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Excerpt for Frostbite Rend by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Frostbite Rend

A Dreadnought Armada Story

Brett P. S.



Copyright © 2018 Brett P. S.

Smashwords Edition

All rights reserved.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.



Table of Contents



CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3



Chapter 1

Left it Behind



Egara-2, shattered pearl of the Core Systems, lay in dormant silence amidst an endless void. Bitter cold frosted the surface into a snow-filled tundra, laying to rest whatever meager life forms survived the ageless battles of his predecessors. Out here, in the vastness of the Tachun Collective, the throttling cries of war vanished into a pale white glimmer seen on distant stars.

Craig Blaine was no soldier. He’d come for living, not dying. Frigid winds rattled the sealed glass cage of his mech, a walking hulk of steel, palladium and titanium manufactured to resist extreme environmental hazards. Each leg landed with a resounding thud as gears twisted and the mounting plates compacted snow and ice.

Today was like any other day, an off-base inspection of radiation anomalies picked up by last night’s surface scan. Rhi’Lo Base manufactured and rocketed sentry probes into the upper atmosphere that bombarded the planet’s surface with powerful radiation capable of penetrating hardened ice and solid rock formations in an attempt to uncover precious metals. The degree to which anomalies reflected the light waves gave the base’s analysts a clue to the composition.

Craig drew Glang to a slow rumble in the cracking rock and snow. He’d given the nickname to the AT-5k multipurpose mining and exploration transport mech the Tachun government had graciously supplied to his employer’s operation. Reclaiming some fraction of what Terrace left behind in the wake of war and death seemed the prudent thing to do for the blue skins and their precious leftover worlds. Heaven forbid they let one go. Hell, the Empire didn’t bat an eye when they blasted one of their own just to prove a point.

Glang perched beside a rocky outcropping, a blizzard nipping at her heels while Craig eased back into his seat. He’d made his cage a cozy prison. Photos of his crewmates lined the base of either side windowpane, bits of paper that stood in stark contrast to the grated cage covered in ice. The metal heated up with electricity, so the frost never covered it so much that he couldn’t see through the holes in between the burgundy red coils.

Pictures of what little family he’d left behind covered the hood of his dashboard. The scraps covered what would otherwise have cast a bare gunmetal monotone, separating the cloak of quiet emptiness between spots of color that set a warmth inside. Craig reached up to snatch down his transmitter mic and flipped the switch of his mech, redirecting much of the power to radio wave detection and transmission.

“Rhi’Lo Base Intel, Craig Blaine of Division Six reporting.” He let his thumb hang from the mic, staring out his window. “I confirm neither visual nor short range scan of the platinum deposit, but I’m on site regardless.”

Craig waited for a reply from his chief supervisor or one of her subordinates. Static filled the mic, and he winced at the notion that Lea might up and tell him to return with empty stores.

“Transmission confirmed, Blaine,” a subordinate spoke. “Can you confirm point of entry?”

Point of entry? That was putting it mildly. Forces of nature, winds and sunbathing heat had carved out a cavern into the uneven surface of an ice-coated wall of minerals. The cave protruded deep within the rock formation, heading into an unknown blackness. As far as he could discern, it was big enough pilot Glang through, but …

“You didn’t tell me it would be such a tight squeeze,” he said. “Glang wasn’t built for limbo.”

“Passing up another commission, Craig?”

He lurched back in his seat. That was Lieutenant Lea, the blue-skinned devil herself. He collected his courage and his manhood, biting his tongue before some ill-humored retort broke free of his lips. The Lieutenant resumed her speech.

“Base intel shows Axon’s AT-1S 2 kilometers from your location. If it’s too inconvenient for you, I can send a smaller mech in your stead.”

“Suns, woman!” Craig stammered. “I’ll go! Star spit, you people never could take a joke.”

He tossed the mic and let the handheld dangle from its coiled wire while he booted up Glang’s motor movements. Craig ran a full system scan with a scowl on his face and a redness to his cheeks. Damned if he ever lost a find to the likes of that smug ape.

“Just got to grin and bear it,” he said. “Miss prissy space elf’s all talk anyway.”

Craig flipped the main system’s switch, shifting power to Glang’s legs and armor plating, electrifying the cage. He waited for the metal coils to burn off enough ice to see clearly. Ice melted from heated wires like fire in his veins, a passion that cooled as crystalline chunks broke off.

He grabbed hold of his joystick with one hand, placing the other on his dashboard, but Craig paused before roaming forward into the low-trodden cavern meters ahead. He reached down and grabbed the handheld mic to shove it back in place when the faintest static filled his ears, still echoing from his speakers. A cold chill ran up his arm as he twisted the handheld, catching it clear as day.

“Push button … it …”

Craig’s words trailed off as he inspected the mic’s push button. Jammed in place like a rusty gear and … blast it, she heard all of it!

“Mr. Blaine, we should have a conversation when you return to base.”



Chapter 2

Stumbling into Trouble



Storms howled outside the icy cavern as Craig moved his AT through the depths. Stalactites hung like icicles from the ceiling, breaking apart as they crashed alongside Glang’s shoulder mounts. Rock rattled and split with each bone-shattering step, though by the time it reached Craig’s cage, the rocking madness had dwindled down to a noisy rattle. Floodlights projected from Glang’s carriage and into the deep blackness of the cavern. Soft glows of silver and blue reflected back from the rock formations, matched by the cool hues of his carriage’s internal light source.

Craig bit his lip, glancing down at the digital specular display. Short-range scans pulsed out into the void, bouncing off metal ores and rock clusters at different wavelengths. Glang’s computer interpreted the resulting data, giving him a color coded readout of shape and composition of the cavern’s walls and columns.

“Crap!’

Craig twisted the joystick to veer Glang away from a massive column of rock. It came out of nowhere! He pulled, and the AT mech lurched on a shifting gear. The chassis avoided the column, but Glang’s arm collided with the rock and sent it toppling over. Palladium hinges shattered in desolate silence, and Craig rocked forward as the mech’s chassis slammed into the floor with a crack that echoed through the cavern. He gritted his teeth and cursed under his breath, slamming a fist across the dash.

“Star spit!” He shouted. “It had to be me!”

Craig rammed his joystick, and the metal monster pushed up with both arms, but the heap fell back down and upon the moment of collapse, he caught a silver-plated wheel rolling across the floor before it clanked into an outcropping of stalagmites. Good lord. So, what else was new?

With a heavy, frustrated groan, he unbuckled his seatbelt and reached to fasten a rebreather. His EV suit would sustain him for any foreseeable stay in the wilderness of Egara-2, though breathing would be a problem without the proper equipment. That said, affixing the gear joint back to his mech wouldn’t take much time, so long as he could locate any missing parts. Heaven forbid anything else rolled off that he didn’t catch.

Craig switched off the core systems, motor control, heating grid, and life support. He kicked open the side panel to his AT mech and set foot on solid rock for the first time in six months. Raw earth felt different, somehow, than the cool even floors back on base. There was an organic quality to it. The curves of rock penetrated the thick of his boots as he walked the length of his transport from chassis to mounting plate heels.

His shoulder mounted flashlight flickered on once the darkness settled in and Glang’s external headlights faded. He prodded the worn metal of Glang’s arms and legs, letting his gloved fingers ride along surfaces and through crevices until he found himself satisfied that the only thing missing, aside from the left elbow joint gear, was his pride.

He turned to where he’d seen the silver wheel crash, and his shoulder flashlight shifted across a barren landscape to settle on a reflective metallic surface. Glistening in the dark of the cavern, a hulking wheel almost too much for one man to lift on his own, lay across a set of rocky spires. He looked to his right. Glang slumbered with a sort of peace, despite her broken arm. Craig smiled. He’d fix her up. He broke into a swift jog toward the shimmering wheel and …

Craig froze two meters past Glang’s chassis as a flicker of shadow crossed his path. Past the stalagmite outcropping, a specter the size of a wolf darted through the cavern. He turned to train his flashlight on it. The creature, whatever it was, had seeped into the myriad of stone and columns that nested the cavern floor. He inched back and detached his flashlight from its shoulder mount. Craig waved the light across the pillars and needles of dripping stone to find it.

Reflections shone across wet surfaces, and then the white eyes of a black, frilled visage glared back at him. Craig dropped the flashlight and hustled back to his cage. He crouched down, blood pumping, heart thumping, and reached for the firearm mounted above his seat. With one gloved hand outstretched, he grasped the stock of his rifle, but his fingers slipped as a heavy force pounded him from the side and icy fangs sunk into his suit.



Chapter 3

Hunger and Heat



A thumping claw smacked Craig and threw him across the surface of the cavern floor. A hideous, churning creature of frills and fur-covered scales landed on his back, gnawing at his suit with fangs chilled to the touch. The wet, salivating teeth pierced through layers of his EV suit and broke the skin of his shoulder blade. Craig fought to stand, but the animal pressed him down, biting off fabric and laced mesh. It howled and thumped another paw to strike at his bare back, cleaving a mark through his flesh.

Craig screamed a cry that echoed through the emptiness and dug his fingers across the wet stone. Not here! Suns, so help him! Craig heaved his body, not to climb upright, but to roll over. Face to face with the apex predator, he stared down the devil himself. A beastly face marked with scars of bitter frost, an elongated, misshapenly slender body of an animal who’d spent weeks without a morsel to feed on. Hunger was the best spice. Craig might as well have been buttered lobster for what good it did him.

Black spines like scales covered its face, fanning out into a frilled pattern that fluttered across the length of its back. A wolf from the homeworld couldn’t hope to match the size or the desperation. Craig balled up a fist, and as the animal lunged to bite his jugular, he hurled his shoulder, leveraging his momentum to smack it across the snout. It yipped, tumbling over.

Craig climbed to his feet as the creature snarled. He dashed, but it lunged again, this time, playing for keeps. He saw it coming this time around though and caught the jaw with both hands. A writhing mess of alien monster bared down on him with teeth ready to rip the life from his veins. Gnarled lips and hissing snout protruded so close the putrid odor filled his nostrils. The alien weighed him down as he leaned back against the cage. There was no fending it off, no scaring it away. It ate or it died by the next sunrise but even so. It pressed down, both paws now resting on the palladium chassis, claws carving the metal surface.

Craig heaved to throw it off, but its strength overshadowed his resolve as the creature grew inches from his neck He peered through the mesh cage of his chassis, saw the firearm less than an arm’s length, a barrier of hot wire between him and … of course! Suns! Stuck like a rusty gear! Glang, old gal, you never shut off!

Craig tightened his grip around the predator’s fangs, let it ride through with all the momentum it levied against him, and rammed its face into the burning mesh. Flesh and scales sizzled as the creature screeched and pulled back. It writhed in smoke and agony, wriggling across the cavern floor while Craig ducked down, reached inside his cage, and pulled out his rifle.

The wicked, snarling mess of a beast stroked its charred skull across the floor while he loaded two rounds in the chamber. He cocked his rifle and trained his sights on the animal as it whipped around. One shot. Got to get one good shot.

The blackened creature halted, frozen still, as if it understood his intentions. Craig leveled his weapon as it raised a bleeding skull from the rock. One working eye narrowed. Lips pulled back. Fangs protruded, and a viscus, blood-laced drool seethed from its mouth. Craig was no soldier, no soldier indeed. He thought of words to comfort himself, something to soothe the spirit of an animal that had survived for years in a world no longer meant for life. The frozen tundra rejected its kind and tolerated his, for now at least. Craig thought of something to say, anything at all articulate, but final speech that departed his lips left him empty and sore.

“I’m sorry,” Craig said, then pulled the trigger.




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