“Damn! I got an aunt in there. I haven’t heard from since the invasion started.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Thanks. We will mourn our dead later. Go on in and get some rest. Most of the people are in the hall.” Chris stepped away and waved his hands around, indicating to soldiers around the entrance to let the vehicle through.

Amin followed the driveway that took him around the main building.

The main building had four visible floors and was rectangle at its center with two protrusions from the northwest and northeast corners. If anyone could look down at the building from above, they would see something like the face of a cat or dog with its ears standing up. Windows decorated almost every side of the building but no one could see through them due to the lack of lights and some had curtains. As the school was located on the edge of the city and in the middle of a park, it had a steel fence around the perimeter to ensure the safety of the students.

Amin parked the car in the carpark behind the building. As there were only a few vehicles, he randomly picked a parking spot. Dexter got out first and went over to help Amin with some of the stuff. Amin was struggling due to the amount of equipment he had on him. When he finally got out, both of them went into the school from the backdoor and made their way to the main hall.

The soldiers divided the hall into two sections: one for soldiers and the other for civilians. There was an empty corridor in between the sections using medical screens. Armed soldiers patrolled the corridor to make sure there were no trespassing.

Dexter went to the civilian area after Amin went off to join up with a friend he saw. He clung on tightly to his backpack and started looking for a place to rest. When he couldn’t find any, he decided to try the upper floors where the classrooms were. He hoped the soldiers didn’t take those rooms too.

He strolled through the poorly lit corridors until he got to the stairs in the center of the building. There were people coming down from it carrying boxes as he went up. Once on the second floor, he turned to his left to check out the classrooms to rest for the night. He tried to open the first door and found it locked. He pouted and tried the door on the right side of the corridor. It was locked too. A familiar voice from behind called his name when he took a step forward. He froze and couldn’t decide if he should run. There was no place for him to hide or run unless he wanted to go out of the school and risk being killed by aliens.

He decided to take a stand, turned around to face the person only to see a grinning face.

“It’s really you! Oh Dexter, I thought I will never see you again!”

“Shane,” Dexter’s eyes went wide before narrowing again, “What do you want?”

Shane strode over. Shocked by the action, Dexter tried to back away only to find arms going around him and pull him close. All he could see was Shane’s midsection and felt uncomfortable. He managed to wriggle out and take a step back.

“What are you doing? I thought you hate me.”

Shane lowered his head in defeat, “I’m sorry for how I have been treating you over the years.”

Dexter raised an eyebrow in confusion, not entirely sure if this was Shane. For all he knew, this person in front of him could be an alien.

“Look, I know what I did was wrong. I’m really sorry. I hated the sight of you because you reminded me of how I felt. I wasn’t ready to deal with those feelings, especially not with the pressures from my basketball team, how people might judge me, and what my parents would think. None of those matters now because I’m not even sure anyone else is alive.”

“What are you saying?” Dexter asked, wanting to clarify what he thought Shane implied.

“I like you a lot.”

“What makes you think I like you at all? You hurt me so many times,” Dexter started crying, “I broke my arm because of you! I nearly got killed by my dad because of you and your drugs! I got shunned because of what you told everybody! I got cuts and bruises all over because of you! Let’s not forget the other day, you nearly paralysed me! And now you fucking tell you like me! Fuck off!” Dexter turned and ran. He wanted to find a room where he could hide in it to get away from everything. Shane went after him.

Dexter went up to the third floor via the other staircase located on the far end of the school. He knew of a good spot to hide in, a place he always went after any major humiliations. He tripped over the stairs halfway through and struck his left shin against the edge of one of the steps. He howled from the pain but he didn’t let it stop him. He limped up the stairs.

Shane caught up to Dexter and saw him limping up.

“Dexter, wait up please!”

“Just leave me the fuck alone!

Even with the poor lighting, Shane saw blood soaking through the left leg of Dexter’s pants, “You are bleeding. Let me help.”

Dexter stopped to catch his breath before continuing up. He only went up two more steps before he decided to sit down. He was exhausted, sweaty, hungry, and hurt.

“Just go away…”

Shane went up the stairs and gestured with his hands to show that he meant no harm, “Come on. Let me get you to the infirmary.”

Dexter glared at Shane and pulled himself up to see the world turn black.

Dexter opened his eyes slowing. It was a blurry sight. He blinked several times before seeing the white ceiling of the infirmary. He felt someone was beside him and turned his head to see Shane. He opened his mouth and only a dried, hoarse voice came out, “What happened?”

“You fainted. I caught you just in time before you went tumbling down the stairs and carried you here. The doctor said you were dehydrated and had low blood sugar. Just rest up for tonight and you will be fine. I will go and help out.”

Shane stood up and was about to leave when he felt someone grabbing on his hand. He saw that it was Dexter.

“If this alien invasion didn’t happen. Would you have continue to treat me the way you did?”

Shane look straight into those tired blue eyes, “No. I decided that enough is enough. And I am really sorry for what I put you through. I want to make it up to you.”

“So that kiss we shared two years ago was real?”

“Yes…” Shane’s face turned red. He leaned forward and kissed Dexter on his forehead, “I do like you and we will talk more after you’ve rested up.”

***

With majority of the ship system offline and radiation sickness affecting almost everyone, Mu Ren was combat ineffective. Anyone who was able was busy tending to the sick and injured.

Zhang Hao, after receiving his dose of anti-radiation medicine from the medic, went around the ship to find anyone who was not incapacitated and had engineering background. With the communication system offline, there was no way he could coordinate anything. And he knew the ship had to move. It didn’t matter where. Anywhere would be better than above Earth.

He reached the mess hall for the crew and found a communications engineer and an electrical engineer. Both of them managed to stay near the center of the ship throughout the battle and were only dosed mildly by radiation. He requested for their help. First order of business was to get the internal communication system online and then engine control.

He led the way until they reached the nexus. The nexus was a tall cylinder that ran the full height of the ship at the center. As its name suggested, it connected all the decks and allowed crew members to go anywhere. To make travels easier and faster in free-fall, crew members can hold on to the linear powered-handles along the walls to pull them in the direction they want to go.

Without power, the nexus now looked creepy with the orange glow from the emergency lights. The simple design of the lights and being encased in faraday cages meant they weren’t affected by the EMP.

Zhang Hao led the way, pushing against the walls and pulling on whatever his hand could grab on. He stopped in front of a service hatch, grabbed onto the support bar beside it while the other hand unlocked the hatch by sliding the red handle down a quarter way across the hatch and pulling it towards him.

When the opening was big enough to fit him, he pull himself in and the engineers followed behind with the last man closing the hatch before continuing.

After going through a series of interconnected tunnels and several turns, they came upon another service hatch with the label, “Auxiliary Communications”. Zhao Hao opened the hatch to find himself in a square room that was almost pristine with several caged cabinets on the far side of the room with wires coming out the top going into the walls. In the center was a console with its holographic display offline.

“Both of you get this room working again so that we can start talking to each other on the ship.”

“But sir, there’s no power,” the communication engineer pointed out.

“This room runs on a separate power source. It’s for emergencies like this. You got ten minutes. When I’m on the bridge, I want to be able to start talking.”

“Yes sir,” both of the engineers responded.

Zhao Hao made his way across the room and through another service hatch. He followed it until he reached a junction. He studied the miniature signboard and turned right where it would take him to the engine room.

His earpiece crackled to life just as he turned right on a junction that took him past the hydroponics and life support deck.

“Sir, comms system up and running. We will stay here to monitor the system for any further issue.”

“Great work.”

Zhao Hao switched the channel on his comms system and tried to call the engine room. However, all he got was static. He gave up after several tries and continued his way through the tunnels.

It would be another fifteen minutes before he exited the service hatch that led into the engine control room. There were miniature fires everywhere, filling the room with greyish smoke. Orders were being shouted and carried out. From his vantage point, Zhao Hao found the soldier who was actively giving orders, pushed himself away from the service tunnel and went over, aiming for one of the console beside the person. His hands reached out to grab onto the bar that ran around the side of the console and reoriented himself so that his feet would touch the ground before engaging the magnetic lock.

The soldier caught movement to his right and turned around. It took a while before he recognised who it was. He called out, “Officer…”

Zhao Hao interrupted, “As you were! I need to know what’s the status here.”

“The reactor is still active but the power isn’t getting to the engine or anywhere. The control systems are fried. So is the internal communication systems. We need to re-route the power to the backup system before we can do anything. But we got to put out the fires first and ventilate the room if not we will die of smoke inhalation.”

“How long do you need?”

“Another fifteen minutes.”

“We don’t have that long. You got eight. I want us out of Earth’s orbit in ten. Just do whatever you can to get the engine running and power to the bridge first.”

“Roger that, sir.”

Zhang Hao made his way back to the bridge via the tunnels again. He would prefer the main corridors as it was getting claustrophobic but with the power still out, the bulkheads won’t bulge. Even if those bulkheads were working, he didn’t have a good enough picture of which part of the ship was damaged and how badly. He didn’t want to find himself opening a bulkhead that led straight into space.

***

Chris had just finished his double shift when he decided to call it a day and catch some sleep. He was walking back through the gate when he heard two explosions a second apart coming from behind. He spun around to see two of the men standing outside guard post crumpled to the ground with their heads missing the top half and the remaining half badly charred.

His instincts kicked in, unslung his carbine and dashed for the nearest cover in front of him in a continuous movement. He spun around and dropped to one knee behind the concrete barrier while keeping his head low enough so it’s not as big of a target for the enemy. He looked into the night with his military-issued smart glasses that came with built-in night vision mode and did a scanning motion. Despite the green tint, it was easy to see the plasma bolts flying through the air. He zoomed in to get a clearer picture of the aliens and did a quick scan. The threat analysis and identification software picked out at least thirty alien foot soldiers.

He raised his carbine over the concrete barrier and rested the barrel on top. He looked down the targeting sight and aligned the alien’s head with the top of the sight to conserve munition. He squeezed the trigger.

The Gauss Carbine, as its name suggested, used electromagnetism to send projectiles at speeds exceeding five times the speed of sound towards targets. At those speeds, each projectile packed more kinetic energy and was less likely to be affected by wind despite being smaller than the traditional NATO ammunition. Upon impact, the hard steel carbide tip gave the projectile the ability to penetrate through vast majority of body armours including alien ones with ease.

The alien’s head exploded on impact, spraying brain matter on his (her?) friends. The projectile retained enough kinetic energy to strike another directly behind in the neck and blew a hole. The second alien gasped for air as it choked on his own blood. It was dead seconds after it hit the ground. Chris cheered quietly and moved on to another target. He fired. Another alien went down.

He saw a plasma bolt struck one of his men to his left in the head. He suspected they could see in the night better than humans could and maybe had the technology to help as the aliens were surprisingly accurate even at night. The thick helmet was no match against those highly-energetic plasma bolts, which had been known to punch holes through almost anything.

“Fuck!” He cursed and traced where the shot came from. He found the target and fired back. The target went down.

His earpiece crackled to life, “Sir! We got more incoming from our rear and our sides. We count a full company.”

A distant voice shouted, “Vehicles! The aliens are deploying vehicles!”

“Corporal, I want you and your squad to hold them off for as long as possible, prioritise those vehicles!” He fired his carbine again when he had another target in sight.

One of his men to his right screamed upon being hit in the left arm. Another man scrambled to tend to the wounds.

“Chris, this is Amin. What kind of heavy weaponry do you have?”

“We got a few grenade launchers and anti-vehicle launchers. They are all up on the roof with my men!”

“Got it. My buddy and I will head up there now.”

Chris didn’t pin much hope on Amin and his ODM buddy. The ODM were a bunch of highly-trained soldiers with the latest and greatest in technology and equipment but he doubt they could even hold off this assault.

He ducked immediately when a few plasma bolts flew by him and stayed down as plasma bolts started striking the concrete barrier, kicking up debris and dust. The attack became more intense and was clear to him the barrier wasn’t going to hold long.

“Fuck!” He looked to his left and shouted, “Corporal, cover fire. I’m coming over.”

The corporal nodded, popped up from his cover and started firing. Chris got up and sprang over while the enemy bolts sizzled pass him. He hoped none of them hit him…

He didn’t feel pain at first when something struck him, causing him to spin and lose his balance. He fell to the ground with a thud. He did a quick study of himself to determine why. There was a huge charred hole where his left hip was. He could see shredded ash-coloured chunks of intestines on the ground and most of his upper thigh was gone. A small strip of flesh attached what remained of his left leg to his body.

His brain finally registered what happened.

He screamed.

The corporal ran over while firing at the enemy and used his free hand to pull Chris to safety. Half way across the ground, a plasma bolt struck the corporal on the right side of his torso, leaving behind a huge hole. He was dead before he even hit the ground.

Chris heard a couple more cries and bodies hitting the ground. He realised they were all going to die. All he could do was to hold off the enemy for as long as he could.

He crawled towards the cover the corporal used. Once he was there, he tried to prop himself up against the concrete barrier, a much thicker and larger than the one before, with his good leg and arm. He used the concrete barrier as a support for his carbine.

“Fuck you, ugly sons of bitches!” He yelled as he started firing.

He killed one.

Then another.

“Just die!” He squeezed the trigger, dropping another alien.

He killed three more aliens before a plasma bolt blew his supporting arm off. Despite the shearing pain, he didn’t give up. He killed two more aliens and injured another before getting hit in the face by a plasma bolt.

***

Amin and Jackson managed to get their hands on exoarmours from the makeshift armoury.

The exoarmour came with thick front and back armours designed to take heavy punishment. There were also claims that it could withstand at least one direct hit from a plasma bolt. However, none of them wanted to take that chance and wore additional protection underneath.

Then they grabbed their weapons and additional ammunitions before heading up to the roof. As they made their way through the flickering corridors, they came across some soldiers trying their best to usher the civilians to the basement where it was much easier to hold their ground.

Seeing these civilians and their scared faces, he couldn’t help but feel concerned for them. He wasn’t sure if they could even survive through the night. By the last count, there were fifty soldiers who could still fight and many of them were injured in some way. Of those fifty, only eight were ODMs, including himself, who had seen combat during their careers and been fighting almost non-stop since they landed. Fatigue had mostly set in. What kept them going was adrenaline and the safety of these civilians. The soldiers from the National Guard on the other hand had never even saw combat before today yet Amin admired their determination and willpower.

There were twenty other soldiers so badly wounded that most won’t make it through the night unless they were given immediate hospital-grade medical care. They were left behind in the hall with their weapons and basic gears, in the event they want to put up a fight against the alien invaders. No soldiers should be without weapon, even in their dying moments. Only two soldiers, one of whom a combat medic, remained in the hall to care for the soldiers while everyone else not on usher duty were outside fighting or setting up defensive spots within the building.

Ten soldiers, most of them from Sergeant Chris’s section, spread themselves around the roof in team of two. They placed boxes of ammunitions around the roof and within their reach. The soldiers took turn popping up from their respective covers to fire at the enemy before ducking back down, calling out over the radio for every alien killed. The aliens returned fire. Surfaces around the roof exploded in puffs of smoke and debris.

The stair access to the roof led Amin and Jackson to the northeast corner of the roof. They took cover behind one of the ventilation shafts while plasma bolts sizzled past them into the night sky.

“Hey!” Amin called out to the soldier kneeling on one knee behind the parapet as he reloaded his weapon, “Sergeant Amin. ODM. Here to help.”

The soldier turned around, “Sir, Corporal Pelton, California National Guard.”

“I heard you got enemy vehicles inbound. Where’s the heavy weapons?”

“We got a grenade launcher and two anti-vehicle launchers over there,” Pelton gestured to the pile of weapons by the parapet to his left. Then he stood up just high enough to look over the edge with his carbine and fired a three-round burst. He called out when he saw the target go down, “Tango down!”

The rest of the enemy soldiers responded almost immediately. Pelton ducked just in time as the first plasma bolt flew past just inches above his head. His helmet protected his scalp from second degree burns.

Amin turned to Jackson, “I need drone overwatch while I get those weapons.”

Jackson nodded and pulled out a small box from his utility belt. In the box were two micro-drones, each the size of a honey bee. He took out the drones and powered them on. Once the drones were hovering in the air, he turned his attention to the wrist computer and started manipulating the blue and green graphics. Before long the drones were on their way and live video feeds started coming in. He then linked his computer with Amin’s so both of them could see the same drone feeds.

Amin did a crouch run over to the weapon pile to minimise the chance of being hit. The parapet was high enough to shield all of his body and most of his head and he would be extremely unlucky if the aliens could hit his head from where they were. He knelt in front of the pile and let his carbine hung by his side. He rampaged through the pile to find the grenade launcher box. He opened it, took out the launcher and inspected it.

The launcher was capable of holding eight rounds in its revolver-style cylinder and had an effective range of six hundred meters, which was more than sufficient for their current situation.

He found the high-explosive smart-rounds for the grenade launcher and started loading them into the rotating cylinders. Then, he programmed the computerised scope to sync up with the drone, his wrist computer and smart goggles so that he could see hit targets with precision while behind cover. Satisfied after a quick review of what he’s done, he grabbed the two boxes containing launcher rounds and ran back to Jackson with the launcher in hand and his carbine slung by the side.

“Jackson, mark the vehicles for me.”

“Roger.”

Jackson started manipulating the graphics on his wrist computer and tagging boxes started appearing around the enemy vehicles with their distance labels by the side.

“Targets acquired and tagged,” Jackson said with a monotonous voice.

Amin aimed the launcher towards the night sky and stared through the scope. He moved the launcher around until the reticle of the launcher’s scope aligned with one of the virtual white dots showing on his helmet’s visor. The dots represented points in a virtual hemisphere where the center of origin is Amin’s position. Utilising the data from the drones, the combat predictive software took into account the tagged targets’ movement and updated the dots’ positions in real time. All Amin had to do was to align the reticle with any of the dot, which ensured the fired grenade follows an arch trajectory that guarantees a direct hit. He squeezed the trigger. His exoskeleton absorbed the weapon’s recoil as a grenade went flying towards the target.

The explosion came a few seconds later. Jackson reported it was a direct hit based on the feeds from the drone. Amin aimed the launcher again and fired. This time he didn’t wait for Jackson to report back. He kept firing until the launcher was empty. The sound of explosions started coming in just as he unloaded the empty casings, letting them hit the ground with rapid clanking sounds.

Aliens intensified their attacks and made it difficult for the soldiers to shoot back. Sections of the parapet started crumbling after taking too much damage, forcing the soldiers to relocate to another section. For Amin and Jackson, they took cover behind another ventilation shaft further away from the edge as the parapet section shielding them was gone. A plasma bolt came through the opening and vaporised part of the shaft, reminding them of their vulnerability.

“Anymore vehicles?” Amin asked as he loaded the last round.

“Two more from the west and another two from the east…” Jackson squinted at the feeds before going wide-eyed, “Fuck! They looked like tanks!”

“Oh fuck me! This weapon is useless against those.” Amin spent a couple of seconds to think before coming up with another plan, “Find me a cluster of enemy. I will soften them up.”

“Bringing the drones around. Give me a moment.”

“Corporal,” Amin called out over the radio, “there are four tanks converging on our position. Two to the east and two to the west.”

“Roger that. We will take care of them.”

Amin heard the orders being shouted over the radio when he shifted his attention to his wrist computer to see the first group of aliens tagged. There were six of them bunched together. He aimed in direction of the group and fired.

The grenade exploded just above the aliens’ heads. Those at the center of the blast disintegrated instantly while those further away were blown into multiple parts.

Jackson tagged some more enemies and Amin followed up with his attacks. More explosions followed.

While Amin was busy with the grenade launcher, the soldiers guarding the western side of the roof got to work trying to take out the tanks. The orange explosions from the missiles striking the tanks were clear as day.

Pelton and his squadmate had gone over to the eastern side with the anti-vehicle launcher and extra munitions in hand. He readied the launcher while his squadmate provided covering fire. He aimed at the closest tank with the aid of his smart goggles and the software in the launcher took care of the identification of target, tagging and programming the missile in the launcher. He squeezed the trigger once the targeting box turned solid. The missile with a high-explosive anti-armour warhead shot through the air at two times the speed of sound following an arch trajectory. A turbulent cloud of white fire followed the blinding flash when the missile struck the top of the tank.

Pelton cheered for a brief moment when Jackson interrupted over the radio, “The tank is still moving! It got some kind of energy shield protecting it!”

“Fuck!” He knew he was in serious trouble as the tank was only eight hundred meters away when he fired that missile. Given the enemy’s level of technology, it would be easy for them to track where the missile came from. He ducked down immediately to ready another missile when his squadmate called out…

A massive explosion of orange fire engulfed that side of the building and vaporised everything, leaving behind a hole big enough to fit a van through. It was the same story to the westside.

The missiles didn’t even damage the tanks.

Now with just three two-man squads left on the roof and most of their heavy weapons gone up in smoke, it was a lost cause. A quick status check with the ground revealed that Sergeant Chris and his squad were dead and the only ones left guarding the school were inside. Amin knew they had to buy as much time as possible for the civilians under their care while secretly hoping someone with enough authority in the E.U military know of their current predicament. He gathered the remaining men to prioritise killing alien soldiers.

Over the next ten minutes, the soldiers on the roof killed as many aliens as they can. They spread themselves around the roof, using whatever cover they could find. It didn’t take long before one of them fell to enemy fire. The enemy tanks also joined in the battle as they fired on the building killing three more men. The tank rounds also took out most of the top levels of the school.

Without any viable support below, the roof started crumbling onto the third floor. Without any powered-suit aiding him, Private Lanker was the first to fall together with the crumbling concrete debris. His cries were barely audible amongst the sound of rumbling. He landed on a vertical rebar that went straight through where the heart was and expired seconds later. Amin and Jackson leapt high enough just in time and landed on top of the concrete pile upright.

A loud explosion to the west caught their attention. Amin took a quick look at the feeds the drones returned. One of the enemy tank was nothing more than a charred metal frame.

The aliens were partially confused by the attack but they didn’t stop attacking the school. Another explosion and the second tank went up in flames. They thought the humans had new weapons deployed against the tanks.

“Jackson, what was that? Did you see anything?”

“Looking,” Jackson replied as he put the archive feeds besides the live feeds. He started scrubbing through them and after a minute, he declared, “I still don’t see shit.” Then he saw enemy soldiers near the destroyed tanks going down one by one on the live feed. He pulled up the control for one of the drones in the west and zoomed in. He saw the same kind of expression he seen many times on humans when they were hit or stabbed. In this case, he managed to see that it was stabbing judging from the blood oozing out from holes in their body armour but he still didn’t see who was attacking.

It didn’t take long for what’s left of the aliens to shift their attention to the new enemy. They started sweeping left and right, and started firing at whatever they thought was there but it didn’t stop the new enemy from swiftly killing them one by one.

More explosions came from the east. Like before, the tanks were no more. The enemy soldiers there turned their attention to the new enemy but the moment a few of them started dropping dead, the rest ran towards the school. It was clear the aliens were afraid of what’s out there. Amin and Jackson seized the chance, ran to the east side of the building and started firing on incoming aliens. They killed a few but it wasn’t enough. There were aliens approaching from the other sides too. With no one to stop them, they managed to get into the building.

***

The main lights in the bridge switched on when electricity started running through them. Power was finally back. Zhang Hao sat in his chair and watched his staffs did a quick system checks. When the reports came back, it was either good news or bad news depending on the perspective. For Captain Zhang Hao, it was mostly good news. The thrusters were operational. The navigation system was mostly functional. Life support was operating at eighty percent of its capability but enough to keep the crew going for a while. The only issue was Mu Ren couldn’t participate in any more battles since they ran out of missiles and the control system to the gauss cannons were fried. It could be repaired using the spare parts lying around in storage but it would be a while before it was operational due to recalibration. The point defence system was partially functional and the crew was working hard to get the rest online.

Just before Zhang Hao could give the order to move, the ship’s sensors picked up an enemy contact. The tactical officer reviewed the reports and send the unfiltered version to him. The enemy was two hundred kilometres away and was much bigger than the alien ship they engaged earlier.

“Ship wide communication now!”

The communication officer switched on the channel, “Channel open, sir!”

“We got enemy contact and don’t have the weapons to respond. Everyone strapped yourself in! We are accelerating out of here! Helmsman, get out out of here!”

Just as the helmsman got to work, the tactical officer called out, “The enemy ship is firing! Multiple missiles inbound. I count thirty!”

“Helmsman, anytime now!”

The ship lumbered reluctantly as the thrusters went online. Then it was turning right, sending everyone swerving to the left from the sudden acceleration. The rear thrusters kicked in simultaneously to move the ship forward.

The tactical officer shouted, “The enemy just launched the second wave of missiles. I count another thirty. First wave of missiles impacting in five minutes!”

Zhang Hao swallowed a lump of saliva. Never had he felt so scared before. He caught himself before he got stuck in his head, second guessing every decision he had ever made till now. Any decision was better than nothing.

“What’s the status of the point-defences?”

“Based on potential impact zones, we could get seventy-five percent of those missiles given the point-defence turrets we have. The rest are coming online now as we speak. Three more minutes.”

“Can we go any faster?”

“We could, sir, but some of us won’t survive the g-force.”

“And if we don’t get away fast, there won’t be anyone left alive anyway.”

“Aye, captain.”

With a few more commands sent to the navigation system, the engines delivered even more power to the thrusters causing the ship to surge forward. The sudden increased to 9G of acceleration caused everyone to grunt in pain. Those not accustomed to it lost consciousness within seconds and medical attention had to be given immediately.

“Third wave of missiles inbound. We got a hundred missiles heading our way now!”

Although no one said anything, the tension in the bridge was obviously higher than before. This time, death was inevitable. But they would continue to fight for their survival.

The ship just couldn’t get away fast enough from the missiles even with 9G of acceleration. The point-defence turrets went to work, firing their stores of explosive bullets at the missiles as soon as they came within range.

Then the second wave of missiles came. And the point-defence turrets took care of those too.

The tactical officer studied the flashing white text on red that was on his display. He went wide-eyed, “Sir, the turrets are out of ammunitions. Third wave of missiles impact in two minutes.”

Everyone just knew. That was it.

“People, pray to whichever god you believe in. It’s been a pleasure serving with you all,” Zhang Hao said solemnly.

They all counted down the minute and then seconds. The only wish they had now was to die a quick death given what they knew about those enemy missiles…

***

The sound of explosions woke Dexter up. He sat up straight and wondered what just happened. Another explosion startled him. After he calmed down a little, he looked around to see no one in the infirmary. Another explosion gave him a hypnic jerk. In between the explosions, there were gunfires. It didn’t take long for him to get used to the commotion. He got out of bed and beelined for the main door.

He opened the door and looked into the dark corridor. There was no one. He didn’t even find it surprising because there just isn’t much foot traffic even during normal school day. There’s nothing important on this side of the building except for the janitor’s closet and washrooms.

He stayed close to the wall, keeping his left hand on it to serve as a guide as he walked down the corridor. More explosions went off.but he had gotten used to them by now. His hand found the first door on his left and he knew he was outside the washrooms. He heard the sound of running water coming from inside the washroom.

“Anyone there?” Dexter called out.

“Is that you Dexter?”

He recognised that voice anywhere, “Yeah. What are you doing in there?”

“Washing up and have a change of clothes. Give me a moment.”

Shane came out of the washroom with a T-shaped torchlight in his hand. The light beams hit Dexter in the eyes, forcing him to turn away in an instant and shield his eyes with his free hand, “Argh! That hurt my eyes.”

Shane put his hand over the torch to cover it up and let out only a few stray strands of light beams, “Sorry.”

Dexter turned around blinking hard while his eyes adjusted to the reduced brightness and could make out Shane’s face. He stared at Shane, “What are you doing here? Where’s everyone?”

“I was by your bedside waiting for you to wake up with the occasional toilet break. As for the rest, I heard some commotion earlier about moving everyone to the basement. That’s when the first gunfires started. I suppose everyone is there now.”

“Then we should go to the basement too.”

“No. I don’t think we will be safe there. The more of us in one place means quicker death. Most probably a massacre. I took a sneak peak through the washroom window earlier. Aliens are attacking from everywhere and the soldiers were having a hard time keeping them back. Soon they will be in here and we will all be dead.”

“But there’s no where else we can go.”

“We can hide here or in the labs upstairs. We could make some makeshift weapons with the chemicals there for defence.”

Dexter breathed in and out deeply several times while thoughts churned in his head, “Fine. Let’s go.”

Both of them jogged over to the stairs that took them to the second level. They turned right onto a dark corridor and jogged a few more paces. The only light source was from the torchlight which prevented them from tripping over themselves. But it was always pointed to the ground as they didn’t want those aliens to see someone running around in the school.

They reached the chemistry lab and found the main door unlock. They went inside and closed the door behind them.

The lab itself was rectangular. To Dexter and Shane’s left, on the far end of the room, cabinets housing various chemicals and equipment took up the whole stretch of wall. On the opposite wall was a stretch of windows, each separated by a section of wall in between. Despite all the fighting, it was surprising to see the windows remaining intact. Below the windows were more cabinets. In the center of the lab were eight rows of three columns of lab benches with black marble tops and concrete bases for students. A meter wide space separated each row and column for students and teachers alike to walk and stand. In front of the student beaches, at least a meter and a half away, was the teacher’s bench which was longer and on a slightly raised platform. Behind the teacher’s bench was the holographic whiteboard that doubled as a display for teacher to show their teaching materials and for students to present their work. Right now, it was just a blank, transparent sheet of glass. Along the same wall and near the window was the door to the storage room where reserves of chemicals, some more dangerous ones, and other supplies were kept. To prevent students from sneaking in, the door was secured with three sliding locks linked to a biometric reader near the door. With the power out, it should be easy to sneak in.

Dexter pointed to the cabinets at the far end, “I will search those cabinets.”

“Alright, I will take the other side.”

Dexter started going through the cabinets searching for chemicals they can use. In his head, there were a few ideas that would make sense and be easy to make. He hoped that Shane would be able to accept his ideas. In the meantime, Shane gathered all the equipment they would need to create the chemical compounds for the explosives. They laid it all out the teacher’s bench. After a quick discussion about what they wanted to make, they got down to work, using the torchlight as the only light source in the room. Dexter was rather surprised that Shane didn’t even argue about what to do because he pictured this person beside him as an alpha male who won’t let anyone win.

It took ten minutes to prepare the two chemical solutions, one yellow and one clear in colour, they needed to fill at least ten bottles of each type. The solutions on their own was relatively safe to handle but when mixed together they would react violently to create an explosion.

Dexter and Shane were bottling up the solutions when two loud explosions came from the ends of the school and shook the building violently, forcing them to stop work immediately. They didn’t want any accident caused by spillage. As soon as the shaking stopped, they filled up the remaining bottles before pairing the bottles of white and yellow solution together, and ensured each of them had five pairs.

Under Dexter’s guidance, they each looped a twine around the neck of the first bottle, terminate with an icicle hitch, gave two centimetre slack before wrapping the remaining twine around the neck of the second bottle, and terminating with another icicle hitch. Then they wrapped the remaining end of their respective twine around the middle in a figure of eight before looping back up to the slacked twine and tying a mooring hitch to secure the twine.

When either one of them needed to use the makeshift bomb, they could just release the knot, undo the twine in the middle and throw the bottles at their target. Since the glass of each bottle were thin, any moderate impact would cause the bottles to shatter and release the chemicals inside.

They used paper clips as makeshift carabiners to hang the bottles by the twines on their belts which were made of twines too. When they were done, they leave the lab only to experience more explosions and falling dust from the ceiling. The building shook more violently this time and there were rumbling from the upper floors. Both of the staggered towards central stairway and saw plumes of dust coming from the top floor. They waited for the plumes to subside before heading down.

While they were on the stair landing between the second and first floor, the front door burst open and two aliens came through.

Shane saw the shadows on the ground first, “Oh shit!” Shane whispered forcefully as he turned around and gestured to Dexter, “Aliens, go back. Back to the lab.”

Dexter jogged up the stairs first with Shane following closely behind, all the while making sure the bottles hanging from their waists didn’t clash with each other. They slipped into the lab, beelined towards the storage room and went in. They bolted the door from the inside and hid in the corner east of the door. Between them and the door was a huge shelf full of boxes and they hoped those were enough to hide them.

They didn’t know how much time passed when they heard gunfire coming from outside. There were a couple of grunts and screeches mixed with a couple of human voices. Then there were the sound of bodies hitting the ground.

Shane led the way. Once he was at the door, he undid the bolt while making sure there was as little noise as possible. Then he opened the door wide enough for him to stick his head out. There was no one in the lab but there were some sort of light coming through the tiny window on the door.

The handle on the door creaked and the door swing opened. Shane caught a glimpse of two soldiers donning exoarmours coming through as he slipped back inside the room. He tried to close the door once more but this time the hinges creaked.

“Fuck!” Shane cursed under his breath.

“Who’s there?” one of the soldiers called out as he edged closer with his weapon raised. The weight of the armour meant the floor quaked with every step he took. “Identify yourself!”

Dexter recognised that voice and called, “It’s me, Amin. I’m with a friend and we are coming out.” He exited the room with Shane following closely behind with his arms raised.

Amin frowned behind visor of his full-face helmet and lowered his weapon immediately, “What the hell are you doing here? You should be downstairs with the rest…” The sensors on his suit picked up on sonic vibrations caused by footsteps. The smart software in the suit identified the sonic as coming from the aliens based on information gathered earlier. “Incoming contacts. Hide.”

Dexter and Shane dashed back into the storage room and closed the door but leave a gap to allow in a tiny sliver of night light that was coming from the window. Dexter was on top of Shane as they peeked through the gap, looking at the two ODMs who took cover by the third column of benches and had aimed their weapons at the door.

It didn’t take long before the first alien came through the door. Amin and Jackson were ready for that. They opened fire before the alien could fire its weapon. The alien’s body jerked and spasmed as bullets struck and ripped holes in his body armour. He dropped dead in a pool of blue blood. Another alien, hiding behind the wall adjacent to the door, took the chance to fire its weapon blindly into the classroom, forcing both marines to duck while another alien tossed in a grenade. The grenade landed on the corridor between the second column and the third column of benches with a metallic clank.

As soon as they heard the clank, Dexter and Shane scrambled deeper into the room and Shane used his body to shield Dexter from any incoming projectile.

The grenade exploded, lighting up the lab in shades of blue and unleashed a blast wave that forced the door wide open. The concrete base of the benches closest to the blast shattered into thousand pieces while the remaining benches managed to contain the initial heat wave from the thousand degree celsius plasma that would have flash burn everything within five meters. The blast also knocked Amin and Jackson unconscious. But the armours did protect them from the falling debris while absorbing the residual heat to charge its internal batteries.

The two aliens with their heat-sensitive eyes couldn’t tell if the marines were dead and had to go closer to check. Even then they would only see a slight smear of red and orange from where the suit’s primary batteries were. After all, the exoarmour was designed to mask any heat signature generated by the wearer.

Shane and Dexter made their way towards the wall adjacent to the door and avoid stepping on anything that would make a sound while listening intently to the aliens’ heavy footsteps as they made their way into the lab. Once at the wall, they leaned against it with their backs and sidestepped towards the door with Shane leading. He leaned his head out just far enough to see with one eye. He swallowed a lump of saliva when he saw one of the alien was almost on top of one of the marines.

Shane turned to look at Dexter and was shaking as he whispered, “Two aliens outside. The marines are down.”

“We have to help them.”

Shane swallowed another lump of saliva. Dexter decided to take matters into his own hands and switched places. He leaned his head out just far enough to see where the aliens were before going back to hiding.

“I will take the one closest to us and you take the other one.”

Shane looked at Dexter for what seemed like an eternity. He felt conflicted. A part of him wanted to prove to Dexter that he was the man and another part was scared shitless. He almost peed his pants but managed to hold it to save himself the embarrassment. Then he decided to say yes anyway.

Both of them unclipped a pair of bottles each and released the knots. Dexter went first and threw his bottles at the closest alien, who had its back against the storage room and would never see the incoming bottles until it was too late. Shane followed up immediately and threw his bottles at the second alien just as the first pair of bottles struck the back of the alien’s head.

The first pair of bottles broke with a satisfying high-pitch sound followed by the sound of explosion and a puff of white smoke as soon as the two chemicals came in contact with each other. It blew a hole through the skull and the alien was dead before he even hit the floor. The other alien turned as soon as the first explosion went off only to have a pair of bottles striking him in the face. The subsequent explosion destroyed most of the alien’s face and didn’t even have the chance of howl. The initial explosion woke the marines up and they swiftly put down the alien with a hail of bullets.

Amin queried what was that explosion about while he studied the injuries on aliens. Dexter went on to showcase one pair of bottles and explain how they made their own makeshift explosives using resources found in this lab which impressed Amin. As Jackson and he were running low on ammunition and without any explosives, he asked if his buddy and he could have some. Dexter and Shane regarded each other briefly before Dexter handed over two pairs of bottles. Shane did the same. Then Dexter went on to describe how to use the bottle and the importance of being careful because of the fragility of the bottles. Amin nodded as he placed the bottles into the side storage compartments of his legs’ armour, which was one of the few compartments in the exoarmours that had cushioning inside to store fragile materials.

Gunfires from the basement echoed throughout the building as soldiers fought off the aliens. Then a general broadcast went out hoping that someone out there could help. Some of the male civilians decided to help out and pick up some weapons from the caches. Despite their lack of training, they were able to distract the aliens long enough for the soldiers to respond. The civilians managed to kill a few aliens themselves.

Amin and Jackson picked up on the broadcast, went to help. Dexter and Shane followed closely behind after their insistence. Upon reaching the basement entrance, Jackson decided to hang back. They both knew someone had to be outside to prevent more aliens from coming through and trapping all of them. Dexter and Shane unsurprisingly followed Amin into the basement.

The three of them stacked up by the basement entrance while Amin pulled out the basement’s virtual floor plan and put it on the right side of his helmet’s heads-up display. He also activated the motion detection feature so that nothing could sneak up on him.

The basement after the stairwell consist of a primary L-shape corridor with several rooms on both sides. The long end of the ‘L’ saw two pairs of shorter corridors branching out at ninety degree in the middle and the far end, forming a ’T’-shape in their respective sections. There were two entrances leading into the basement. The first was where Amin and the teenagers were. The second entrance was located in the room at the right end of the first T junction. That entrance was also where bulk of aliens were swarming through as it connected to carpark behind the school.

Their main goal was to reach the second T-junction where most of the soldiers were, protecting the civilians holed up in the rooms in that area.

Amin took a couple of deep breath before he opened the metal door.

Without lights and no windows, the basement was especially dark. As both Dexter and Shane didn’t have any night vision goggles, they stayed by the entrance while Amin went through. Even with night vision mode, he had a hard time seeing anything beyond five meters. He activated the two infrared projectors mounted on the sides of his helmet, which fired thousands of infrared beams forward to illuminate the scene so that the night vision sensors to have a clearer image. He hoped that the aliens don’t see those infrared beams and decided to come his way. Satisfied that he could see the bend of the corridor, he walked towards the bend with his weapon raised. With each step he took, the weapon reports and shouting got louder but it didn’t affect Amin as the helmet had its own noise dampening and cancellation features. His eyes constantly switched between looking for enemies in front of him and at the floor plan for any red blips near him. He also wanted to make sure the red blips further away don’t come any closer to him, which might indicate they were moving towards him.

He checked the rooms on his end of the corridor and found them all clear. He leaned his back against the wall just before the bend and didn’t dare to poke his head around the corner. Stray bullets were sizzling past and striking the wall in front of him. He didn’t want to get shot in the head by friendly fire.

He activated his radio and switched to the broadcast channel. He hoped everyone on the other side of the basement could hear him, “This is Master Sergeant Amin of ODM. Friendlies coming through the bend. Watch where you shoot.”

“Roger that.” The soldiers mostly stopped firing, which gave the aliens some breathing room to move forward.

Amin knew it based on how the red blips moved on his heads-up display. He took out one bottle pair from his leg compartment with his right hand, undid the knot, swung out of the bend and threw the bottles at the closest alien he saw while his left hand was still holding onto the barrel of his weapon. His right hand instinctively moved to grip the handle and finger on the trigger. As soon as the bottles found their target, he had another alien in his weapon’s line-of-sight and squeezed the trigger. A burst of bullets struck the alien in center of his back, punching through the body armour, severing the spine and shattered a few organs.

The alien howled from the pain after the explosion took out most of his lower face. Amin turned his attention to it and killed it. He killed another before the rest realised what was happening. Some of them turned around to focus their attention on the new enemy. In the time between the aliens raising their weapons at him and squeezing the triggers, he walked back to the wall adjacent to the bend while firing off another burst, killing one more.

Amin was safely behind the wall when its edge exploded from the onslaught of plasma bolts. Soldiers on the other side seized the chance to attack, shooting at any alien exposed at the T-junction. They managed to kill a couple before the aliens quickly shifted their attention again to the soldiers and ignored Amin. It gave him the chance to dash out of cover shooting.

The battle was over when the last alien fell to the ground with holes in his body and arms, spilling blue blood all over. A quick count revealed at least twenty alien bodies on the ground and two human casualties from the firefight.

Amin and two soldiers stood guard by the secondary entrance to the basement and waited for more aliens to come through. But after fifteen minutes of zero activities, he felt it was safe to get the two teenagers still standing outside the main entrance.

***

Throughout the night, soldiers took turns to watch out for more aliens. It was only fair so that everyone got their share of rest. At morning, communication with Earth Union military high command was established and Amin told them of the situation on the ground. After going a brief exchange over the radio, high command agreed to dispatch transports to get the civilians and soldiers out of the area.

By mid-afternoon, the transports arrived and civilians went on their way to the few refugee camps the government had setup within Sierra Nevada while soldiers were redeployed to hot zones around California.

***

Death never came. The missiles never hit the ship and had simply vanished. The ship sensors didn’t report any sign of explosion nor was there any report of any nearby ship. The bridge crew thanked their gods for letting them live to fight another day.

Then came the sighting of multiple explosions coming from the enemy ship. It was as though the alien ship had been struck by an unseen weapon.

“Sir, we are being hailed. It’s audio-only and using the same kind of encryption we use to communicate with HQ.”

“Let it through.”

“Am I speaking to the captain?”

It was obvious that this wasn’t the military, “Yes. May I know who speaking to? This is a military channel and you are in violation of multiple laws.”

“You can call me John. And I’m well aware of the laws governing the use of military communication channels and encryption. But I’m sure you can let that pass considering I just saved the life of everyone onboard your ship.”

“What do you want?”

“I don’t want anything. I will ensure the safety of your ship until you get to Mars. After that, you are on your own.”

“Why are you doing this? And where are you?”

“It’s my mission. And you won’t see me unless I want you to. You can think of me as an invisible guardian angel. I’m sending you a couple of navigation points. Get to those points and you should find enough supplies to keep your ship in working condition until you reach Mars. There are also medical supplies for the radiation sickness affecting your crew.”

Then the communication channel went dead. Shortly after, the helmsman reported receiving some data packets containing the navigation points.

The XO asked, “Sir, what are your orders?”

“You heard him. Follow those nav points. We will resupply and go to Mars.”


Click here for Chapter 5.

Click here for Chapter 3.

The Tainted Forbidden Love – Chapter 3

The first news reports came in at about twelve in the afternoon, reporting about large, unidentified vessels descending down from the skies. Even the smallest one was bigger than the biggest spaceship ever built for Earth Union Space Fleet. The unidentified vessels took up positions above many of the major cities across the planet and hovered there.

Earth Union government attempted communication but those efforts didn’t yield any result. They also initiated city-wide curfew to get everyone home to be with their family, for both safety and ease of management reasons. Riots broke out across many cities on Earth as people fought to secure the basic necessities to survive. Even members of the police force didn’t bother with keeping order and joined in.

As it drew closer to mid-afternoon, Central European Time, Earth Union government unanimously agreed to deploy the military. However, they didn’t want to present themselves as threat to these unidentified visitors. So the military mobilised in secret, relying on hand-delivered messages as they suspected the enemy probably could listen in on their conversation, encrypted or not.

Due to the distances involved, news of the unidentified visitors only reached the outer colonies beyond the Kuiper Belt by evening. As the outer colonies relied on Earth for half of their basic necessities to survive, the colonists grew concerned about their survival. They asked themselves what if the visitors attack, what should they do and how would they defend themselves if Earth was lost. Uncertain of the future, they started stocking up on food and water. Little did they know, the war had started.

***

Built in 2242 and completed in 2245, the Earth Union Space Service (E.U.S.S) Mu Ren was a joint effort between the Chinese, Americans and Europeans to mark the start of next generation Tian-He class cruisers and to serve as a statement issued to the terrorists, separatists and other criminal organisations that they were willing to put aside their differences and put an end to any illegal activities that were rampant especially in the outer solar system. The cruiser was also one of the three in operation with five more were still under construction.

At six hundred and fifty-four meters long, two hundred meters wide, and one hundred meter tall for the ship’s front and back, the Mu Ren was easily one of the biggest military ship ever deployed by the Earth union. The main hull of the ship resembled that of a tapered hexagonal tube that was wide at the rear and thin in front. Close to the mid-section, a trapezoid tower, adding another thirty meters to the ship’s final height, sat on top of the ship. It housed the bridge, majority of sensors, and communication arrays the ship needed to do its mission. To ensure the ship had a minimal radar cross section, all the edges were rounded. The ship also came equipped with the latest in hardware and software that made it a highly advanced military cruiser. Powered by twin fusion engines, its six rear thrusters arranged in a grid manner provided enough power to accelerate the ship to speeds up to 0.001 percent of light speed. At those speeds, it was easily one of the fastest ships in the E.U Space Fleet and could reach any planets or colonies within the inner solar system within a week and a half.

The ship’s primary weapon was the four forty-five meter long gauss-guns on turret mounts, two in front and two to the rear. Each of the guns could fire a twenty centimetre-wide, 800 kilogram ferromagnetic projectile with a muzzle velocity exceeding eight kilometre per second. At those speeds, each round could level a small town or city. Complementing those guns were the anti-ship missiles housed in the ship’s internal weapon bays, allowing for engagement at longer ranges. For defence, the ship featured an array of point-defence turrets mounted along the aft, broadside, top and bottom of the ship. Those turrets could take out any incoming threats like enemy missiles or space debris. As the human mind could not possibly track, aim and fire those turrets at targets in realtime, the turrets utilised an artificial intelligence that ran on an independent, separate control system. It was to ensure the turrets could operate at maximum effectiveness and not interfered with by the primary fire control system used by the rail cannons. The ship also carries four twenty kiloton tactical nuclear weapons for use as last-resort.

Like the other cruisers, the Mu Ren had relied heavily on its electronic and digital systems for a lot of purpose, ranging from controlling the bulkheads to firing the weapons. That was why the cruiser only required about two hundred people to operate. Internally, it had at least 600 cabins spread across four decks near the front and mid section of the ship to house the crew and other personnel, military or civilian. It also had a separate storage deck for supplies meant for the people onboard. Depending on mission, the two cargo decks towards the rear of the ship could be reconfigured to either carry a complement of fifty combat fighters, supplies their pilots and support crew as well the supporting equipments and weapons, or carry a battalion of 400 Orbital Drop Marines and the equipments they needed to successfully complete any mission.

At five hundred thousand kilometres away from the moon, the ship began the process of decelerating, firing its front thrusters in a controlled manner. It also began receiving reports of large unidentified vessels descending towards the planet’s surface. Long distance scans revealed these vessels were actively avoiding collision with any of the existing spacecrafts, Space Defence Platform and satellites in orbit around the planet as they went down.

Captain Zhang Hao was in his room reviewing the latest report of the ship on the computer on his desk when the call notification appeared on display. It was the XO. He accepted it.

“Sir, you’ve got to come to the bridge. You need to see this.”

“I’ll be right there.”

Zhang Hao unstrapped himself from the chair, pushed himself up and walked towards the coat rack. The magnetic boots kept him grounded though the rest of his body were in constant free-fall, which created an odd sensation in his brain, one that he had since learned to accept. He grabbed his military-issued coat, put it on and stepped out onto the T-shaped corridor, making his way towards the other end. He walked past a crossing corridor on his left that leads to a door. Behind that door would bring him to another corridor connected to the CIC and alternative escape pods.

The door at the end of the corridor slid open once the biometric scanner above authenticated him. He walked through only to have the guard standing by the door announce his arrival, “Captain on deck”.

He called out before the crew could react, “As you were.”

He sat down behind the console and tightened the strap around his waist before reviewing what the XO wanted him to see. He studied the information, a collection of text, drawings and numbers, on the display in front of him and wasn’t quite sure he was ready to believe what he was seeing.

The communication officer, a young Japanese man fresh out of training, called out about an incoming audio transmission from headquarters. Zhang Hao nodded his head and the officer accepted the transmission, broadcasted it for everyone in the bridge to hear.

“To anyone receiving this transmission, we believe you have seen what’s going on. As of this transmission, we don’t know whether these visitors are friendly or intend to do us harm. We will be going EMCON until further notice. Until then, ships are to implement Protocol Zulu-Delta-Lima-Sierra-Sierra. May god, whichever you believe in, help us.”

At the end of the broadcast, Zhang Hao sat there in silence while stroking the top of his lips with his index finger as he considered the situation and the order to implement Protocol Zulu-Delta-Lima-Sierra-Sierra while the rest of the crew continued with what they were doing until they were told otherwise. Throughout his career with the military, it was the first time this protocol was ever implemented officially and the other times were during his officer training course.

When he came to a decision, he spoke in a measured and calm manner, “Communications, open ship-wide broadcast.”

“Aye Captain,” The communications officer flipped a few virtual switches and pressed a few buttons on his holographic display. “The channel is ready.”

He activated the microphone on the console, “This is the captain speaking. The ship will not be docking with the station and will begin its process of coming to a full stop in one minute. We will enter orbit around the moon. Once that happens, we will be EMCON. All personnel are to get ready for combat action.” After switching off the microphone, he ordered, “Begin countdown. Helmsman, get ready to bring us to a stop around the moon on the edge of the dark side and give us a full view of Earth. We will use the backdrop for stealth.”

A ship-wide countdown began. Everyone onboard went to work to strap down anything moveable to make sure nothing became a projectile due to newton’s third law before strapping themselves down at the various acceleration couches placed around the ship. At the end of the countdown, the helmsman input commands to his console. The ship’s onboard navigation software, which was a form of artificial intelligence, processed the commands and activated the corresponding sub-routines across multiple systems to slow the ship down further and put the ship on a path to enter the moon’s gravity well, all the while taking into account the effects of g-force on the ship crew and the structural limitation of the ship.

After an hour of manoeuvring, the ship was finally in a holding position around the moon with its front facing Earth. With EMCON and protocol in effect, there was nothing else the crew could do except to keep the ship ready to move on the captain’s order.

***

They were having pizza in front of the television when the news reports came. Dexter and Hayley grew anxious and lost their appetites. They found themselves embracing each other to give each other some kind of emotional support. Nobody, not even the authorities, knew what was happening. All they were hearing coming from the so-called experts on television were speculations after speculations. One thing was clear though. Those vessels were aliens.

And the fact that aliens have visited Earth made some segments of the population excited, as there had been no hints of life beyond Earth even after the formation of Earth Union in the late twenty-first century and humans spreading themselves across the solar system. Some scientists were optimistic that the aliens were peaceful while many others were more skeptical.

War with the aliens on the other hand was unthinkable. Nobody knew how it would turn out as the only kind of wars they had in the last one hundred years or so was amongst themselves with weapons they invented themselves. And those wars had always been about rights, freedom, or access to resource. The same can’t be said for these aliens and that made military officials jittery though they never publicly admit or show it.

Around two in the afternoon, the main door opened and Sam came through. He was tired after a long night at work. He wanted to get a bottle of beer from the fridge when he saw the news about unidentified vessels hovering above major cities across the planet.

At first he was intrigued and went closer to the television to watch more. The more he watched, the more frightened he became. He gripped the top of the couch tightly. He felt like he was that ten year old kid again. He had lost his mom to a car accident when he was seven and lived with his dad until he was nine when his uncle moved into their house. They loved to take their anger and frustration out on him when they were drunk. Yet in a weird way, they never went too far with anything that would kill him. He thought maybe they didn’t want to go to prison for murder and risk the discovery by the authorities that they had been abusing poor, young Sam too. At night when his dad was asleep, his uncle would be in his room every day to have sex with him.

The physical abuse by his dad stopped when he was sixteen. His dad collapsed on the floor from a heart attack while beating him up with a belt. His uncle took custody of him and continued to abuse him physically, sexually, and emotionally until he turned twenty-one.

The day after his birthday, he came up with a quick plan and setup the house to encourage some kind of accident. Then he made his uncle mad and chased after him around the house. During the chase, his uncle slipped on one of the bottles in the kitchen and fell into a hot pot of soup that landed on his chest and the floor. During his struggle to grab a towel nearby, he slipped on the soup, which had mostly lard and pig skin with a mixed of lean meat and some vegetables. His uncle hit the back of his head against the kitchen table and died on the spot.

Authorities ruled the whole thing an accident and cleared Sam of any charges. For once in his life, he was free and back in control of his life. He spent the rest of his adult life working hard, establishing control and dominance over others. Then he lost his job to machines and software. He drifted aimlessly for half a year and taking out his anger through sex with young male prostitutes before coming across a single mom, Hayley, having lunch with an eleven-year-old son, Dexter, at the local bistro. Dexter reminded him of his childhood and saw an opportunity to bring back control to his life.

He spent half a year dating Hayley and getting Dexter to like him. The latter was hard because the kid was shy and distrustful. It was during that time, he found a job with the shipyard. Though it didn’t bring him much money, it was enough for him to get by. Three days before Dexter turned twelve, Sam married Hayley and moved in with them. He spent the next three years establishing control and dominance over the mother and son. He felt good about the whole setup.

Now with the news of these unidentified visitors, he didn’t like what he was feeling. He looked down and saw Dexter seated on the couch embracing his mom. They were focused on the television that they didn’t notice his presence. He bent over and pulled Dexter up by the armpits over the top of the couch.

Dexter cried out as Sam dragged him across the living room floor into the kitchen. Hayley rushed over and fought to free her son. Sam pushed her away. She tumbled backwards and fell to the ground, landing on her right hip. He ignored her cries and lifted Dexter up before tossing him onto the dinning table. Dexter tried to kick Sam away but the kicks bounced off that big belly. Sam swatted the legs away and got closer.

“Mom! Help me!” Dexter cried out as he continued to fight off Sam.

Hearing her son’s high pitch cry, her maternal instinct kicked into high gear. She got up and pulled Sam’s belt as hard as she could. He managed to tear off Dexter’s boxers partially when both Hayley and him stumbled backwards. She used the momentum to swerve Sam around and pushed him into the living room. She almost lost her balance when Dexter caught her and righted her.

Sam staggered forward and landed face first on the ground with a thud. He was lucky that his big belly absorbed the brunt of the fall. He roared as he got up and stormed towards Hayley. He grabbed her by the neck, tightened his grip and slammed her against the kitchen wall. She cried out in pain as her body and head struck the wall.

Sam bellowed with a finger pointing at Hayley, “You worthless bitch! I only married you because of your son. I want him not you. I should have kill you when I had the chance.” He went over and started strangling her.

Dexter scanned the kitchen for something to use against Sam and saw the kitchen knife on the counter top. He ran over to get the knife and stabbed Sam in the back where the left kidney was with it, causing him to howl in pain. He tried to pull out the knife but it only caused more pain, making him give up. He grunted and backhanded Dexter from the right, causing him to lose his balance and fall to the ground.

Sam released Hayley and turned his attention to Dexter, who was now scrambling to get away, “You stupid kid! Are you trying to kill me?” He grabbed Dexter by his legs, pulled him closer before bending over to lift the kid up by his neck.

Hayley collapsed to the ground wheezing. She coughed several times before she recovered enough to see Dexter lifted above the ground struggling to breathe and naked with the torn pair of boxers now on the floor like a piece of rag. There was no fight in him anymore and she could see the whites of his eyes. She felt her heart ached seeing her son’s vulnerability.

The fear of losing him forever forced her into action. She gathered whatever strength she had, lunged towards Sam and pulled out the knife, causing red blood to run down his back. He yelped from the pain and dropped Dexter, who was now barely conscious, to the ground.

Time seemed to slow down for Hayley as Sam turned around. Blood was still dripping from the tip of the knife when both their eyes met each other. Before Sam could say anything, Hayley plunged the knife into that fat belly of his.

He stared at Hayley wide-eyed and tried to reach for the knife but wasn’t fast enough. She pulled out the knife again and plunged it in. This time the knife went into that belly at a different spot. And she continued to stare straight into Sam’s eyes as she repeated the stabbing action without hesitation, spraying blood all over their bodies while soliciting grunts and whimpers from Sam.

When she finally stopped, Sam dropped to the ground on his knees and uttered, “What have you done?”

She didn’t let go of her intense stare. She was like that of a cat hunting prey, “Nobody touches or hurts my son!” She drove the knife through Sam’s throat, causing him to choke on his own blood. He collapsed to the ground in a pool of his own blood and expired seconds later.

She ran over and knelt down beside her unconscious son. She shook him while calling out his name. But there was no response. Worried that her son was dead, she placed her finger on his neck to check for a pulse and heaved a sigh of relief when she found it. She found the strength to coop up her son in her arms and carry him to the couch. She placed him down, prepared a warm towel and put it on his forehead before going to his room to get him a new pair of boxers.

Now, all she could do was wait.

Dexter opened his eyes and the first thing he saw in front of him was his mom’s left breast before seeing her face. Her eyes were closed and her left arm was resting across his chest. He uttered, “Mom?”

Hayley opened her eyes and looked down with a weak smile, “Hey baby. Are you feeling better now?”

“Yes…it hurts all over. How long was I out?”

“A few hours.”

“What happened?”

“Sam’s dead. I killed him,” she started sobbing from the sudden realisation that she killed someone.

Dexter sat up and embraced his mom. He wanted to comfort her and knew just what to say, “Thank you for saving me, momma.”

That made her stop crying as the comment reminded her she did it for a good reason. She patted the back of Dexter’s head as she looked at him with a smile with tears hanging by the corner of her eyes, “Silly boy. That’s what moms do.”

They remained in each other’s arms, reminiscing about their life before falling asleep shortly after.

The sound of distant explosion woke them. They weren’t sure what happened with the television off. Hayley tried to turn it back on but there was only static. More explosions reverberated in the air while the shockwaves could be felt across the house.

They got out of the house only to find there were other families doing the same in their town. They all looked towards the main city only to see columns of smokes rising into the air. Most of the buildings were burning. There were a few more explosions and some of the buildings in the city started going down. Although they didn’t see Earth Union forces battling it out with the visitors, they could hear sound of weapon fires. The distance didn’t do much to mask out those sounds.

Dexter and Hayley went back inside, bolted the front door and went out the back through the window in Dexter’s room. Since there was a wall separating their home and the neighbour behind, they could get into the shack without being seen.

They went inside the shack and stayed in there for what seemed to be hours. But it didn’t matter what was going on outside. There were enough food and water in the shack to last them for at least a month. After a hearty dinner, they slept through the night with the sound of explosions their lullaby.

***

Notifications from his social media accounts started popping up at around eleven thirty in the morning. Shane woke up from the vibrations generated by his wristband computer. He checked some of the notifications and became excited. He ran around the house to gather his family to watch the television for the latest news.

After watching the news, Blake and Carter grew scared and decided to go home as they wanted to be with their own family members should anything went bad.

By mid-afternoon, it became clear that it wasn’t such a good idea to be staying in the house. Being close to the city had its advantages. Everyone in the family didn’t have to commute far if they needed to do something or do something in the city. But in times like this, there were only disadvantages since the nearest alien vessel was just eight kilometres away.

His parents argued about what to do next before agreeing to staying in the family forest cabin in Upstate California until it was safe to come back. The drive there would take two hours and was as far from the city as they could be but Shane refused to go without ensuring someone else was safe. They went back and forth for a while only for him to lose the argument.

They packed the stuff they need and threw everything into the two SUVs in their garage. Shane and his mom would take one vehicle while his dad would take the other. After they loaded up the vehicles with their belongings, they sent home all the hired help.

They drove towards the highway leading into the city. While on the road, they saw there were other people who had the same idea of leaving the suburbs. Some of these people turned and headed south while some travelled north like Shane and his family. At the first junction on the highway, they turned east to take the beltway around the city, knowing travel through the city would be suicide. The alien vessels were all there.

Traffic was light on the beltway until they went further along. It was a clear indication of people leaving the cities in droves.

The first series of explosions in the city sent large debris onto the beltway, striking cars on the inner loop and sent them flipping. Some were crushed when debris fell on top of them. Drivers activated manual control and tried to avoid the carnage only to lose control and crash into other vehicles on the outer loop. It soon became a cascading series of incidents. Casualties mounted but there won’t be anyone to take care of any survivors.

Shane’s parents had the foresight of driving on the outermost lane and had a much easier time avoiding crashes but their luck ran out when one of the crashed truck up front exploded. Chunks of plastic and metal became shrapnels and slammed into the car Shane was in. One of the larger shrapnel struck the SUV’s engine block with enough force to cause an explosion, creating more shrapnels. Some struck the windshield and driver side door and one blew out the left wheel car. The momentum of the vehicle did the remaining damage.

Shane blacked out when he hit his head during the crash. He didn’t know how much time passed when he woke up upside down. He turned to his left to see his mom unmoving and had blood flowing across her face.

“Mom, are you ok?” He shook his mom.

There was no response.

“Mom!” Shane called out and shook his mom again. There was no response. He grew concerned. He looked up and down his mom’s body and found two metallic shrapnels sticking out her chest. His mind registered what’s going on and grief came over him. “No!” His mom was dead. Tears started rolling down. He cried for a while but knew there was nothing he could do.

He unbuckled his seatbelt and landed awkwardly on the roof of the car. He shifted himself and tried to open the door but it won’t budge. He cursed before giving the door a hard kick with the ball of his feet. It didn’t work. He tried again and the door swung open. He crawled out and saw the devastation around him.

The city was burning behind him. Many of the once shiny and beautiful buildings with their highly reflective glass windows and holographic advertisements now a bunch of charred metal skeleton. Columns of thick toxic smoke rose up and formed tiny black clouds. Cars on the beltway and other roads became nothing more than twisted burning metal coffins for people trapped inside. The southeasterly winds showered everything with ashes.

Shane went to the back of the vehicle to grab at least one of his bags. He didn’t know where his dad went. For all he knew, his dad could be dead further ahead and there was no point for him to travel northwards. So surviving this invasion and finding the person on the photograph became his only obsession. He went south with his bag slung over his shoulder.

Little did he know he would walk into a battle between the alien invaders and Earth Union soldiers.

***

With EMCON, intelligence could only be gathered via visual imagery using the telephoto cameras installed outside of the Mu Ren. Plans had to be made with a lot of assumptions.

For the first few hours, it was mostly peaceful and the alien vessels weren’t doing anything.

The first visual confirmation of an explosion in space came in the evening or dawn depending where you were from in the world. One of the military space stations seemingly exploded as it was transiting between the night and day side of earth.

Recognising this was war, Zhang Hao gave the order for the ship to move towards Earth. The helmsman’s finger went to work. A few flicks of some virtual switches and a few keystroke into the keyboard, the rear thrusters fired up and the ship lurched forward towards the blue marble. Some crew members found themselves nearly splattered against the walls when the ship accelerated without warning. They reoriented themselves and strapped into the acceleration couches.

E.U.S.S ships in orbit around Earth engaged in battle with the alien ships. But they were vastly outgunned. For every scratch done to the enemy, humans lose two ships. Even the orbital defence platforms around earth with their larger gauss cannons and missiles didn’t do much to stop the enemy.

Mu Ren stopped itself five thousand kilometres above Earth’s surface and came under fire from enemy fighters that seemingly appeared out of the nowhere. Or that they were stealthy enough to evade detection. The point-defence turrets with their integrated radar and multi-spectrum sensors, found the enemy fighters and made short work of them. They also detected several inbound missiles and shot them down. A few fighters did managed to get a few shot out from their plasma auto-cannons, carving large holes along the port side hull and causing atmosphere to vent out into space. The violent depressurisation sent a few unlucky crew members out into space through the holes. They screamed as they went but didn’t do much to help them. As they didn’t have the time to put on any protective suit, froze to death within seconds. The ship’s safety system kicked in seconds later and sealed off the damage sections.

In the midst of battle, Mu Ren’s sensors detected an enemy ship twice the size of Mu Ren approaching it through the clouds accelerating at speed four times that of the escape velocity. Based on the rendered image of the ship, the enemy ship had a spherical front connected to a hexagonal tube for body that was connected to a giant cone at the back. Judging from how rugged the edges of the vessel looked from the telephoto images, it was clear that these aliens valued functionality over aesthetic. Even the Mu Ren, despite its functional-first approach, looked much better than the aliens.

Seeing the data sent to his console by the Combat Information Center (CIC), Zhang Hao shifted in his seat, obviously uncomfortable. But he knew the response couldn’t be conservative. He spoke into the air, “Weapons Control, I want missiles on that incoming enemy ship. Send them half of what’s in the bays.”

A thirty-two year Staff Sergeant led the Weapons Control team. She re-enlisted just last year after going on a half-year break. Before that, she served five years in the Space Navy onboard another, much older cruiser called Shinomori. According to the Space Navy’s ship movement chart, The Shinomori’s last mission put it on patrol around the asteroid belt to quell a secession and was on its way back to Mars before the aliens invaded.

“Aye Captain,” Charlie replied before giving the order to the Master Gunner who was seated by the weapons control console in front of her.

The Master Gunner’s fingers went all over the display as he input the targeting information, which missile bays to use and what missiles to load and the launch protocol. He waited until the enemy entered into the missiles’ maximum effective range before tapping on the giant flashing red ‘Execute’ button at the bottom right of the display.

The doors to the five of ten missile launch bays underneath the ship opened with each bay revealing grids of vertical launch cells arranged in rows of four by five columns. The first row of missiles came flying out of their cells after being ejected. A second later, the missiles fired their navigation thrusters to align their heads with the target before engaging the main thrusters. The missiles surged forward through space at speeds exceeding forty times the speed of sound. Within a minute, all one hundred missiles were flying towards their target—the one alien ship now a hundred kilometres away.

Another minute later, the missiles were within two kilometres of the alien ship when its own point-defence turrets activated. The turrets took out a quarter of incoming missiles but due to the missiles’ speed, the turrets couldn’t catch up. The missiles struck multiple areas of the ship with their high-explosive thermite warheads. The alien ship looked as though it was surrounded by a massive display of orange fireworks which made the crew in the bridge and CIC to cheer.

However, fear came like a wave, sweeping over the crew of Mu Ren when they saw alien ship continued forward. It fired its missiles in response. Ten missiles shot out of their pods mounted on the side of the ship and surged forward.

At first, Zhang Hao thought it was weird the enemy only responded with ten missiles until he realised those missiles weren’t normal missiles. He ordered the ship to take evasive manoeuvre immediately and hoped the point-defence turrets could take out those missiles. If just one of the enemy missile scored a direct hit, the ship would be sitting duck for subsequent attacks, if not outright destroyed.

The helmsman’s fingers went to work as he began submitting a series of commands into the console in front of him. Almost instantaneously, the ship began firing its thrusters so that the starboard side of the ship was facing the enemy while the ship moved forward against the direction of the planet’s rotation. By having the starboard side of the ship face the enemy, he hoped to take advantage of the arrangement of the point defence turrets for a more effective counter against the inbound threat. At the same time, the Threat and Risk Management Unit in the CIC submitted a special command to the Ship Defence AI to use high-explosive and armour-piercing rounds for the turrets.

The Ship Defence AI switched out the rounds in the turrets via the automated loader systems while taking account into the threat profile. The AI also launched several drones into orbit around the Mu Ren. Those drones would then launch countermeasures in a bid to fool the incoming missiles.

The cloud of junk metals and flares littered around the former location of Mu Ren flash boiled when the first four enemy missiles struck and exploded. The point-defence turrets took care of the remaining six. One of them got too close before being destroyed, unleashing its plasma payload that tore a huge hole out of the rear of the ship, destroying one of the thrusters and reduced the ship’s overall effective speed. The boron carbide armour beneath absorbed the remaining heat and protected sensitive components on the inside.

By now, the alien ship was within effective range of the gauss-guns.

After hearing the announcement of ten more casualties, Zhang Hao felt anger surging through his body yet he managed to keep his cool, “Unleashed the remaining missiles. Fire the guns. XO, I want those marines deployed now.”

The doors to remaining five missile bays opened and the missiles went flying. At the same time, the second Master Gunner programmed the four guns to aim at the enemy ship. He input some commands to get the capacitors charging and the autoloader load rounds into the chambers. He set the guns to fire in a staggered manner: front guns first then the rear guns. Once the capacitors in the guns were at full charge, the system automatically fired them as programmed.

The missiles, each armed with either shrapnels or high-explosive thermite warheads, struck the target first. As the Master Gunner programmed them to hit the target randomly across the surface, they destroyed many of the enemy’s point-defence turrets. And unknown to the crew of Mu Ren, the missiles took out several supporting structures of the alien ship and weakened certain areas of the hull. A few seconds later, the first two gun rounds struck their target on the front and unleashed massive shockwaves that dispersed the nearby clouds while creating its own set of mushroom clouds. The alien ship’s armour ensured it was unscathed. It continued to punch through the thick greyish cloud before the second wave of projectiles struck.

When the dust and cloud cleared, smoke was rising out of the hole created by the guns. Satisfied with the ship’s effort, Zhang Hao ordered the guns to fire again. More rounds went out and this time struck several areas of the alien ship, damaging the hull and destroyed even more of the enemy’s point defence turrets. At this distance with the telephoto cameras, they could see aliens sucked out into space.

The alien ship returned fire with plasma missiles and plasma cannons. With only approximately ten kilometre between it and Mu Ren, the plasma missiles and cannons were more effective and difficult for the human ship to evade. A couple of plasma shots landed on the starboard side creating two huge holes near the front while one of the plasma missiles exploded near the trapezoid tower, superheating the metal enough to create a slag that ran down to the main body of the ship like waterfall and weakening the structure. Multiple section suffered explosive decompression shortly after, sucking several crew members out into space killing them.

In response, the Master Gunner on orders from Zhang Hao unleashed the missiles from the first bay once Mu Ren completed its reloading process. The second bay of missiles went out too once they were done loading. Then the third bay. By the time Mu Ren launched missiles from the tenth bay, it had exhausted its supply of missiles.

Luckily for the crew of Mu Ren, the alien ship couldn’t take any more punishment. It started breaking apart from the outside in. It didn’t take long for the destruction to reach the engine room. The containment for the alien ship’s antimatter fuel failed causing them to come into contact with matter. The antimatter-matter pair annihilation created a massive explosion and unleashing huge amount of radiation into the area around it. The countless space junks rode on the explosion and started slamming into the Mu Ren, causing major failures across multiple decks killing dozens more. Ionising radiation struck the ship at speed of light, causing multiple system failure. Even though the internal of the ship were hardened against most radiation, it wasn’t enough to block out sheer amount of radiation unleashed by antimatter-matter reaction. Crew members closest to the exterior of the ship were the hardest hit and suffered from radiation sickness while those in the center of the ship suffered mild illness.

***

He woke up to the sound of alarm blaring with a voice blasting through the speakers placed around the ship that repeated itself over and over again, “This is not a drill! Everyone to their battle station!”

He stripped off his pyajamas, a tight-fit polymer-based full body suit meant to keep him warm during the night, and put on the black under-suit he hung by the side of the metal cabinet by the side of his bed. This under-suit was meant for combat and active lifestyle with its array of smart sensors and temperature regulating technology. Going on top was his standard military-issue combat suit that could also operate in vacuum and provide protection against low to medium velocity shrapnel and projectiles. Additional platings placed in the pockets around his torso provided additional protection against high velocity projectiles. He placed his finger on the thumbprint reader and subject his eye to a retina scan before the shutter on the weapon locker in his room slid open. A MC-20 Gauss Carbine stood on its butt and leaning against the back of the locker. On the top shelf were eight empty magazines for the carbine stacked by the side. In the middle was a MS-30 .357 semi-automatic pistol and three empty magazines with a set of combat knives to the right. He pulled out the carbine, checked the weapon to make sure the chamber was clear and all the mechanisms were working as intended. He slung the carbine around his body, tucking it nicely in the small of his back before putting the empty carbine magazines into the pockets of his combat suit. Then he checked his sidearm and shoved it into the holster hung on the right side of his waist. He tuck the magazines for the pistol into the side pockets of his combat pants. The knives went into their respective pouch by the right breast pocket and another hanging off his belt. Satisfied with his outfit, he tapped the button by the side of the door and checked the clock on his wrist computer. He took two minute to get ready. He thought to himself, not bad at all.

He stepped out onto the metallic corridor, finding members of the 8th Battalion Orbital Drop Marines running past him towards the deployment deck, located towards the back of the ship, near the engine room. He saw someone he recognised and called out, “Hey Mark, what’s going on?”

“Hey Amin. I have no idea. But we better get going. They are mobilising everyone.”

“What?”

Mark shrugged and jogged off with the rest. Amin joined the run to the deployment deck.

The two cargo decks was configured into the E.U.S.S Standard Marine Deployment Deck, which was a term used to describe the switching of the cargo decks for the pre-configured module that was just a massive cube made of titanium alloy, separated into four regions internally with the use of barriers and bulkheads. Two of the regions served as the garage and hangar respectively. The hangar was huge enough to serve as the home for the fourteen exoatmospheric assault crafts. Each of those assault craft was capable of carrying thirty drop pods for thirty marines and were armed with four missiles pods mounted on its wings, and twin 40mm cannons under its nose. For the garage, there were ten light-strike buggies and at least two AV-10 light tanks, both of which could be ferried into the combat zone via the assault craft. And both garbage and hangar had their respective armoury to equip the vehicles. The other section was the armoury, with enough supplies to outfit all the marines with ammunition, additional weapons, special equipments for special missions. And the last one was the staging area where the marines would gather and get their briefings for any upcoming mission.

The marines arranged themselves into four grids of twenty by five within the red boxes drawn on the ground. Standing in front of them was Lieutenant Colonel Lee, a Chinese with a lighter skin tone and short brown hair. Despite his rank, he looked like he was in his late thirties with a youthful looking face.

Beside Lee was Major Jameson, who was obviously a British judging from his accent and was the one giving the briefing. He stood half a head shorter, looked way older than he actually was with a rough face and square jaw and had a thick mop of sandy-blonde hair, which was obviously non-regulation. His uniform said as much since it was all black and doesn’t have any insignia or rank but marines who had contact with him knew his official rank and he was from a special branch of the British SAS, on loan to help train the marines.

After the briefing, Amin thought the whole situation was beyond weird. He sneaked glances at the marines around him and they too looked bewildered.

Several hours ago, unidentifiable vessels had entered Earth atmosphere and took up positions above major cities and population centers. For now the vessels were not doing anything. Despite the Major’s attempt at sounding politically correct, he knew the military higher-ups take on the situation: The government don’t know what was going and not sure how to respond. The military would be treating it like a potential invasion.

And the orders for the marines was simple—they were to prepare themselves for counter-invasion operations against military targets on Earth. Individual squad would be given their respective mission by their Captains. In the meantime, the ships would engage the vessels in space and in-atmosphere, and provide ground support whenever possible.

The other weird thing was the use of paper-based briefing packages issued to the Captain of each company. Most mission details were generally sent through the Earth Union Military (E.U.M) Net where marines could access using their wrist computer and view information on their helmet’s Heads-Up Display.

After the Major gave the permission to hand out briefing packages, the Captains turned around and began moving around with the briefing packages in hand, stopped in front the sergeants of each squad and handed over a briefing package. Once all the packages had been issued, the Captains went back to their original position and faced the front.

This time, it was Lieutenant Colonel who spoke. He gave a quick speech to rally the troops before sending them off to collect their ammunitions and board the assault crafts.

Amin followed his squad to the armoury and lined up like everybody else. When it was his turn, he put his signature on the tablet in front of him for a box of ammunition for his carbine and pistol, two fragmentation grenades and high-explosive grenades, and the GH-150 Powered Exoframe.

Amin stepped forward onto the exoframe outfit platform, a large circle with robotics arms hovering around, ready to help with the wearer with putting on the exoframe. Setting it up the first time had always been a tedious process. After that though, it was as easy as taking off and putting on your clothes. In the event of any major failure, taking off is as easy as tapping any of the eject buttons located on along the thighs or the wearer could issue a voice command in an event of emergency when the wearer could neither move any of his arms.

The mostly black exoframe came through the opening in the middle of the platform and was held up by a series of clamps. Without the wearer, the exoframe looked like a series of metal bars and poles connected to each other with moveable joints powered by hydraulics, and had braces for every aspect of the body, maximising the integration. The body braces also had the secondary function of allowing the installation of ceramic armour-plating.

He climbed up the stairs, placed all his weapons on the nearby shelf, and proceeded to put on the exoframe like he was wearing another suit on top of his existing ones. After he was done securing all the straps, the robotic arms went to work to install the armour-plating for both lfront and back before connecting the exoframe to the neural interface near the base of his skull. After a series of checks completed, he stepped off the platform with his weapons attached to the various attachment points located on his exoframe.

He made his way to the assault crafts, joined his squad on one, and waited until the rest of the marines were ready.

***

No one bothered to check how much time had passed since the marines boarded the assault craft. The ship and everything within shuddered often from the explosions as the ship engaged in battle with the enemy, causing groans and moans from the marines in the assault crafts. Some of them whined that they were going to die on the ship before they get to see any action only to be shushed by the officers onboard.

When the deployment orders finally came, the pilots gave an announcement and lights in the cabin turned red as the ramps behind the crafts came up, whining as it went. Cranes secured themselves around the crafts with clamps before lifting them up, and moving them above the double sliding doors on the ground. The pilots did a synchronised countdown after the doors opened. Most marines used that chance to put on mouth-guards and tightened their jaws around them. On reaching one, the pilots hit their respective button to release clamps, allowing the assault crafts to free-fall towards Earth, causing marines to scream from excitement, like one would when riding the rollercoaster on a downward fall.

The pilots fired up the engines, manoeuvred the crafts such that the noses were at a forty-five degree against Earth’s atmosphere, shut down the engines and closed all intake ports, and let gravity did the rest.

The re-entry process wasn’t a smooth one. The craft shook violently as it went against the atmosphere that was getting denser every second. The bottom of the craft, particularly the nose area, flared orange from the intense heat and superheated gas white hot as they flowed around the curves that defined the crafts’ bottom.

Once cleared of the upper atmosphere and the crafts slowed down enough, the pilots restarted the engines to fly the assault crafts to where they were needed. At about forty kilometres above ground, the pilots gave the signal for pods deployment.

The front hatch of the drop pods came down with the hydraulics whining. The whining stopped and a thump followed, signifying that the hatch was locked shut. If anyone wanted to get out, it would not be possible without pressing the eject button that would send the hatch flying outwards from the explosives laced along the connecting edge.

The pods hung precariously above the hexagonal opening beneath as the doors opened, revealing the green, brown and grey expanse that was the continent of North America.

The clamps holding the pods in place released their grips and the pods fell towards the surface at terminal velocity.

Enemy fighters in the vicinity saw the pods and switched their mission from patrol to engaging the pods. Soon the airspace around the pods were filled with plasma rounds. Some pods lost their chute and began accelerating downwards while some exploded in midair. In either case, the marine inside was dead.

At 800 meters, pods that escaped the enemy fighters deployed their parachutes and began controlled descents to the ground. Even so, the situation on the ground wasn’t any better. Many of the pods landed in the middle of battle between E.U ground forces and the enemy. Marines lucky enough not to get shot joined the fight but many didn’t last long because of their lack of experience fighting aliens with superior weaponry. They did however last longer than the ground troops because of their trainings.

***

The pods carrying Amin and his squad managed to stay within a hundred meter of each other despite the rough descent and landed in an old town called Dunk, on an old field where the grass were overgrown.

Amin grunted when the pod impact the ground despite the parachute. His butt felt like someone had given him a kick despite the cushion. He shook his head to clear away the tension headache he had before pushing the hatch eject button. An explosion followed the hissing sound, blowing the hatch away from the pod, sending it flying a couple of meters. It continued to tumble across the field for another two more meters before landing flat against the ground.

During that time, Amin unstrapped himself, stepped out of the pod and pulled out his guns from weapon compartment, attached the sidearm to his suit and held the carbine in his hands in a swift and continuous action as though he had completed ten thousands hours of practice. He was ready to shoot at anything that so much threatened him.

He did a quick sweep of his surrounding to find that it was clear. He located his squad members on his heads-up display and made his way to the nearest one.

“Hey Vassie, how was your way down?” Amin asked as he went on one knee and sweep his weapon around to make sure no one sneaked up on them. Vassie was a big man of pure muscle at one hundred and ninety centimetre weighing just over one hundred and ten kilogram. He was the squad’s heavy weapon specialist. He was wearing the Heavy-variant of the exoframe, also known as exoarmour. The exoarmour with its thicker armour also came with at least twice the strength of exoframe, allowing it to lift more weight.

“Surprisingly smooth given the situation,” Vassie replied as he pulled out his MK45 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) from the storage compartment and weighed it in his hands, feeling secretly satisfied that he had such a powerful weapon in his hands. His carbine was attached to his back at a forty-degree angle against the magnetic holder. “But we definitely lose a lot of our people to enemy fighters. What the hell is the Air Force doing?”

“Beats me,” Amin shrugged but with that chunky exoframe, the nuances of a shrug didn’t quite show.

“Squad, on me,” the earpiece crackled. Amin and Vassie recognised that voice as their squad leader, Jacobs.

“Roger that.”

Both of them jogged over to find Coen, the squad’s scout and marksman, standing beside Jacobs.

“What’s the plan?” Amin asked.

“Reinforce any local resistance and get as many civilians to the school as possible.”

Amin looked across the field to a random distribution of houses. There were sporadic gunfire and explosions across the town, “Where do we start?”


Click here for Chapter 4

Click here for Chapter 2.

The Tainted Forbidden Love – Chapter 2

Shane lived in a rich suburbs called Rosepond some four kilometres east from the school. He had to avoid the most desolated part of Dunk and sticked to lighted areas as he made his way to the bus stop. He didn’t like coming here but he didn’t hate coming here either. The state the town was in brought forth the feeling of euphoria because there were people way less fortunate than he was while the threat of being attacked by some lowlife made him feel alive, just like how he felt on the court.

The late evening bus came just shortly after seven and he took it to the bus station just on the outskirts of the main city, Pinepond. He transferred to another bus that would take him directly to the main road near his house. He could have called either of his parents to pick him up but he didn’t want them to know he frequented Dunk or was carrying something he shouldn’t have. Besides, they were out of town and in the city for work purpose and won’t be back until tomorrow night or the following night, depending what extracurricular activities his parents wanted to do in the city.

The journey home took an hour. When he alighted at the bus stop, he saw a girl sitting on one of the benches. It looked as though she was waiting for something. He recognised her almost immediately when she looked up and their eyes met. Shane started feeling both guilty and surprised.

“Shane, where have you been? I have been waiting for you for the last hour.”

“I’m so sorry, Shirley. I had to get something for us. I promise you, the wait is worth it.”

“If you say so. Now can we go to your house?” Shirley asked as she wrapped her arms around her body and looked distressed.

Both of them walked beside each other, spending the next ten minutes walking and chatting until they arrived at the side gate leading to Shane’s house.

His house was one of the larger ones in the town with three stories. It had eight bedrooms and four bathrooms on the upper levels. The ground level hosted the family room that doubled as living room, a dinning room, a kitchen and one bathroom. Attached to the side of the house was a garage big enough to hold two SUVs. The house also had a basement that his dad converted into a wine cellar where some of the best wines were kept. The front of the house was a garden maintained to perfection by a team of gardeners with a roundabout for vehicles to drop off passengers. A yard behind the house hosted a custom-designed olympic-sized swimming pool. Surrounding the house was a concrete wall eight inches thick with state-of-the-art security system designed to keep people out.

Shane punched in his own key code on the keypad beside the gate before scanning his right iris at the scanner. The gate unlocked a moment later with a click sound. He led Shirley through first before closing the gate. He waited for the lock to engage before moving on. They walked through the garden path and enjoyed the smell of roses planted on the side.

A sexless android butler with a fake tuxedo walked up and greeted Shane as they stepped through the front door of the house. Behind the android was a large hallway that had a spiral staircase to the far left. There were three arch doorways leading away from the hall. One located beside the staircase led to the kitchen while two other arch doorways to their left and right lead to the family room and dinning room respectively.

“I will be up in my room with Miss Shirley here. I wish not to be disturbed. Do give me a warning if my parents ever get home early.”

“As you wish,” the butler replied with its usual monotonous voice before moving to the living room.

Shane grabbed on to Shirley’s hand and led her up the spiral stairs until they reached the third floor. They turned to the left and made their way to the first room on the right.

Upon opening the door, the room no doubt belonged to sporty type of guy. There were posters of great basketball players on the walls. The only desk in the room was messy with books and papers everywhere. Dirty laundry piled up high in the bottom right hand corner of the room. The king size bed was unmade.

Shirley beelined towards the bed as she took off her jacket and tossed it to side. She sat on the edge of the bed and faced the door. Shane dropped his bag on the floor and took off his sweater and t-shirt, tossing them onto the top of his bag before taking out the packet from his pocket and waved it in the air with a smile, “That’s what I meant.”

She knew what Shane had in his hand and grinned, “Now we are talking.”

He tossed the packet over to her while he went to get two piece of paper from the desk. He rolled one of them into a straw. He went over and sat facing Shirley, placed the flat piece of paper on the bed for her to pour content from the packet. He went first, breathing in almost half of those powders through the rolled paper. Shirley went next, taking in the remainder.

It didn’t take long for the twenty-second century version of unisex viagra to take effect, heightening their senses to a level where they could smell each other’s pheromone, and raised their sex drive.

“Dim the lights for sex,” Shane called out and the smart home system dimmed the lights in the room according to the sex preset. Now they could just barely see each other’s faces and body.

They began making out. A couple of minutes in, Shirley took off her black blouse and revealed a pair of red bras. Then they were kissing each other all over the neck and chest. Moments later, Shirley’s bras came off and tossed aside. She laid down as Shane got down to suck those pink nipples as he massaged her breasts with his veiny hands. She moaned uncontrollably and gripped his back so tight that it hurt. But it only made him want some more. He undid his belt and pushed down his pants and boxers in a single action to his knees, showcasing a seven-inch thick erected penis pointing straight up. As though on cue, she took off her skirt-pants and pants before lying back down again, spreading her legs wide to reveal a clean shaven and wet vulva. She didn’t even wear panties.

He bent over and continued to suck her nipples while he pushed two fingers into her vagina and rubbed the insides until his hands were full of female secretions. The combined attacks sent incredulous amount of information up her viagra-enhanced nerves making her quiver with cries of astonishment. Whatever brief moments of consciousness she had, she took that hard penis and stroked it, focusing her thumb on the frenulum. She knew how sensitive an uncircumcised cock was. He too moaned and quivered while he continued to stimulate her breasts and vagina.

He switched up the act, now pushing his penis into her vagina and made her moan. He combined thrusting actions with massages of her breast with the occasional sucking and licking. It went on for what seemed to be forever until they both reached orgasm at the same time. Ropes of warm semen went deep into her vagina, helped by the contracting muscles.

But neither of them were done yet.

They went on a few more rounds of intense sex until the drug wore off. By then, both of them were completely exhausted. He laid on top of Shirley with his penis still inside, now too raw and painful to pull out. He buried his face between her breast. Before long, both of them fell into deep sleep and didn’t wake up until it was noon. Lucky for them, there was no school on a Saturday.

***

Dexter got up of his own accord rather early in the morning but didn’t quite know why. It was a Saturday and he could sleep in. His mom definitely won’t mind because she won’t be in. She would be at the nearby convenience store helping to stock up the shelves. His father would be out at the shipyard working, at least that was what initially he thought until there was pounding of his bedroom door. His dad was home. Judging from that pounding, he wanted…no…needed something.

“Dex! Dex! Time to wake up! I’m hungry!”

He leapt off his bed and almost ran towards the door, “I’m coming!” Once there, he undid the lock in the quietest manner possible and opened the door. His dad, stepdad to be precise, was standing there with a bottle of beer in his hand and without his shirt. He had sloping shoulders and sagging man breasts. His eyes were half-closed and had grey stubble that spanned his lower jaw. Like most poor men around the planet who relied on alcohol to get through his day, he had a huge belly that if Dexter were to curl up into a ball, he could probably fit in.

His dad, Sam, took the chance to admire his stepson who was only wearing a pair of boxers and sporting an erection. If not for his mop of hair and a tad scrawny, Sam found him to be a handsome lad.

“I will make you breakfast,” Dexter said nonchalantly as he walked past Sam, walking to the kitchen in a measured manner. His dad followed closely behind moments later.

While he went about preparing breakfast, his dad sat by the dinning table and drank from his bottle. He knew Sam was watching him intently but he learnt to ignore and focus on the task at hand.

Just as he was about done with cooking, he felt his dad standing close behind, drinking the last sip from the bottle. Knowing what would happen next, “I don’t want any accidents. Let me turn off the stove and serve this.” He waited for a brief moment before turning off the stove and put the pancakes on the plate he had placed beside the stove. He placed the pan in the sink and rinsed it with cold water for a brief moment.

Dexter stood by the sink and waited.

He heard the sound of glass touching the marble surface of the kitchen counter and felt the air behind him shifted. The wooden floor panels creaked as something heavy moved about on them. Large arms wrapped came from behind, wrapping him up like a python around its prey. One hand caressed his naked chest slowly moving down to his abdomen while the other reached down to squeeze his private parts through his boxers.

Sam’s fat tummy ensured that Dexter couldn’t get out of the embrace. Not that he even want to try. The last time he tried, a slap went across his face that sent him to the floor, landing on his side. His dad fucked him even harder until his butt bled. His face was swollen for the next three days and could barely eat. He was lucky he didn’t lose his hearing or teeth. This time, he let the ordeal run its course, for his own sake.

The caressing stopped and one hand was on his shoulder tugging to get him to turn around. He did. Sam’s face came closer and started kissing him all over the face, leaving behind a trail of alcoholic breath. Dexter found himself lifted into the air and boxers pulled off. The next thing he knew, he’s on the dinning table seated. Sam’s mouth were all over his upper body while the hands were all over his lower body and groin.

Sam undid his belt and took off his loose work jeans and undergarment in one fell swoop, revealing a hairy bottom half and a huge, hard eight inch penis.

Dexter swallowed a lump of saliva. He was scared but powerless. With hands around his shoulders, Sam gave him a light nudge and Dexter lowered his body as commanded until he was laying on the table. He stared at the grey ceiling above, trying very hard not to think about what’s next.

Sam took Dexter’s legs, spread them apart and slung them over his shoulders. Dexter started quivering. His heart pounded so hard that it almost came out of his body. He wished it did. At least he would be dead and not have to deal with this crap anymore.

The moment that huge penis entered him without any kind of lubrication was excruciating. Sam wasn’t being gentle about it either. He yelped.

“Good! You think I don’t know you have been stealing from me? This is your punishment,” Sam yawped and started thrusting. The table shook and creaked with each motion. Dexter’s whimpers were barely noticeable.

The pain gradually went away. It became rather pleasurable. He allowed his mind to wander while Sam did his thing. After it was over, Dexter got off the table, collected his boxers and went back to his room. He spent the next half an hour scrubbing himself in the bathroom to wash away the stench and bodily fluids his stepdad left on him. As he started scrubbing his private parts, he started sobbing. He felt a wave of weakness hit him and he dropped to the floor, curling up into a ball, and let the warm water ran its course through his body.

He didn’t mind being Shane’s punching bag every now and then or even being forced to go hungry because his family ran out of money. He didn’t mind to have to steal drugs from his father’s stash and risk his life for Shane. He didn’t mind not having friends at school. But what his stepdad did and had been doing for the past three years to him was unbearable, no matter how well he prepared himself. His mom knew about the abuse but could do nothing about it. He too knew there was nothing else he could do. They both needed the money Sam provide with his shipyard job. It wasn’t much but combined with what his mom made working as a store assistant, they could scrimp by.

He wasn’t sure how long he was in the shower curled up as a ball. The next thing he knew was the water stopped running. Soft and small hands were on his shoulders, shaking him. He looked up to see a familiar face.

“Mom?”

Hayley responded with a soft spoken voice, “I’m sorry, baby. I came home as fast as I could once I knew Sam was home. Now let’s get you dry.”

Dexter started crying, “I’m not done. He left his sperms inside of me. I need to get it out.” He tried to stand but slipped. She caught and stabilised him. He tried to turn on the showers again but stopped when she embraced him.

“There’s nothing you can do,” she caressed her son’s wet hair and kissed him on the forehead. “But you will fall sick if you don’t dry up properly.”

He whimpered and nodded.

She helped her son out, who had some trouble walking and grabbed the towel. They stopped beside the bed and she started towelling him dry. He offered no resistance and stood like a log. She took out a set of fresh, recently bought set of clothes from the wardrobe and laid them out on the bed.

Dexter looked at the new clothes on the bed then at his mom with a puzzled look.

“Baby, the last thing you need is to stay in this house. It’s Saturday. You should be out.”

He went over and started putting on his clothes. He was wobbling when he was pulling up his pants that Hayley had to step in to make sure he didn’t fall over.

“Looking all nice and handsome,” Hayley smiled. “Wait for me while I changed out of these wet clothes.”

“What about dad?” he asked the moment she opened the door.

“Don’t need to worry about him. He’s already gone when I came back.” She was out the door and it closed behind her.

Dexter went out of his room, albeit with a limp because his butt was still sore from the ordeal. He stood outside his parents’ room, which was directly opposite his, to wait for his mom to finish. When she was done, they strolled across the living room towards the front door. The kitchen was on their left when they walked past it. He stopped for a moment to look at the table where it all happened. He quivered with anger and his fists tightened till the veins were visible.

Recognising what just happened, she pulled him close with an arm around his left shoulder and whispered, ”Baby, it’s over. It’s in the past. We should get going.”

It took several gentle tugging before Dexter started moving again and followed his mom out the door.

The mall in the city was the furthest he ever went with his mom. There were only three occasions in his life they would be here: when it was his birthday, when his mom earned extra money from sex, and after he was fucked by his dad.

He loved the mall with all the colourful holo-advertisements and store signs. Those always reminded him how great it was to be alive. There were people from all walks of life roaming about with cheerful faces. There were the occasional cries from children who didn’t get what they wanted. There were countless families too. At times, Dexter envied them, especially the kids who had great and loving parents. But he knew he would never have that. It was too late for him. All that matters was he’s here and alive with his mom. Despite all her flaws, she did her best she could to ensure her son could survive and be someone better than she ever could.

They walked around the mall window shopping until they came across a fancy Japanese restaurant on the third floor that served authentic and fresh sushis instead of the typical 3D-printed stuff found in other cheaper stores. Dexter looked at the storefront, bit his lips together, and walked away only to feel a hand tugging at his sweater. He turned around to see his mom smiling.

“I know you love sushis. Let’s eat here for lunch.”

Dexter frowned, “Mom, we can’t afford it. We can have something cheaper.”

“Oh baby. I made quite a lot of money this month. It’s enough to last us for three months straight. And I found a better paying job. Just don’t tell your dad.”

He went wide-eyed and his jaw dropped, “What did you do?”

Hayley narrowed her eyes with a sheepish smile, “It’s nothing you need to be concern with. Come on, let’s go in.”

One of the restaurant’s staff standing by the counter overlooking the entrance, an android designed as a female dressed in traditional kimono, bowed and greeted, “Irasshaimase”

They nodded and went in. The inside of the restaurant was spacious with original Japanese decor. Even though it was lunch time, there weren’t many customers in the store judging from the amount of empty tables. They suspected it had to do with the price tag.

Another restaurant staff, this time a human, came over, “what table would you like? Western or chabudai?”

“Western,” Hayley responded without thinking. Neither of them could tolerate sitting on a zabuton or tatami. The staff guided both of them their table deep in the restaurant by the window, offering them a view of the city outside.

Dexter browsed through the food menu on the ordering tablet by the side of table. Just by looking, his mouth was watery until some of his saliva landed on the table. His mom had to tap his foot underneath the table and point to the spot on the table where his saliva landed.

His face turned red and started wiping away the wet spot with the sleeve of his sweater. He went back looking at the menu. It didn’t take long for him to add a few of the sushis and a plate of Japanese curry with Tonkatsu and rice to the ordering cart. He handed the tablet to his mom who ordered a bowl of hot Udon noodles in light brown broth with aburaage and kamaboko.

After they had their fill, the bill came out to be two hundred dollars, bulk of which came from the sushis which had fresh sashimi as topping. Dexter felt guilty over having ate so much and was visibly upset when his mom patted him on the back of his head with a smile that made him feel better.

They spent the next few hours walking around the mall, mostly just window shopping. They did stop by some stores to get some new clothes and kitchenwares to replace some of the older stuff they had at home. They also got some perishable food, snacks and drinks.

It was already evening when they got on the bus and went home. With the amount of things they had with them when they alighted at the bus stop in their town, they chose to take a longer and less frequent path home, not wanting to bring any attention to themselves. When they arrived, they went to the back of the house as quiet as mouse.

“Wait here while I make sure your dad isn’t home,” Hayley said as she put down the bags she was carrying. Dexter nodded and she made her way back to the front of the house.

Hayley opened the front door and went into the house. She creeped around, hiding behind whatever walls she could find to have a peek. It became clear that Sam wasn’t home for the night. She went back out to get her son.

“Nobody’s home,” she said with a sigh of relief. “But to play it safe, let’s hide these stuff in the shack.” She picked up the bags she left on the ground and let Dexter lead the way to an unassuming patch of grass just beneath his bedroom window. The grasses weren’t real. It was a perfect illusion formed by nano-holographic projectors installed around the entrance way.

He put the bags down. His right hand went through the projection and started feeling his way around. He found the door ring and without hesitation, he placed his right thumb on a smooth surface beside the door ring. The sound of bolts releasing followed a gentle beeping sound. He yanked on the ring and lifted the door up, revealing a stair leading down. Over the years, his mom and him had been saving up whatever money they had left monthly, sometimes even going hungry for the day, just so they had enough money to build a basement, which they nicknamed ‘shack’. It was completed in secret on Dexter’s fourteenth birthday by friends of his biological father. He was involved in the project too. He programmed the projectors and implemented the biometric lock during his free time, using whatever he found in school or the nearby scrapyard.

They kept reserves of basic necessities, stacks of cash worth at least two thousand dollars and some weapons in the shack. It was also shelter of sorts. There were mattresses, an air-recycling system, a desk-size computer, and a micro-fusion power generator. On bad days, both his mom and him would hide in there until it was safe to come out. Sometimes it was just him hiding in there when Sam was outside his room pounding away in a drunken state, refusing to go away. They both knew one day they won’t need Sam anymore.

Hayley went through first with Dexter following closely. He made sure the door was closed before going deeper in as none of them wanted Sam to find out. They carried the bags to a room in the basement where they keep the food and started filling up the shelves and fridge. The clothes were next, going into the respective wardrobes. Then it was the kitchenwares.

They filled one bag with some of the older stuffs and expiring foods from the shack which they would take out to replace what they had upstairs. It was dinner time when they came out of the shack. Hayley made them pasta with tomato sauce.

Since Sam won’t be home for the rest of the night, Hayley decided to sleep in her son’s room as she wasn’t comfortable leaving him alone, especially after what he’s been through. And his bed was big enough to accommodate them both.

Dexter turned in first, stripping down to his boxers and got in bed after brushing his teeth. His mom made sure the locks on his door were in the right positions before joining him. She wrapped her right arm around his body, forming some sort of protective shield and kissed him on the cheek before slipping into deep sleep.

***

Shane was aching all over when he woke up. Somehow, his now flaccid penis was still inside Shirley who was still sleeping soundly. When he took it out, he moaned from the pain. He tried to use the toilet but it was near impossible to pee. Not with the burning sensations every time he pushed urine out his cock. His urethra suffered badly from all those ejaculates blasting out at forty kilometres an hour throughout the six sessions. It took a long time before his bladder was empty. He didn’t realise that Shirley was up and watching him pee while outside the bathroom. She wanted to use the toilet too.

He went over to the sink beside the toilet bowl to brush his teeth and rinse his mouth. Shirley lowered the seat cover and whimpered as she peed. While he was brushing his teeth, a thought struck him. He realised he had forgotten about his two cousins who were coming over in the afternoon for a video gaming session.

With mouth full of toothpaste, “Shirley, my cousins are coming over today.”

“What? Which cousins?”

“Blake and Carter.”

Shirley wanted to scream but managed to hold back with a grimace, “Blake? Shit! I need to get out of here.”

“Relax…”

“Don’t tell me to relax. If Blake sees me here with you, he will freak out and tell everyone at my school I’m slut who double time his cousin. My reputation is at stake!”

The house AI announced with a female voice and showing no regards to how Shirley felt, “Shane, your cousins are here at the gate.”

Her face turned bright red. She didn’t even clean herself, dashed out of the bathroom to put on her clothes and took her belongings. She was already gone when Shane came out of the bathroom.

Having been at the house several times, she knew where to go. She ran down the main stairs, into the kitchen and out from the door there. Once she was out, she ran across the pathway alongside the swimming pool until she went past the outhouse. A right turn, a left and then a couple more steps forward, she reached the back gate. She put on her shoes, pressed the door release button, and went out to the street. She sent Shane a private text message from her wristband computer that doubled as a communication device, telling him she’s out and safe.

Shane got the text message while he was washing his face. He went out to put on his pants before picking up his wristband computer from the table. He pressed the button on the side and the hologram of the home screen appeared beside it, showing a grid of colourful application icons. He tapped on the message icon and read what Shirley sent him. He replied with a smiley emoji followed by a ‘I love you’.

He put on the wristband computer and pulled out a shirt from his wardrobe. He gave it a good flick to shake loose any lint. A piece of folded photo fell out of the chest pocket. He bent over to pick it up and unfold it. His lips parted way the moment he saw who was on it. The memories came rushing back and he remembered how he felt. He started to remember he had secretly taken the photo, printed it out on paper and deleted all digital traces of it. He did spent several days in panic mode when he couldn’t find the photo. He was afraid someone may have pick it up and ruin his life. When nobody came forth or mentioned anything remotely close to the photo, he went on with his life.

He folded the photo and put it into a small box he took out from the drawer underneath his desk. The box was the perfect place for the photo since it also contained discarded stuffs that once belonged to the same person. This person had captured his heart the moment their eyes met. Unsure if it was right, he denied and suppressed the feelings for two years.

“Blake and Carter are in the house and waiting for you in the family room,” the AI announced.

“Tell them I will be right down,” Shane responded in a hurried manner as he put the box back into the drawer and closed it. He went out of his room, down the stairs two steps at a time and greeted his cousins in the family room. He led them up to the second floor to the converted bedroom on the east side of the house. It was where the latest holo-game console resided.

They spent hours playing games, cheering or jeering at each other depending on their progress in the games. The butler also came up several times to serve them food and drinks.

It was past midnight when they grew tired from the games and laid on the couches in the room. It didn’t take Blake and Carter long to doze off.

Shane on other hand, laid there thinking about the person from the photograph and the interactions they had. The more he thought about the recent ones made him grimaced. He came to the realisation that he was the one at fault. And he didn’t love Shirley as much as he thought.

Shane didn’t know when he fell asleep after all that thinking. He woke up to the sound of his parents chatting away downstairs in the dinning room with the sound of glass clanking. He glanced at the clock on his wristband computer to see it was four in the morning.

He went downstairs to join his parents. Even though he was underage, his dad poured him a glass of wine. He took sips from the glass and started sharing what happened at school over the past week and his progress on the basketball team. However, it wasn’t a full disclosure. He remained aware enough to leave out the part where he bullied some of the students or had sex with Blake’s girlfriend, Shirley, using a prescribed drug. Parents being parents, they questioned some of the things he’d done or suggested what should have been done. But they were candid about their day in the city too, sharing all the glory details about their activities in hotel rooms.

By the time they finished the bottle, the sun was up and they were too tired to continue. They went their separate ways to their bedrooms and slept until it was almost noon.


Click here for Chapter 3.

Click here for Chapter 1