THE MASK OF ETERNITY is exciting Space Opera about a forgotten world, a powerful artifact and a galaxy on the brink of war.
Solis DeLacey, captain of the Alpha Centauri Sol Collective vessel Boston, has been sent to a newly discovered world rich in natural resources. But one ship, the Empress Jade and her crew has already gone missing while surveying the planet, dubbed Bounty, and the finger of suspicion is pointing directly to the heart of the Orion Hegemony, the ACSC`s sworn enemy.
DeLacey, her crew and a ship full of scientists find a world teeming with life including the enigmatic natives of Bounty, the Shum. The planet seems like a paradise where life does more than thrive, it excels.
But when they find the wreckage of the the Empress Jade, they also find definitive evidence that the Hegemony was involved in her destruction.
With the arrival of a Hegemony vessel crewed by Da’baa’kh, ruthless, animal-like soldiers, the game changes. The Da’baa’kh are hell bent on finding an ancient treasure – an artifact powerful enough to bring an entire Collective to its knees.
Now DeLacey must discover its secret and defeat her enemies before the galaxy is plunged into total war…
Captain Bruno Varagas let out a whistle as he scanned the report on his personal screen.
“That was my reaction, too,” First Officer Rosalyn Bramner said. “This confirms the initial probes.”
“More than confirms them, Rose,” Varagas said, shaking his head at the data that continued to scroll. “They’re going to be having fits back home.”
HG711, according to Johannson’s report, was teeming with life. Its atmosphere was more than just tolerable to human beings, it was ideal. The vegetation was so perfect for human digestion it was difficult to believe that it had not been made that way. “If I didn’t know better, I’d would swear that this was a world in the later stages of terraform.” He looked up at Major August, the leader of the Servitude’s ground troops, who was still standing beside his chair. “Is Johannson still planetside?”
“Yes, sir,” August said. His face was tanned and Varagas thought his eyes looked clearer than they had since they’d re-directed here from Acrux.
Varagas narrowed his eyes at the lanky ground mission chief. “How long were you dirtside?” he asked.
August furrowed his brows for a moment in thought. “Thirty-six hours, I believe, sir.”
Varagas nodded, absently. “How do you feel?”
August wrinkled his brow. “Sir?”
“You look great, Major,” the Captain said, turning his chair around to face him. “You’re tan. You look more focused than you have in months. How do you feel?”
August cleared his throat, then smiled, sheepishly. “Actually, sir, I feel pretty terrific, now that you mention it.”
Varagas nodded again. “That’s what Doran said. In fact–” he stood up from his chair and stretched, feeling the satisfying pop of joints as he did so. “Everyone who’s spent any time planetside has come back looking like they’ve spent six months on leave.”
August let out a single chuckle. “Yes, I would agree with that, sir.”
Varagas nodded and began a circuit of the Bridge. “Minerals,” he said as he paced. “Fossil fuels… gold and silver deposits.” He shook his head in wonderment, “And it makes you feel better. What have we stumbled upon?”
August shrugged. “I’d say it was a bounty, sir.”
Varagas stopped pacing and looked sharply at August. “Bounty,” he said, considering the word. “Bounty,” he said again. He nodded twice, then turned to the communications console. “Lieutenant Fitch,” he addressed the officer manning the console.
“Sir,” Fitch answered crisply.
“Send dispatch to ACSC.”
“Sir,” Fitch turned back to his board and opened a message file. “Message, sir?”
Varagas inclined his head for a moment, then dictated. “To ACSC Central, Ministry of Expansion, The Honourable Minister Saginaw; The CRV Servitude has completed preliminary survey of planet HG711-V5A77. Initial probe reports confirmed. In light of which, I am recommending the planet now be designated as Bounty. Details to follow.” Varagas stopped, considered his words, then nodded to himself, satisfied with the message’s content. “Send that with the usual complements,” he said, waving airily to Fitch.
Fitch nodded, “Aye, sir.” He closed the completed message file and attached the appropriate routing instructions. Then he compressed it for transmission and sent it. The pulse raced away from the Servitude’s main antennae and translated into fastspace. From there it would relay itself through the beacon system and back to the ACSC. “Message away, sir,” Fitch said. “Thirty-six hours estimated transit.”
“Very good.” Varagas sat back down in his command chair.
“A bit presumptive, perhaps, Captain?” Branmer asked, from behind Varagas’ chair.
Varagas whirled around and cocked an eyebrow at his First Officer. “Why presumptive, Rose? Bounty is well within the ACSC Sphere.”
Branmer looked at him pointedly. “You know the Hegemony still haven’t officially recognized the last three sphere expansions.”
Varagas shrugged and waved the argument away. “Even so, they wouldn’t dare lodge protests about a find this close to ACSC territory. It’s on the parliamentary agenda to accept HG711 into the Collective based on the preliminary data. Now that it’s confirmed the measure will be pushed through fairly quickly. Besides–” Varagas shrugged. “This planet’s conditions are perfectly suited to Terran biology. None of the Hegemony’s population would consider this a suitable habitation.” He shook his head and looked up at the Bridge’s fore. The entire curved front wall of the Servitude’s Bridge was a viewer that showed the wonderfully blue-green world that the survey ship was in orbit above. He took in a deep breath, as if he could breathe the miraculous air through space and into the vessel. “I’m not being presumptive, Rose,” he said, leaning back into his command chair. “I’m being visionary.”
Branmer chuckled politely and turned to walk away. A single tone from the forward consoles stopped her in mid-turn. She turned back and walked to the front console. “What is it?” she asked.
Scan Tech Mullens peered at the console in front of him. His fingers moved across the board. “Proximity sensors have picked up something,” he mumbled uncertainly.
“What have you picked up, Mr. Mullens?” the Captain asked, an edge of impatience in his voice.
Mullens shook his head. “It’s got an odd signature…”
Varagas and August exchanged worried glances. August shrugged. Varagas rubbed his chin, turned back to the forward viewer. “Let’s see if we can take a look at it,” he ordered. He stood up from his chair and adjusted his uniform jacket. Damn, he cursed. He had been on the verge of handing the Bridge to Branmer and thinking up an excuse to drop planetside. Now this.
He sighed and stepped down to the forward consoles. The view of the planet below was swiveling. Bounty’s orb disappeared to starboard. The screen’s view tilted past one of the two orbiting probes and then zoomed outwards. Without the interference of the reflected sunlight from Bounty the system’s starfield became visible. A red grid network flashed onto the viewer. A small yellow dot appeared just off the center of the viewer, labeled with a series of numbers and letters.
“That’s our object,” Branmer said.
Varagas nodded. “Let’s get close.” he said.
“Aye, sir,” she said, leaning into Mullens’ board and directing the viewer to magnify the object.
As the viewer closed in the object’s shape resolved itself and Varagas sucked his breath in through his teeth. The rest of the Bridge erupted into startled gasps as the picture became clear. Varagas stood up from his chair, involuntarily, his features a mask of pure astonishment.
“My God!” he exclaimed in a strangled voice.
Karel Johannson read the latest sets of data from the robotic geological probe, laughed out loud and ran his fingers through his shock of unruly curls. His pale blue eyes sparkled in undisguised delight. “Look at this, Jasmine!” he said, excitedly. ” There’s platinum. In very high concentrations.”
Jasmine Aham looked up at the director of the scientific team and smiled. She was kneeling over a swift-running stream. She thought she could see some sort of silvery fish darting through the clear waters. She held up the testing vial and watched the light of the sun sparkle through it, creating dazzling prismatic displays, then clipped the vial into the pouch at her belt. She stood up, brushed back her long, black hair, and moved over to him.
As she approached him, she looked him up and down. He was moderately tall, and his figure was trim. He wore a short jacket over a pair of tight white trousers. Jasmine felt a flush of awareness rush through her. She felt her nipples harden. She smiled and breathed out. She should not be enjoying this so much.
She had noticed it soon after the party landed. At first she thought it was just the excitement of being planetside after being vessel-bound for so long, but it persisted. She had been conducting the survey in a routine manner when she noticed a growing awareness in herself of her own body. She became aware of the flushes soon after that, like waves of sensuous feeling that pulsed inside of her. She tried to ignore them, but found that it was impossible.
She had asked some of the others among the survey team if they had noticed anything similar. As the Chief Biologist, she persuaded them to reveal everything they felt. All agreed to a glow of healthy sensation, full of well being, and, they confided, they all seemed to sense a strong current of their own sexuality. From then on she’d noticed the team and the accompanying ship troops displaying signs of a heightened sexuality.
It had disturbed her slightly at first, but now that the test results were coming in she was beginning to realize that it was merely another remarkable side effect of this world that was turning out to be too-good-to-be-true. She decided to enjoy it.
She noted her own reactions as well as the reactions of the other members of the team and of the soldiers. She’d noticed the troops being particularly effected, the Servitude’s ground team being a healthy bunch to begin with. The men and women were suffused with a glow that practically shone in the dark. She assumed that it was only their discipline as soldiers that kept them from engaging in a wild flurry of coupling.
For herself, she was becoming more and more distracted by her own urges. She noticed more and more how appealing team leader Johannson really was.
Now she stood close behind him, her body achingly aware of his proximity. His scent tickled her nostrils (her sense of smell had also become preternaturally heightened since her arrival) and she bit down on her lip to suppress the urge to touch him.
Johannson stood and grinned. “This place is remarkable, Jasmine,” he said.
Jasmine nodded, absently, trying to concentrate on the data scrolling by on the telemetry screens that were arranged in a circle on the folding table. The team had pitched a tarp over the monitors in case of rainfall, but the day was perfectly sunny and the sky was completely clear. Jasmine looked up at the beautiful, deep blue sky and sighed. Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw something flash overhead.
“Hey, Brains,” a voice said. It was Second Lieutenant Harkness. Jasmine looked down and had to squint to see her. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Johannson wince at his nickname, an appellation used by all the ship’s ground troops, much to Johannson’s dismay. Jasmine suppressed a smile as her eyes adjusted.
Harkness shielded her eyes and looked out towards the edge of the surrounding forest. Jasmine followed her gaze. Standing in front of the woods were a small tribe of Shum.
Jasmine started in surprise. They knew that the Shum could move quickly and silently through the thick jungles, but this caught her off-guard. A whole tribe — about thirty males, females and children — stood just inside the clearing where the ground team had set up their camp.
The natives of HG711 stood completely still, as was their habit. Jasmine had made a very cursory study of the Shum since the first native had strode purposefully into the middle of the camp two days ago. The lone Shum had evaded the Servitude’s troops sentries and had somehow managed to approach without setting off any of the team’s motion sensors, something not even the smallest of the local animals had managed to do. The Shum had given Major August quite a fright, although he had gone to great lengths to hide it by shouting at his soldiers.
The Shum were bipeds, short in stature and quite broad. They sported a leonine mane of an indeterminate composition. Jasmine had not yet gotten close enough to decide if it was hair, feathers, vegetation, or a combination of all three. They were heavily muscled and structurally similar to Terrans. They possessed brow ridges and were capable of producing sounds that consisted of clicks, pops and high pitched screeches. Their vocalizations and gesticulations had all the marks of a rudimentary language. However, Jasmine had never seen the Shum use that method of communication amongst themselves, only with the team from Servitude. Amongst themselves they were unnaturally silent.
Now the tribe stood together in the same silence. They looked up into the sky.
“What the fuck’s all this about?” Harkness asked.
Jasmine glanced at Johannson. He was looking up as well, trying to discern what it was that had captivated the natives’ interest. “What are they looking at?”
Johannson shook his head. “Damned if I know. I can’t see anything.”
Jasmine scanned the sky. She saw something — a glint of something bright. “There!” she said, pointing upwards. “Do you see it?”
Johannson shielded his eyes and looked up in the direction Jasmine had pointed out. Jasmine looked over to the troops. Some were pulling out binocs. “Is it the Servitude?” she asked.
Johannson shook his head. “Shouldn’t be. It’s in too high an orbit. We shouldn’t be able to see her from the ground like this.” He continued looking up.
Suddenly there was a murmur of disquiet from the troops. The ones with binocs were uttering exclamations of surprise. “What is it?” she asked Harkness.
Harkness looked at her, blankly. “It is the Servitude,” she said.
Jasmine felt a chill go through her. She looked over at the Shum. They stood perfectly still, watching.
“Shit!” she heard one of the soldiers utter the oath. “I don’t believe it! She’s dropping out of the sky! She’s dropping like a fucking stone!”
Johannson dropped his eyes from the sky and gave the soldiers an incredulous look. “That’s impossible!”
Harkness was looking up at the Servitude now through the binocs. “I’m reading the distance gauge,” she said. “He’s right. She’s coming down.”
Jasmine looked up. The object was clearer now. larger. It had begun to move in a strange, spiraling pattern. It wasn’t traveling. It was dropping. It was dropping directly towards them. “It’s gonna drop right on us!” Jasmine wailed.
She glanced over to where the tribe of Shum had been standing.
They were gone.
“Get out of here!” a frightened voice shouted. “Get out of here now!”
Suddenly the whole camp was in confusion. Figures were scattering everywhere. Johannson grabbed her hand and they started to run towards the woods. Jasmine felt her arm being wrenched out of her socket as the team leader pulled her along behind him. “Run!” he was shouting.
They dived into the thick jungle. Jasmine was immediately stung by the thick vegetation as she dashed through it. Vines, grass, leaves, nettles, all seemed to whip at her body as she hurtled along through the bush. He feet couldn’t find solid purchase. The thick matting of dead leaves on the forest floor caused her feet to slide alarmingly. Her legs whipped backwards and she fell forwards. She lost her grip on Johannson’s hand.
She pushed herself up from the slick mess of rotted vegetation. “Karel!” she screamed.
Suddenly she heard a rumbling noise. She felt a heavy vibration pulsing against her body. Panicked, she leaped to her feet and scrambled forward madly. She held up her hands in front of her. Foliage cut deep bites into her outstretched palms and forearms. Her heart pounded in her chest as she hurtled further and further into the wood.
Soon the rumbling was a monstrous roar. The vibrations pummeled her body, driving the breath from her chest. The vibrations increased in intensity and soon she could not breath at all.
She ran as far as she could before she collapsed, out of breath and in pain. Her ears were full of the roaring now. She could hear nothing else.
Then there was a flash of light. She felt her body being lifted up. What little air there was in her lungs was forced out as the world spun crazily and was engulfed in flame.
If you have a Kindle you can buy the book for only $4.99