I’ve been making a lot of progress on Chronicles of Aria Prime Episode Two, and it shouldn’t be long before I start asking for beta readers to review this work. To give everyone a sample of what is to come, I’ve decided to start posting sections of the story online. Today, I post Chapter One.
In exchange for the sneak peak, I do ask one favor in return. Please share this post on your favorite social media. Facebook, Google+, Twitter, whatever your preferred platform, sharing will help me get the word out about this story. Social sharing buttons can be found at the bottom of the page.
PS This work hasn’t been through final editing yet, so the final version may contain minor changes.
“Let’s take five to give the animals a break. Security out.”
Major Dara McBride shifted the weight of her plasma rifle as she looked over the long line of wagons, pack animals, humans and tillers. In the weeks since the initial contact with the tillers, trade had intensified. Trade caravans traveled from Vale to the Trident wreckage almost daily, and the drogs had noticed. Their vicious attack shifted from Vale to the caravans, forcing the humans to use larger armed escorts.
She approached the team of draft animals at the head of one of the wagons. Called cuddies by the tillers, they were the size of small donkeys, but with stubby white snouts that resembled llamas. Thick, brown and tan shaggy fur covered their bodies. They were good tempered beasts, but woefully inadequate for pulling heavy loads.
“Cute lil’ suckers,” came a voice with a thick Cajun accent.
From the front of the caravan strode George Griffin. One of the colonists, he was a dark skinned Creole with a receding hairline of flecked gray. He rubbed one of the cuddies on the head, which responded with a puffing sound through pursed lips.
With a nod, McBride added, “I just wish they could pull a heavier load. God, what I wouldn’t give for a hovercart. Or even an old fashioned team of oxen or draft horses.”
Griffon beamed and bobbed his head. “Yeah, you right! Just like in them old cowboy movies.” He wiped the sweat from his cheek with the back of his wrist, then put his hands on hips as he looked towards the rear of the procession. He chuckled briefly, then said, “Ma’am, here she comes again.”
Natasha Marov clumsily plodded her way toward McBride and Griffon. Despite the heat, she wore a purple turtleneck and office trousers never intended for rough use. Every few steps, she nearly tripped over a stone or root, in no small part due to her high heeled, low cut shoes.
That is one person who doesn’t belong on the trail,” Griffon muttered. “What’d she come for anyway?”
“Research on the tiller homes,” McBride said as she watched the dark haired Russian. “You would think after a month on the planet, she’d know not to wear clothes like that on the trail.”
“For true,” he replied with a grin.
The pair continued to watch Marov’s advance. She pulled a white handkerchief from her pocket and vainly tried to wipe the perspiration from her forehead. The already moisture-laden cloth did nothing but spread the sweat across her forehead, where it promptly trickled down her cheek. Finally reaching McBride, Marov gasped to catch her breath.
“Why have we stopped?”
“We’re giving the animals a rest,” McBride replied. “Humans and tillers too.”
Marov opened her mouth to speak, but McBride’s comstrap interrupted with a beep. She slapped the strap and said, “McBride. Go ahead.”
“Major, I think we’ve got some movement on the north slope. I’m checking it out.”
“Affirmative,” McBride replied. She flicked the allcom button on her comstrap. “Possible movement on the north slope. Stay alert, weapons on stun.”
“What is it?” Marov asked.
“Nothing, I hope.”
McBride’s comstrap crackled. “Holy shit, there’s about a hundred of them. Fall back! Fall back!”
The twang of bowstrings echoed through the valley, followed by the distinctive whistling of arrow flight.
“Everyone get down!” McBride shouted.
Colonists dove to the ground, while the diminutive tillers squealed in terror and scurried under the wagons. McBride and several other Trident crew members dropped to a single-kneed position, aiming their plasma rifles toward the north slope. The cuddies seemed immune to the panic, calmly standing still and chewing the cud.
“Anderson, take a fire team and flank west,” McBride said into her comstrap.
“On our way, Major!”
The rain of arrows continued.
“I can’t see any!” Griffin bellowed from behind a wagon.
“Probably just behind the ridgeline so we can’t get a line of site,” McBride shouted.
McBride’s comstrap buzzed again. “This is Colonel Nash. The mobile strike force is en route to assist.”
McBride slapped the comstrap. “Not necessary, Colonel. We can handle this.”
The sound of drog war cries filled the valley.
Marov lay belly to the ground near a wagon. Her eyes grew wide and she pointed to the ridge. “Here they come!”
Hundreds of drogs poured over the hilltop. Most wore loincloths or animal skins; a few were naked. Some had faces painted in stripes of crusty white. Their swords and spear points glistened in the beams of sunlight that penetrated the forest.
Christ almighty, look at all of them, McBride thought. She brought her rifle to her shoulder and shouted as she aimed. “Open fire!”
The high pitched ping of plasma weaponry filled the air. Orange beams of high energy particles flashed from the muzzles of rifles, striking their targets and dropping the drogs instantly. But the rush of the enemy didn’t slacken, and more of the greenish-brown humanoids surged over the hilltop. The rain of arrows continued as well, hitting not only the caravan but drogs as well.
McBride continued to fire until her plasma rifle flashed yellow. She dropped to her left, rolling onto her backside, and changed out the powerpack. To her right, she could see Marov crouched behind one of the wagons. McBride pulled out her plasma pistol and tossed it to her.
“We’ll need your help!” McBride shouted.
Marov stared at the pistol for a moment, then looked to McBride. “I…I don’t know how to use one.”
McBride’s face turned a deep red. “Point it at the bad guy and pull the fucking trigger!”
Still kneeling, Marov reached for the pistol. Just as her fingers touched the grip, an arrow struck her in the back, just below the shoulder. A bone jarring scream erupted from her lips, and she collapsed.
“Natasha!” McBride shouted.
“I’ve got her!” Griffon shouted as he pulled Marov behind a wagon. Another colonist picked up the pistol and fired at the descending drogs. McBride rolled back into a kneeling position and then stood, firing her rifle all the while.
“There’s more of them!” Squealed a chubby tiller.
McBride looked toward the rear of the wagon train to see drogs advancing from that direction as well. “Security to the rear!” she shouted.
The drogs coming down the hill were nearly on them. McBride ignored the frantic beating of her heart and continued firing. An arrow sliced through the upper arm of her jacket. She ignored it, even as the cloth became dark and wet with blood.
McBride was just turning to the east when her feet were jerked from underneath her. She fell face first into the forest duff, and instinctively rolled to her backside. A drog stood over her, spear raised, preparing to strike. She could see drool drip from his stubby tusks, and his body smelled like a hog farm. Her heart leapt into her throat, and time stood on end as she struggled to get her rifle up.
Griffon struck the drog in the back of the head, using a rock the size of a football. There was a crunching sound as bone shattered, and the drog collapsed in a heap next to McBride. The Creole reached a hand to McBride and yanked her to her feet. Without a word, he took the fallen enemy’s spear, and charged at the closest drog. McBride grabbed her rifle and continued firing.
The drog in Griffon’s sight swung its sword wildly. He ducked under the blade, and lunged at the creature, throwing his full weight behind the weapon. The spear found its mark just below the sternum. A cry of agony, accompanied by blood-red spittle, erupted from the creature’s mouth. The Cajun jerked the polearm free, then drove the weapon home again, this time just a bit lower. The drog’s eyes glazed over as he dropped his sword. Griffon jabbed the spear once more, and the enemy collapsed in a bloody heap.
The report of plasma weapons, accompanied by cries of pain, reverberated from the hillside. At the same time, the rain of arrows stopped. Human voices echoed from the slope.
“Keep up your fire!” McBride shouted.
The drogs around the wagon train now only numbered a few dozen. She fired on the nearest enemy, and began to work her way toward the rear of the caravan. Another crew member joined her advance, covering the area to her left.
“Reloading!” McBride called out.
The crew member dropped to one knee, firing as McBride inserted a fresh powerpack into the butt of her rifle. She slapped the safety, and once again had the rifle to her shoulder.
Through the mist emerged Colonel Nash, flanked by two Trident crew members. Each shouldered a plasma rifle at the ready, and moved at a fast walk. On seeing McBride, Nash eased his rifle lower, and stopped.
“All clear?” he asked.
Nash nodded. “Good to see you still alive and kicking.” He slung his rifle over his shoulder, then slapped his comstrap and brought it to his lips. “All clear. Team one, form a defensive perimeter, team two, assist with the injured.” He tapped the comstrap again and pointed to McBride’s bloodied shoulder. “Looks like you caught one.”
“Just grazed by an arrow. Nothing serious.”
“Still need to get it looked at. I can’t afford to lose you.” He looked to the crewman at his side. “See to the Major’s wound.”
“Not an option, Major.”
McBride sighed. “Yes, sir.”
Nash was about to speak when he spotted Marov, till lying on her stomach. Griffon was kneeling by her side, clamping a wad of cloth over the bloodied wound in her back. Nash jogged a few steps to join them, and quickly dropped to his knees.
“Hold still, Natasha.” He looked Griffon in the face. “Know what you’re doing?”
“Served in the five-oh-first during the war.” He continued to work without looking up. “Arrow’s in too deep to take it out. Have a trauma-x on you?”
“Absolutely.” Nash pulled his aid kit from the upper sleeve pocket of his jacket and removed a small yellow spray bottle. “This is going to sting, Natasha.”
“Please hurry,” she begged.
“Alright. Pull your compress away.”
The instant Griffon pulled the cloth away, blood gushed from around the protruding arrow shaft. Nash pointed the trauma-x at the bloody surge and pressed the can’s button. A white mist sprayed from the tip with a hissing sound. Natasha shrieked. As the mist mixed with the blood it foamed and expanded, halting the bleeding and forming a pinkish blob over the injury.
“How do you feel, Natasha?” Nash asked.
“Throbbing,” Griffon corrected.
“But it hurts much less,” Marov added.
“Should we get her on her feet?” Griffon asked.
Nash and Griffon stood, then slowly helped Marov to her feet. Once standing, she swayed slightly while supported by the two men.
“I am somewhat dizzy,” she murmured.
“Not surprised,” Griffon said. “Lost a lot of blood.”
A dark haired crew member ran up to Nash.
“Colonel, no sign of any remaining drogs. Injured are being cared for, but—”
“How many?” Nash interrupted.
“Three dead, sir.”
Nash bit his lower lip and stared at the ground. After a moment, he nodded. “Understood.” He turned his attention to Griffon. “Can you assist Ms. Marov back to the encampment?”
Marov glared at Nash. “I am injured and you will not walk with me?”
“I’ll check in on you as soon as I can, but I need to make sure everyone gets to safety.”
“Come on Ms. Marov,” Griffon said. He wrapped an arm around her midsection, and the two staggered away.
“Is she going to be alright?” McBride asked as she approached. The left sleeve of her jacket had been cut away, and her exposed upper arm displayed the same pink foam as Marov’s back.
“Doc will have her back to one hundred percent in no time,” Nash replied. “How’s your arm?”
“It bled a lot, but I don’t think its too deep.”
“Alright. Major, let’s get this caravan moving before the drogs try another attack.”
“Yes, sir,” the dark haired crew member said.
“Have half of the men provide security for the supplies and injured. I want the other half to police up all weapons from the fallen drogs. Maybe taking away their weapons will help slow down the attacks. Work fast; I want you gone before the plasma stun wears off.”
Nash stood, hands on hips, and watched as Anderson and others began collecting the weapons of the unconscious drogs. He sighed and shook his head.
One hell of a morning.