Brokk is the chosen one. His golden skin proves it, his supreme leader has given him the warships, and the dead have accepted his sacrifice. With an armada of battleships and forty million soldiers, Brokk will be chancellor of the Tassian system by nightfall. Even the best of plans can come unraveled, and for Brokk, the desperate moves of a vagrant named Casika risks destroying everything he set in motion.
The battle for Tassi begins with an artillery barrage so vicious the sky itself is darkened. Find out how it ends.
From the Author:
Fractal Space is a Science Fiction Thriller suitable for young adult and adult readers. Look for it on Amazon.com or request a copy at your local book store. As always, I love when readers contact me and I read all reviews!
“I’m telling you, brother, our time has come,” the young man whispered, barely able to keep his teeth from chattering.
Draped in the white fur of an animal native to the planet Coridon, the two men huddled together in a hastily built ice cave as the temperature outside plummeted to fifty below zero. They had trained with each other since they were children and were now prepared to graduate together as warriors. All that remained was one final test: survive a week on Mount Horeb. It was simple enough to just survive—the most basic of tasks. But considering that that task meant surviving on a floating mountain in the middle of the Northern Sea during winter, this test became an entirely different story.
“How can you be certain?” his best friend responded, turning his head to look over his shoulder. The two leaned back to back, supporting each other’s weight as they shared a tiny white-haired rodent that they had captured in a snare the day before. It was hardly big enough to sustain a child, let alone two grown men, and as Brokk crunched down on the small bones, he knew that the meat wouldn’t give him the energy he needed to survive the night.
The Jarks graduated their officers in an unorthodox fashion. While most systems believed that prior to graduation a culmination should be a demonstration of the things one had learned and how they are best applied to interstellar combat, the Jarks believed culmination should be focused inward—on oneself and the qualities that must be honed in order to lead great men into battle.
Brokk thought he agreed, although not entirely at this moment. Teachers had repeatedly drilled tactics into his head for years, and warfare had been the primary subject of debate around the table with his family as well as in class with his peers. He understood warfare, but he had never experienced it.
Surviving on Coridon gave him this opportunity, and in the days he had been there, Brokk had already learned more about himself and what it took to survive than ever before. There would be no help, and many of his brothers over this week would die. But those who survived, those who made it, they were the future, forged on the icy peak of the coldest habitable planet of the galaxy and ready to do battle on behalf of their people.
Brokk’s teeth continued to chatter as he tried sucking the marrow out of the rat’s leg bone before throwing the very last fragment into his mouth. “Because you and I are going to graduate tomorrow,” he managed to sputter out, grinding the bone with his teeth.
“We won’t survive the night if we don’t get any more food. I can’t keep warm,” Lago complained.
He was right. They had to go out again. In the face of utter exhaustion and frigid temperatures, calories were essential, and right now, calories were what the two of them lacked. Brokk pushed himself to his feet and offered a hand to his red-skinned friend. “Then let’s hunt,” he said with a grin, trying to show courage in the face of extreme doubt.
Flame from their candle danced and glistened off the icy walls of their hastily built shelter, and Lago’s white teeth shone from behind long strands of gray fur draping off his hood as he returned an eager smile. “I’ll lead,” he said at last, accepting Brokk’s hand and pulling himself to his feet. “Besides, I’m a better tracker than you anyway.”
The fierce wind howled as they left their shelter in search of food. Merely stepping out into the cold sucked the breath from their lungs and left the two gasping for frigid air to fill their blood with the oxygen they so desperately craved. Brokk staggered into the snow, trying to catch his breath, and imagined that this must be how it felt to be sucked from a damaged hull into the lifeless void of interstellar space. Perhaps a bit more terror though.
One following the other, the two aspiring warriors tilted their bodies away from the wind and attempted to walk perpendicular to it. Facing into the freezing blast would send icy daggers through the openings in their hoods and could permanently damage any exposed skin on their faces in mere seconds. Silently, the two trudged through barren trees, using webbed snowshoes to keep them on the surface. With each step, pain shot through their bodies from lifting fatigued legs. Their arms, heavy and worn, strained as they painstakingly drove ice prods into the ground ahead to ensure that they weren’t about to fall through a weak patch of snow and land in a gully. A prod to the left and a step with the left foot. A prod to the right and a step with the right foot. Prod, crunch, prod, crunch, prod, crunch, prod. It was slow going, and Brokk’s stomach roared with hunger. Finally, Lago turned around to face Brokk.
“I’m lost!” he shouted over the wind. “Which way was the canyon?”
“I think you’re right,” Brokk responded, motioning forward. Lago shrugged and turned again to continue his movement. The wind wailed as the storm drove snow off nearby peaks and pushed bursts of icy sleet into their faces, but the two pressed onward, further away from their camp and into the coming night.
Lago continued to lead. Prod, crunch, prod, crunch, prod, crunch, prod. The rhythm captivated Brokk and took his mind far from icy blasts, painstaking steps, and frozen fingers. In his desperation for comfort and aware of its power, Brokk allowed himself to be mesmerized by it, focusing on nothing but the familiar noise. Prod, crunch, prod, crunch, prod. Prod, crunch, prod, crunch. Silence.
Lago was gone. “Lago!” Brokk shouted, running to the spot he had last seen him. “Lago!” he bellowed again, fearful that the wind blew his voice back into his throat rather than outward toward his companion. Through the wind and snow, he approached a small ledge; Lago lay twenty feet below, unmoving. “Lago!” he shouted again from his hands and knees, careful not to lean too far over the small pit that had opened up from the weight of their steps.
Lago twitched his mitt-covered hand and groaned. “I think I broke my leg!” he finally shouted.
Brokk could see the snow beneath him turn a reddish hue as it absorbed blood from his now-exposed wound. Broken…and maybe worse. But beyond the blood-stained snow was a far more terrifying sight. On the other side of his narrow ridge, a dense nitrogen-composed fog began to climb up from the valley below. At a frigid minus three hundred and twenty degrees, the gas would not simply freeze Lago; it would make him feel as if he were on fire while turning the blood in his veins into solid ice.
“I’m coming down there for you,” Brokk shouted back, grabbing at the climber’s rope he had looped over his shoulder and searching for a nearby anchor point.
“We’ll both die,” Lago screamed. “Don’t!”
It was too late. Brokk was a man of action and had already secured the rope to a tree and tossed the remainder down to the gorge below. Rappelling to the bottom, he rushed to disconnect his rope and deploy the emergency avalanche shelter he kept in his backpack. The gas had reached the ridge now, and icy fingers stretched out from the fog, begging Brokk to let it feast on their exposed skin. Finally at Lago’s side, Brokk gripped his shoulders and pulled him into the small shelter, which was barley large enough for one man. “I guess we’ll both die then,” he muttered into Lago’s ear, zipping the tent behind them.
Brokk stared intently at the red-streaked sky as beads of sweat rolled off of his golden skin. The eight-foot tall, broad-shouldered behemoth was large, even for Jarkian standards, but he was a half-breed, and mixes between Tassis and Jarks were known to be some of the most formidable warriors in the galaxy. In part, this is why the Jarks were able to live a relatively peaceful existence—there were few people who cared to challenge them and even fewer who lived to brag about a victory against the massive creatures.
Unfortunately, there was another reason the Jarks remained largely unchallenged in their corner of the galaxy. All the planets in their solar system were oversized and orbited either too close or too far from their star. While two of their planets remained in the habitable zone, they just barely did so. The Jark home world, and the one that Brokk currently resided on, was a wretchedly hot planet with an immensely dense core. Its sheer size exerted such gravity on the creatures that were unfortunate enough to live on this planet that their appearances were significantly different compared to more fortunate life elsewhere in the galaxy.
Their second planet, Coridon, rested just within the habitable zone on the other side. While Jark rarely dropped below one hundred and twenty degrees Fahrenheit, Coridon was a winter wonderland that never rose above thirty degrees Fahrenheit. The two twin planets, enormous in size and barely habitable, had masked the Jarkian existence for millennia and allowed them to develop into the race they were today with minimal interference. When the Jarks finally did announce themselves to the other races throughout the galaxy, a galactic order had been established and few cared to break galactic law and challenge the new race.
This peace, however, didn’t prevent the Jarks themselves from seeking something greater. For centuries, Brokk and his forefathers had been taught about a great injustice that was dealt their ancestors by the hands of the Tassi. They knew there was a solar system that was rightfully theirs, a solar system that they had been cheated from, and one that would make life easy for all Jarks if they could get it back. Even though Brokk had never seen a picture of Tassi, he felt it calling to him. Returning to Tassi was his destiny.
Brokk stared intently at the sky because tonight, this very night, he was to command a legion of starships to attack the Tassi system. He had studied for years and understood Tassi tactics. Scouts had already been dispatched and reported the size and location of Tassian defenses, and Jark artillery was prepared to fire interstellar munitions at his command. Most important of all, the loosely affiliated galactic order was too incompetent to halt their unannounced advance. By the end of the month, the Tassian system would belong to the Jarks and Brokk would become their chancellor.
“Dreaming about Tassi?” Lago shouted with a smile from behind, ripping Brokk from his reverie. The two had grown up together, fought together, and were now reaching for the prized system together. There was only one final matter to attend to: a sacrifice to the dead in exchange for a blessing on their campaign. This was a tradition that dated back far beyond Brokk’s ancestors, and a tradition that he would certainly not forsake.
Lago was pure Jark and was significantly stouter than the golden-skinned half-breed. His skin was reddish bronze was covered in a swirl of curly dark hair. He stooped slightly, preferring to rest his thick arms on the ground to support his large torso. While the Jarks often walked upright, the thick atmosphere and weighty gravity caused them to develop a preference for resting on all fours.
Despite his beast-like appearance, Lago was a brilliant mind who was devoted to the study of applying astrophysics toward military tactics. The two of them were inseparable and, despite having no blood connection, were closer than brothers could ever hope to be. At Lago’s approach, Brokk brightened, and any fear or doubt he had about the mission before them suddenly dissipated.
Brokk, whose Tassian genetics insisted that he remain standing upright, spun around to greet him. “Lago! I had hoped you’d come find me!” he responded, smiling and opening his arms for a warm greeting.
The two embraced each other and separated again. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world. We’ve come here together every time before leaving home…you know how much I like the cliffs,” Lago responded, shifting his gaze to the city beyond, where buildings as black as night shot upwards from the volcanic landscape.
Brokk knew, and Brokk loved the cliffs himself. The massive rock structure jutted out over the volcanic rock below and provided a spectacular view of both the city and the sea, and no matter which way one turned, the ferocity of the world was captured in an unmistakable majesty. The outcropping’s thickness allowed it to hang for hundreds of meters beyond the shore line—and the two men always insisted on stepping out onto the farthest point.
“Did I ever tell you why I come here each time?” Brokk asked.
Lago, now standing upright and shoulder to shoulder with Brokk, shrugged, indicating that he had never thought about it. The star they orbited was a red giant, at the end of its stellar lifespan, and rays imbued with deep reds and oranges constantly bombarded the atmosphere of their massive home world. Red clouds, engorged with a mixture of water and sulfuric acid, stretched across the burned orange sky. A picturesque night to mark their historic victory.
“This is why we’ll win,” Brokk answered, giving him a moment to reflect before continuing. “Look at this place. It’s awful!” he joked. “There isn’t anyone tougher than a Jark.”
Lago laughed. “You have to remind yourself that?” he asked, still chuckling.
“It helps,” Brokk responded with a grin. Brokk turned his shoulders and pointed toward the sky to show Lago what he was looking at before he had arrived. Just off the nose of the cliffs to the north, a massive battleship could be seen maneuvering along the skyline. The ship’s bronze, dual-pronged nose was unmistakable against its dark gray exterior. It was Brokk’s, and it was the head of the armada conducting its final checks before joining the remainder of the fleet in the upper atmosphere. “Are you ready, Brokk?” Lago asked.
Brokk stared at Lago for a moment longer before returning his golden eyes to the horizon. “I’ve never been more ready in my life, Lago,” he insisted. “We’re a battle-hardened fleet, and with you by my side, we are unstoppable. The promised system will be ours again.” Brokk looked down at his red-and-black battle uniform. Red was reserved for ship and fleet commanders and helped the crew tell them apart in the heat of a battle. On his wrist was a holographic display that could project information anywhere. In battle, he often allowed it to hover data in the corner of his eyes so that he could see everything at once; during planning sessions the device depicted three-dimensional displays to help his commanders visualize the battlefield. Today, he simply used it to tell the time.
“The artillery bombardment should be commencing soon. We’ll start getting updates within the hour,” Lago responded.
Brokk smiled. Jark artillery was second to none in the known universe. They had developed a weapon that was capable of firing explosives from outside a planetary system by creating temporary shortcuts through space. The Jarks would chose a planet not more than a few light years from their target, establish an artillery platform, and then create temporary wormholes with which to sling rounds onto the planet below. The system was stealthy and dreadfully effective. Best of all, it was nearly immune to a counterattack. An entire planet’s computer systems and defenses would be consumed by locating and defeating the source of the barrage while the armada attacked from the opposite side.
“I’m going to reward you when I become Chancellor,” Brokk said. “You’ll live better than you ever have.”
Lago didn’t respond and the two turned to walk back down the rock face toward the offering below. An infant Jark lay helpless, naked, and screaming on a black stone platform. The hardened volcanic stone rocked gently as it floated in a soupy mercury pool that bled from the planet’s interior. Brokk’s watch flickered and vibrated on his wrist, indicating that it was time to ask the dead to bless his cause. On cue, six Jark priests, robed in gold, stirred the mercury bath beneath the child. As they stirred, they hummed in monotonous unison.
The words they sang were unknown to all but the six who sung them. This was the language of the dead, and as they stirred the mercury it began to boil, reflecting the deep red streaks from the sky above. The silver soup bubbled and popped, the baby rocked violently back and forth, and the priests suddenly erupted in loud chanting, inviting their dead—the souls of billions—to accept this innocent sacrifice and give them the military victory they required.
Hands now appeared—filthy, hair-covered hands, coated in the slime of the mercury and taking on the colors of the sky above. Brokk counted one at first, but like the heads of a hydra, the hands slithered and grabbed at the rock, desperate for the crying infant bathed in the warmth of the life that he possessed. Suddenly, the rock flipped, the hands disappeared, and the humming stopped. Their ritual was over. The dead had accepted Brokk’s sacrifice; he would achieve the victory he desired.
Silently, the six priests and two commanders descended from their rocks to their city below. “I think I’ll miss this city,” Lago finally said.
“We’ll build an even greater one on Tassi,” Brokk boasted.
Rays of sun beat down hard against Casika’s face as she lay on a fine white sand beach overlooking the bay. It was hot. Too hot. Beads of sweat accumulated on her forehead and neck and tickled her skin as they rolled down the cracks and crevices of her body, eventually finding escape into the sandy ground below.
Casika was facing the crystal blue water, but she wasn’t watching it. Her throat, as dry as the sand beneath her body, ached and burned, crying out for a drop of liquid. How long had it been since her last drink? Too long. Red and blue kites fluttered in the wind, scurrying to and fro on invisible currents as beach goers came to celebrate the day of a united Tassi. A holy day in their beautiful city that was marked with joy for most and sadness for Casika. United, Casika scoffed, maybe for the rich. Maybe for the haves, but not for all of us.
The crowd angered her; rich people coming from other planets to take advantage of the poor. Rich people eager to buy and sell and drink and sleep while people on Tassi suffered. Not all people, Casika, just you. Just me, she considered.
A shadow moved from the corner of her eye. A middle aged man, sweaty from the same dual suns that perpetually scorched their planet and heading into the water for a dip. Time to strike. Casika grinned. She couldn’t contain herself, watching his shirtless torso and bare feet prance through the hot sand that burned his feet until he reached the water.
She rolled and pushed herself to her knees, reaching out to her left and securing the cool sparkling drink. The cold bottle was moist with dew from the scorching temperatures outside and in a moment of pleasure she pulled it to her neck and closed her eyes, letting the dew mingle with her sweat and cool her body.
Red liquid fizzed and bubbled as she twisted the top. Her mouth salivated. Dew jumped from the bottle and splashed her lips as she pressed them to the opening. Tilting her head back, alcohol infused water burned against her tongue and throat as she tilted her head back to chug the carbonated treat.
“Hey!” came a man’s voice from below. Caught in the act by some rich clown that’s too cheap to just let it go. Casika opened her throat wider to drink as he charged up the hill, angry and ready to ask her why she had the nerve to steal his drink. He stopped suddenly, halfway between the sea and his drink. A shadow in a cloudless sky formed above her. Suddenly aware that the man was not alone, Casika saw other’s on the beach gasp and point. Kites, released from their sailors’ grip fluttered upward into the currents and disappeared.
Satisfied, Casika dropped the bottle from her lips and turned. A black circle had formed in the sky and small white steaks flowed from it. “What is that?” she heard herself say. No answer; even the appalled man remained silent.
More blackness appeared, ovals and circles suddenly formed in the sky; opening from nothing. White dots in the blackness beyond as if Casika was given a window to the stars through a telescope. But there was no telescope, and staring at the stars in the middle of the day was impossible. Shouldn’t be.
The blackness grew and darkness engulfed the sky and the beach below. What started off as a blackness above continued with a rumble, sand shaking below her knees and powerful enough to rattle her teeth. Noise followed, bursts as loud as thunder shook and in the blackness darker than the night of the dual sunned planet, flashes of white light erupted from the city center.
Think, Casi, think, she told herself, looking at the sky again which seemed to be ripping and tearing from some invisible force beyond the planet and darkness, as black as space itself, threw the white objects onto the city below.
Time to go. Don’t need to watch any longer. Get out. Get home. In seconds Casika collected her stuff, which consisted of a glass bottle half full of red liquid she decided she might need later and sprinted towards the road that lined the waterfront. What home? She suddenly realized.
Once on the road she dashed between cars that had suddenly filled the streets. The rumbles increased as the darkness engulfed the sky, flickering in and out as the black circles opened and closed. White objects with tails like comets fell gracefully, but with each streak came another violent shudder. Earthquake? No. Her mind raced from question to answer, desperate to determine the cause, eager to find the safest place to go. Meteor shower? What meteor opens the sky? She countered. In her heart, Casika already knew the answer.
Attack, her mind screamed as she raced towards the city, stopping in her tracks as she realized she was heading the wrong direction. On cue, confirming her assumptions, other explosions burst up from the ground. Cannon fire. Counter fire. Attack, her mind screamed again.
The ground shuttered, this time so violently that she fumbled her drink and dropped it to the ground, sending glass and red liquid shattering into her bare legs and staining her white shorts. No time klutz, she ordered. Get out. Attack, she screamed again. This time her body got the hint and her legs took off with nowhere to go. Out, Casika, that’s where.
No home to go to was freeing; no property to save. Vagrancy across the city planet was simple enough to abandon when things got serious. Things just got serious.
Suddenly the surface-to-air cannons went silent, confirming her theory that she was now running in the right direction. Had they hit the defenses? Casika looked back as she ran to see fire jumping from building to building. Cars blazed and exploded as others joined her in the foot race. Everything she saw began to catch fire and burn. A once-blue oasis now ablaze with rich red, made even richer by the pure white light pouring down from the helium stars above—but now, instead of glory, they were illuminating a nightmare reserved for the sorrows of a story book rather than for her own reality.
For an event so catastrophic to have been completely unannounced, on their holy day, could mean only one thing—the Tassian government had no idea it was going to be attacked, and it was caught entirely unprepared. Keep running; get out. Take advantage of the vagrancy and being abandoned by family. Abandon them and don’t look back. Where. The port, that’s where.
Exhausted from running, Casika summoned all of her strength to sprint toward the space port. She could already see transport vessels firing their thrusters in a desperate attempt to clear the planet’s atmosphere. Dodging in and out of pedestrians who were fleeing in all different directions, clueless about where to go or what to do. This shouldn’t be happening. Not here. Not ever. The port, the vessels. So close, she allowed hope to propel her further.
One hundred meters. She arrived now and could see the gates. Tourists pushed and shoved to get through, but they had families and had to stay together; she was alone, her one advantage. Squeezing through the crowd, she could see the ships, hundreds of them on the flight line loading up passengers and firing engines.
Fifty meters, maybe less. The faster she ran the more desperate she became, worried that her legs might betray her and no longer drive her forward. Her side ached and her heart pounded. Her lungs throbbed under the weight of the fear-induced adrenaline that surged through her organs and inspired her body to press onward.
It was then that she noticed it; a hole appear in the sky just above the spaceport and a single white line fall from the heavens to her planet below. A distinct whistle could be heard, one that she had never heard before, yet suddenly she knew exactly what it was that had been bombarding their world. Artillery. This was an artillery barrage similar to stories that only the old would tell around the dinner table. A barrage that she had only learned about in school and seen in the movies, before the times of peace and order. Artillery. And with the barrage came the dreadful truth that this was not just an attack, it was an invasion.
As she ran toward the ships, her mind told her to turn around and run the other way, but she couldn’t. Her legs wouldn’t allow it. She watched, frozen in the moment as the bomb fell towards the airfield; towards Casika. It was as if time itself had slowed to a creep and her whole purpose for living was to be absorbed in this moment. She saw its silver color, its oval shape, and its sharp fins. She saw it all, but she couldn’t stop herself from running toward it. Propelled by the same hope that brought her to the port and towards the ships; towards safety. A mirage.
The black tarmac sunk down like gelatin upon impact, and a visible wave of pressure erupted out of the black asphalt and upward toward the sky. In violent response, the tarmac, containing hundreds of transport ships exploded outward, like a bed sheet being fluffed, and then it splintered into a thousand pieces. Suddenly, an immense weight from the force of the explosion surrounded and pushed against Casika, accompanied by a white light. Her ears popped, and her eyes bulged as if a suction cup was attempting to extract her brain through any opening it could find. It was excruciating, and she screamed and yelled, but then, she was weightless, and her very existence felt oddly at peace until everything went black.
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