Authors: Erik Harlow
CHRONICLES OF THE UNLOCKED
WRATH OF THE VOID STRIDER
By Erik Harlow
CHRONICLES OF THE UNLOCKED
WRATH OF THE VOID STRIDER
Copyright © Erik Harlow 2014
All rights reserved.
This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or other unauthorized use of the material or artwork contained herein is prohibited without express written permission of Erik Harlow.
This title is distributed to the book trade worldwide by Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.
Cover art by Erik Harlow using GIMP, composited from images licensed by Shutterstock.
For Nicole, Dakota and Wyatt
Special thanks to Rob Horowitz, Mike Hori, Shannon Duggan and Chris Wolffe.
It was a small bedroom with a bed, a wall-mounted computer console and a steel table. Upon the table rested a holographic entertainment box that presently cycled through various images of flowers, trees and trickling streams. Overhead, pale blue lights cast dim illumination upon frosted metal walls, a grated floor, and a black carpeted mat. Near the foot of the bed, a heavy steel door led to the lavatory. At a right angle to it, a frozen door led into the halls of a mining complex.
Francisco Santiago gasped awake. His fingertips and toes were numb, his body chilled, and he sat bolt upright. His breath tumbled forth in clouds as he gripped his shoulders, shivering, and he attempted to warm himself. Beside him on the bed, he beheld his wife. Curled on her side, her back to him, she was coated in a glinting sheath of frost. A white blanket covered her to the neck, but it had more the look of snow than it did cloth. It was stiff as he gingerly lifted it.
“Lily?” he whispered, but she didn’t answer. A surge of panic set his heart to pounding, and he shook her with growing desperation. “Lily! Lily, wake up!” He touched his fingertips to her neck, but sensation was only starting to return as pins and needles. He exhaled into his hands and rubbed them together.
“Frank?” she croaked and sputtered a quiet cough.
“Oh, thank God,” he breathed, and he watched her roll onto her back, casting a disoriented gaze his way. “Something’s wrong with life support,” he whispered.
She sleepily nodded. “Are you okay?”
He answered, “I’m freezing, but I’m fine. You?” He was taller than average, with brown eyes and snowy white hair. He was in his forties, but gene therapy granted him a far more youthful appearance.
Slowly, Lily sat up, her teeth clattering. “I can move.” She was tall and graceful, with long raven hair, fair skin and green eyes. “Can’t we just have a normal vacation, for once?”
Chuckling, Francisco said, “I’m telling you, what we should really do is take the plunge and buy the cabin.”
Lily smiled. “What we should really do… is check on the kids.”
Francisco nodded and fumbled for his loafers on the ground beside the bed. Clumsily, he shoved his toes into a pair of socks and got his feet into their shoes. He swatted frost from an orange jacket and handed it to Lily before crossing to the hallway door. His hands still quaking, he pushed the activation panel, and the door whispered into its recess. A cool gust ruffled his hair, and he shook his head before stumbling for his footlocker. He rifled through his clothing as Lily donned her boots, stored her phone and shoved her hands into her jacket pockets. Francisco soon joined her in the hallway beyond, wearing a gray peacoat.
They hurried along a steel passage, over a grated floor, under a cord of hanging shop lights to a nearby door. Francisco tapped it open and hurried inside with Lily at his back. He rushed to the bunk bed where his son and daughter were supposed to be sleeping. “They’re gone,” he breathed, and Lily clutched him.
“Where are they?” she asked, and she turned her husband around on his heels. Gripping his coat she demanded, “Frank, where are they?”
He shook his head. “Close by, I’m sure. They’re probably in the break room, or maybe with your dad. You know how much they love their grandpa.” Nodding toward the passage, he said, “Come on. We’ll get the heat back on along the way.”
Briskly, they walked further down the hall, stopping at a door marked, “Plant Security and Operations.” Francisco tapped it open. With his head planted firmly on the security console desk, one of the guards sat hunched over in his chair, his body covered in frost. Francisco’s eyes darted around the room until they located a digital thermostat. He turned it up and listened to the creak and whistle of heater turbines as they came alive. With a slight smile, he returned to the guard and reached for his shoulder to jostle him awake.
“How long have we been asleep?” gasped Lily, stopping him short, and she pointed to the chronometer on the security console. “That can’t be right!”
“Check your phone,” he said.
Lily tabbed open her device’s calendar display. With growing concern, she muttered, “I don’t understand. W… We’ve been asleep for three days?”
She thrust the phone toward him as the guard began to stir. “Look!”
With a deeply furrowed brow, Francisco muttered, “How is that possible?” He glanced to her with grim determination. “Amanda and Gavin probably woke up before us. I bet they’re in the break room. Right this moment, I bet Amanda’s reconstituting some eggs and toast for her and her brother.”
“I hope to God you’re right.”
“What happened?” muttered the guard.
Facing him, Francisco said, “Something went wrong, and life support put us all in a deep freeze for three days. We’re going to go find our kids. Maybe you should look into what caused this to happen, so it doesn’t happen again.”
With a bleary nod, the guard said, “Yeah, good idea.” He stretched in his chair, yawning, and he attempted to unclog his ears as Francisco and Lily hurried away. They nearly stumbled into another woman as she stepped out of her quarters.
“Hey, watch it!” she barked. Suddenly gripping Francisco by his forearms, she demanded, “Have you seen my daughter?”
“I’m sorry, do I know you?”
She shook her head. “Probably not. I’m Jane Sawyer. Sorry I snapped, but my daughter’s missing.”
“What does she look like?” Lily asked.
“She’s a little taller than you, and she has pink hair. Her name’s Valerie.” Jane glanced along the passage Francisco and Lily had previously traveled. She seethed, “That little whore snuck off again.”
Lily scowled. “That’s an awful thing to say!”
Jane snorted and narrowed her eyes. “You’d be saying the same thing, if she was your blood. She’s a whore. I hope you never have to meet her.”
“Look,” said Francisco, “our kids are missing, too. We’re going up top to check the break room. If you can be civil, you’re welcome to come with us.”
With a gleam in her eye, Jane regarded Lily and asked, “He’s your man?”
Lily took Francisco by the arm. “He is.”
“Keep him away from Valerie.”
“Actually,” said Francisco, “maybe you should check down
hall. I think the security station’s in that direction. Good luck.” Without waiting for Jane’s response, he marched off to the mining complex’s central elevator. Lily tapped the call button. When the lift arrived, they stepped inside and traveled several floors up to the top level of the facility.
The elevator doors pulled open, and they stood in stunned silence. Instead of a quaint, domed retail center, they found the inside of a massive alien vessel. Dark and vaulted, it was pyramidal and dimly lit. Dozens of chambers had been affixed to the soaring inner hull, connected by pathway tunnels and dense bundles of cable. Scores of dull, metal cubes drifted up and down along magnetic shafts. Directly ahead at the end of a marble path, a vast chamber beckoned, home to twenty beds that floated upon the air, attended by a lone giant.
Lily’s eyes darted immediately to one of the beds. “Gavin,” she breathed. “I see Gavin!”
Francisco swallowed visibly. “I see Amanda right below him.”
“What do we do?”
The tall figure paused and straightened, turning to regard Francisco and Lily directly.
Lily’s heart raced, and she wrung her husband’s arm. “He’s looking at us!”
His throat bobbed. “I know.”
“Come,” boomed the tall figure, and he waved the intruders closer. “Do not be afraid.”
He nodded uncertainly. “He, uh, speaks English. Of course he speaks English.” Drawing a deep breath, he stepped off the lift with Lily beside him. “We’re coming!”
As they drew closer, details about the tall figure became clearer. Dressed in colorful vestments, he stood almost twice as tall as Francisco and bore many human traits. His eyes were sunken in, mottled blue and white with irregular pupils, and his translucent skin was pale. Thick orange hair sprouted from his spotted scalp, and he tilted his head as he smiled. “You were not meant to awaken until after I had finished my work.” He extended an enormous hand. “I am Doctor Voran Fhrul. Your language was not difficult to master.”
It dwarfed Francisco’s hand as he placed it within the other’s grip. “I’m Frank. Please give us back our children.”
“You are direct. I appreciate that. Fear not, I shall return your children to you, but you must be patient. They will die if the procedure is not allowed to complete.”
“Procedure?” asked Lily, her breathing suddenly ragged. “What procedure? What are you doing to them?”
“It is difficult to explain in terms that you can understand.”
Francisco squared his jaw. “Try us.”
Voran considered his words. “I am… unlocking them.”
“What does that mean?”
“Allow me to frame it in context.”
With mounting dread, Francisco rasped, “Please.” He cleared his throat. “Please do.”
Voran settled heavily upon the marble floor, and he pulled his robes tighter about him. “As you may know, there are hundreds of billions of galaxies beyond this one. However, I come from a neighboring galaxy, though I am the sole survivor of my species.” His cheeks turned pale blue as viscous tears gathered at the edges of his eyes, and he lowered his head.
“I was part of a project dedicated to exploring the latent potential inherent in all consciousness. I was on the verge of revelation when the Ithiral Dominion came.” He practically spat, “In their colossal warships, the ithirals came. Silent, without explanation or mercy, they wiped out all life on my home world. In a matter of days, they had destroyed every starship, every colony… every one of us, except me.”
Looking darkly into Francisco’s eyes, he said, “I have been entrusted with a noble purpose. In six years, a fleet of ithiral stardrome battle stations will reach the edge of your galaxy, and equipped as you are, you will not survive. Not a sentient being in this galaxy will remain.”
“That’s why you’re un… unlocking our children?”
With a calm smile, Voran said, “When they awake, they will bear gifts unique unto each of them. Extraordinary gifts. Impossible gifts.” He glanced toward the beds. “That the light of life may yet burn where the ithirals so arrogantly tread. That your people may survive, where mine did not.”
With tears in her eyes, Lily hissed, “I want to see my son and daughter.”
Voran slowly rose, waved toward a pair of beds, and they drifted close. Gently, they set down. “I apologize for the damage their bodies sustained during calibration. They were the first to undergo the procedure, and some abdominal injury resulted.”
“Gavin… Amanda… My babies…” Lily traced the peaceful faces of her children as they breathed deeply, evenly.
His expression fierce, Francisco asked, “How bad is it?”
Voran answered, “Not bad. Slight.” A dull cube drifted close, and he studied its surface. His face was abruptly severe. “Now, it is time to return to your quarters.”