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  1. Dusk at Dawn "A new promise, a brand new hope. Another chance, another life. Beyond the skies, fly and elope. Your path is yours, prospects are rife. All will follow, and tug the rope. Vive la difference! Views, thoughts and strife. Friends will be made, build your own tope. Foes will strike, play the fife. The occasions, new life is borne, The pale terrors, a dusk at dawn." 2 Ronhel Chapter 4, verses 57- 59. The Kalnian Books. Despite my efforts to secure a safe landing for everyone, three Sections plunged from the atmosphere at breakneck speed. Two of those housed equipment and supplies—not much we couldn’t do without. The third one, however, held two hundred and fifty thousand people and there were no survivors. As I stood on the hill overlooking the blackened pile of bodies that didn’t make it, I felt ashamed. Just hours ago, we were rejoicing as the Cocoons warmed up their human cargo before waking them. In groups of fives and tens, they came out, shaking, scared, some were excited. As they realised they’d made it, they cried, shouted, laughed, danced or just stared in the distance out of utter amazement. The weather was windy and bright, the fields of green seemed to agree with our presence. Eidolon reported that a few Sections had missed the correct entry angle and burnt up in the atmosphere, others floated off to deep space, but three, he warned, had gone dark—possibly as a result of the battering Terra Ulterior had taken from space debris. More than half a million people waited for the last set while laughing and talking. That was until they fell from the sky and hit the ground with a terrifying sound. It was the sound of death. Here I stood, joy turned into sorrow as the wind conveyed the thick, repulsive stench of charred human corpses. Their remains were scattered over a radius of two miles. My eyes caught sight of a half-burnt piece of cloth, just beside a broken skull. I turned away. There was work to be done. We had to find a way to bury all these people, before diseases reared their heads on this planet as well. But, getting the people who had just anointed me as their saviour to do the task of undertakers was proving as difficult as raising the dead back to life. “I don’t envy your job.” Jonathan said behind me as I moved to help a few people with the grim task. Giving him a weak smile, I threw him the access card to the Section containing the heavy-duty vehicles. “But, I will envy yours in a moment.” As dusk set upon the planet, camps were being set up well away from the macabre scene. In a couple of days, the corpses would be well hidden and we could move on. In the meantime, I set about socialising and encouraging the survivors. Eidolon said the humans from the Ark ship had been on Alioth for three months. Gaining access to the Ark Ship’s records was proving a bit of a hurdle, even for Eidolon. He kept complaining about the schizophrenic and slightly mad AI of the Ark Ship: Aphelia, being too advanced for his liking. I could only listen to his complaints for so long before I set off to look for this famous Ark Ship and the humans that came in it. There’s something about exploring at night that makes you feel unnecessarily alert. We hadn’t come across any animals, although we could hear them (which in its own right was strange), there were no humans around, but the people we came with for scores of miles around, and we had nothing to fear from supernatural incursions. Yet as I and my newly selected team of former diplomats and veterans crammed ourselves in three aircrafts, we were silent, almost paranoiac as the silent crafts glided through the darkness of night and under a spectacular scenery of stars and constellations. The bays were mostly silent except for the occasional remark or short-lived humorous attempt to lighten our hearts. As we got closer to the majestic structure that stood out from the landscape, we began to see the first signs of human settlement. Small towns, villages and distinct enclaves lit up by lights and crafts. The skies were mostly clear, except for a few daring crafts that flew close to us and darted away all of a sudden. It happened the first time, then the second and the third. “They are warning us.” I told Meera—a good friend of mine and the best pilot I’d ever seen. “I know, Hisashi. I can feel the tension in the air.” I raised an eyebrow at her and returned to bay. Whatever it was, we had best be ready. “Gentlemen, strap up and strap in. Prepare for evasive manoeu—“ And it came. Our Nightelf blared a lock-on alarm before the droning alarm of incoming missiles. The craft swerved to the left and upside down, throwing whoever wasn’t secured at the padded ceiling and to the hard sides. “Vortex Three! ECM is your call! Vortex Two S&D is up your alley! Meera, stick with the aggro.” I shouted, even as my head slammed against a soldier’s shoulder. The pilots of the other Nightelves acknowledged the commands and set to work. Meera, on the other hand, kept us flying at the walls and ceiling. “It’s the madmen.” Eidolon hinted through my sub-dermal communication device. “So soon?” I asked, scrambling for a harness as the craft levelled for a second. I barely made it and strapped myself in before Meera banked the craft hard. “They are humans; they hardly need anytime to cause chaos.” Jenz said and began firing at the missile batteries. While we made it safely out of the danger zone, Eidolon battled to keep Aphelia from gaining unauthorised access to our crafts. “Is this her doing?” Meera asked, sweating and out of breath. “Ask her when you see her.” Eidolon replied and highlighted a craft through the screen. I sat in the co-pilots seat and pointed at the building it was heading for. “Head there instead. Vortex Two, offset half a mile south and land. Vortex Three, remain airborne.” Our Nightelf hovered a few metres over the ground while our security dropped down. Naturally, I dropped down first and proceeded to the stranger that led us here. Another one came from the building, waving her hands frantically. “Get them out! Get those jets away!” Meera uttered a curse and flew to the skies. Eight of the security detail swept the premises, while four came with me. Two missiles streaked over the horizon, following Meera. Once inside the house, the strangers introduced themselves. “Petrovsky. Lieutenant in the resistance.” The pilot said in a gruff voice, shaking my hand with a steel grip. “Hisashi Susumu.” I replied, trying to release his grip from my hand. “You are not one of us. Where did you come from?” Aditi, the woman asked. I gave her the summary of who we were and where we came from, making sure to leave out important details. In return, they let me know that the “madmen” had seized control of the area surrounding the Ark Ship. The Resistance, had tried to hail us, but the Nightelves communicated on a different frequency than the common one. We promised to return to help them fight back against the oppressors, giving them a highly inaccurate estimate of how many we were. Scarcely had we gone halfway through details and logistic support that Eidolon sounded a warning. “There are almost a two hundred hostile troops in bound to your position. The Vortices can’t help right now: we don’t know the extent of the enemy’s anti-cloaking capabilities.” I grunted, deep in thought and he snapped at me. “Grunt one more time, and I will aid them in killing you.” Absent-mindedly, I turned to the security detail. “We’ll have to fight our way out of here.” Petrovsky held my shoulder in a big hand. “We have thirty Resistance soldiers here. We will get you out. I will call for reinforcement.” With that, he jogged out of the door. Aditi pushed somethings into my hands. “Take this.” I looked at the strange devices. Something in my head told me they weren’t unfamiliar. “It’s a kadpak and a nanoformer. I don’t think you have any in your ships.” I stared at her, liking the Resistance more until an explosion jerked my attention. “Stay together, guys. Let’s give them hell. For blood!” They raised their weapons and screamed into the night. “For blood!”
  2. The Aether Backstory Part 2 "You Will Remember Us" "Row upon row, heap upon heap. This is our fate, left to perish. Stride after stride, leap after leap. All our glory, naught but a wish. Cry after cry, "Weep", I hear. "Weep." Terror fills us, as we vanish. You were our hope, our wish, our light. You let us die, by war, by blight. Know this traitor, alone you'll die. Screaming, shouting, alone. Goodbye." Graffiti writing on Terra Ulterior. Author: Unknown I couldn’t believe this was happening. Of all things to go wrong, why propulsion and why now? Gritting my teeth, I looked at the screen. The new planet’s gravity field was just over seven hundred and sixty thousand miles away and the ship was moving at 324,857 metres per second. I did some calculations in my head and sighed. I had just over an hour and fifty-four minutes to avert a catastrophe. “Eidolon.” I called, my voice shaking a bit. He materialised in front of me. “Are the retro-thrusters in good condition?” He shook his head. “Sixty five percent of the retro-thrusters can squeeze out a performance of thirty-three percent capacity. Thirty percent are working in good condition while the remaining five are all but destroyed.” My mouth twitched. Well, if around a third of the thrusters could work, my plan might be feasible. “Where are the majority of the thrusters located?” “At the rear—facing the rear.” I gritted my teeth again. For all the peace that the Aether was meant to offer, I felt none of it. This was going to be one bloody day in the history of Oethe—and probably it’s last. As I glanced at the grim looking AI, an idea blossomed in my head. “Can you to maintain the ship’s current course, while reversing its direction?” “You want me to spin the ship on its vertical axis?” Stupid computer. “Yes, of course. I can. It’ll take me no less than thirty minutes to perform that little trick.” I nodded. “Get to work.” While Eidolon began to slowly position the ship aright, I jogged down the barely lighted corridors, checking for information on the ship that would provide an overlay of the ship’s structure. Somehow, I had forgotten what the ship even looked like, although I was pretty sure I knew at one point. IO.EARS kept on trying to reboot and dynamically repair Section 53, even though it had failed to do so over two million times. My search ended up being nothing but a dangerous waste of time. Eidolon stated that the information was securely locked—another way of saying that I didn’t have the required access level. After thirty-three minutes, the axis manoeuvre was eighty-three percent complete. The most disturbing thing was this: I was completely powerless to do anything, but wait as I left a crucial part of the survival plan to be handled by a computer. Was this the punishment we had to face for leaving our fellow humans behind? I scowled at the idea, disgusted that anyone would even blame us for leaving. Our selection had been determined by the masses, billions of people cast their opinions for who should and who shouldn’t leave. In essence, we didn’t pick ourselves, the people on earth did. While fidgeting with the unease of imminent death, I wiped my wet hands on my shirt. Eidolon had just a few more minutes to complete this manoeuvre, or there was no way I was going to be able to make this work. “You will survive.” I remembered Nora telling me. She was the kind of person that’s a mother and a friend to a younger in-law. “You will survive. You’ll go out there and you’ll make sure that nothing goes wrong. You have no choice. You’ll remember us and survive.” “I will survive…” I muttered to myself, lost in thought. “Grand Architect, the manoeuvre is complete.” Eidolon said, pretending to be out of breath. I acknowledged him with a small grunt, and he growled. Ignoring him, I set to work. “How much fuel do we have left in the retro-thrusters?” I asked, keeping my eyes glued to the screen as the control interface rose from the floor. “Fifty-three percent is left.” My mouth twitched again. “Good.” Carefully and slowly, I pushed the rear-facing retro thrusters to half capacity, using the side retro-thrusters to stabilise the ship and maintain the course. Eidolon aided me by showing the simulated course and the jargon of calculations only a mad man would need at this time. Reduction in speed was minimal at first, but the structure began to slow…by 0.184 percent. “This is crazy…” I muttered to myself. The AI chuckled. “Can’t you even pretend to be bothered?!” I demanded in frustration. He shook his head. “No, my dear friend. I can’t. But, I could override IO.EARS and attempt to force the engines to start—ignoring any errors that could wipe us all out, of course.” I gaped at him, somewhat excited, more infuriated. “Couldn’t you have told me sooner?” He shrugged in a carefree manner. “You didn’t ask.” I dismissed him with one sweaty palm and wiped my face with the other. Ten minutes left and Section 53 finally came online, although at less than five percent capacity. With all retro-thrusters working overtime, we had dropped our velocity to 240,000 metres per second. Once we entered, the planet’s gravitational field, things could change drastically. For one, our gained progress could be nullified in mere minutes. An alarm blared, sending me out of my skin and I heard the structure make a terrible groan. “Eidolon! What did you do?!” “We have lost control of all the thrusters at the front of the ship. They are accelerating. I warned there could be errors, Grand Architect.” I was about to scream out my life on the emotionless AI, until I had another crazy idea. “Switch off the Section 53.” “What?” I shot him a sharp glance and turned off all the retro-thrusters. An hour later, we were moving at blistering speed of 417,087 metres per second and three-quarter of a million miles away from the planet’s surface. “Restart Section 53—at full capacity.” I said, lost in stupor. “You’re a mad man.” “Maybe so. But, I am the Grand Architect and you have no choice but to obey.” He nodded and brought the main propulsion online. The ship groaned in a terrifying manner, the stress sure to cause some loss in the structure’s integrity. “How many detachable Sections are there on the ship?” He acted like he was thinking and replied at his leisure. “Fifty-nine.” “The majority of the people are housed in Section 32, yes?” “No. The majority are housed in Section 39. Two hundred and ninety thousands of them.” I snapped my neck in his direction. “You were unaware that your batch was the smallest and by no means the only one. Oethe wanted it that way—and to answer your next question, there are over a million people on this ship; all of them housed in detachable individual structures that came together to form Terra Ulterior while all of you were in cryo chambers.” I felt like I’d been slammed with a planet. A timely alarm warned me that I was about to be. We were less than two hundred thousand miles away from the looming planet’s surface and our speed was still dangerously fast. “Looks like this is it, Grand Architect. It’s been quite a ride.” I shook my head and stood up from the Prime Seat. “Prepare for immediate detachment of all sections. When I give the word, you force one last blast of all the engines to drop our speed one final time. When I tell you to split the ship up, you do so on my word. Understand?” Eidolon gave a wry smile. “Yes, of course.” With that, I ran off to my Cocoon and activated it. “One hundred and twenty-thousand miles away from contact.” The AI said over the almighty blaring of alarms that engulfed the ship. I waited for a few minutes and Eidolon updated me again. “Seventy thousand miles, Grand Architect.” After a few seconds, I gave the word. “Now!” The ship groaned and jerked. Somewhere in the ship, a lot of things ripped open. “We’ve dropped speed to 298,800 metres per second and dropping.” I waited for hours, it seemed, while Eidolon kept telling me our distance to the planet. At a distance of two thousand miles, I gave him the command to detach. Our current speed was still 75,908 metres per second, but as individual pieces, we had a greater chance of reduction in speed. Once we entered the planet’s atmosphere, the friction would drop our speed even further and each Section’s retro thrusters and parachutes would provide a safe fall. “I have detected signs of human life on Alioth, Grand Architect.” Eidolon said as I felt my section jerk. “That’s a nice name, Alioth…” I thought back of Nora and Kyle. “I will remember you, and I will survive. I promise.” Darkness covered everything and silence enveloped my being. An eternity passed and finally we touched down on Alioth’s surface. Shaking, ecstatic and tired, I stepped out onto the lush surface. My space suit said the pressure was stable and friendly and from the looks of the landscape, there were miles upon miles of inhabitable land. A small spherical pod flew up to me and sighed. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Eidolon asked. I nodded. “Not the planet. Up there in the sky.” I looked up at the fiery debris burning up in Alioth’s atmosphere. Terra Ulterior had performed its first and last mission well. Oethe had nothing to fear: it would rise again. “The Aether is a dangerous place, don’t you think, Grand Architect? A single mistake and space would’ve been our grave.” I shrugged and turned back to catch the sight of the remaining Sections gracefully falling down in the clear skies and bright sun. “Whatever, it might have been, to the people that were on earth, it’s their hope and our home.”
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