Hidden Planet Sample Chapter Excerpt

Excerpt from Hidden Planet

Two smaller ships—locked in combat—were sixty-eight seconds from intercepting the battleship Praihawk. Neither appeared on the battleship's screen. The first sign of the two ships came from a pair of missiles—ruby red oblong shapes—that sailed over the battleship's bow, missing it by inches. That was still a minute away.

   On board the Praihawk, Sam and Bohai were deep in an argument, one of many long conversations sewn to pass the time. Days without incident had led them into a black hole of boredom. Their sneakers propped up on the command console, they pontificated on matters of great importance.

   “I'm telling you the sequel is better. Beneath is way cooler than the first Planet of the Apes.”

   “Are you sniffing Nitro-oxide or something?” Bohai asked. “How do you figure?”

   “Two words: mew-tants.”

   “Isn't that one word?”

   “Mutants!” Sam looked up at the giant two-foot spider on the ceiling. It was furry and brown with light streaks at the knees. “Teak, you explain it to him.” Of course, the spider could not speak, but Sam pretended he had agreed. “See? You've still got your apes, but now you've also got underground mutants. It's much more sci-fi.”

   “Nutcase, that's like saying Aliens is more sci-fi than Alien.”

   “Well, as a matter of fact… yeah. The first Alien was really more of a sci-fi horror. Right?”

   “Not sure you can make that—”

   The missiles crossed their path, setting off an alarm. The two young pilots stopped arguing, slid their feet off the console and sat up straight. In his viewscreen, Sam watched the maw of space swallow the red dots; he tried to lock sensors on them and failed. Seated to his right, Bohai steered the ship ten degrees to port in case more of the objects followed the same route. His eyes darted back and forth between the monitors and the controls.

   “What the hell was that?” Sam asked.

   “I have no idea.” Bohai swiped the touchscreen with three fingers and zoomed in on the space that had eaten the red objects. “Probes, maybe. But they're gone now.”

Seconds later, something hit them; the ship rocked hard to starboard. A torpedo severed two vital engine circuits on the port side and pushed them off course. Sam ratcheted their shields up to full strength and scanned their sector again. Nothing.

   “That was no probe.” Bohai punched a series of buttons on his console in a frenetic rhythm. “Is someone shooting at us? Something hit us, but I don't see anyone.”

“Sayans?” Sam rotated the cameras. His viewscreens showed nothing but the darkness of space. He absently blew the hair from his eyes, but it wasn't there. After a lifetime of long brown hair—just inches this side of blond—he'd recently gotten a short cut. He wondered if he'd ever stop blowing non-existent hair from his eyes. He glanced at Bohai and envied the long black strands in his eyes. When Sam got his hair cut short, Bohai only trimmed the back of his. He left his bangs long. It annoyed Sam endlessly. As friends, annoying each other was a central part of each day.

   “I don't see any Sayans. Do you?”

   “I don't see anything. There's no one else out here.”

   Nothing but stars in all directions on an astral expanse a million miles wide. Sam adjusted his screen and magnified the closest area, then zoomed out again to a wide view. Still nothing. They weren't near any planet, asteroid or space mist that might hide a ship, but those torpedoes had to have come from somewhere. Unless the stars themselves were shooting at them, someone was out here, and they apparently didn't want to be seen… or intruded upon.

   “A cloaked ship?” Sam asked.

   Bohai furrowed his brow. “I think that's only in the movies, man. Or on TV.” He thought a moment, then added, “...back when we had TV.”

   “So, where did those missiles come from?”

   The screen's image shifted.

   The first ship appeared, a fuzzy disturbance of gray on the viewer. It shimmered out of the blackness and blossomed into a solid image. Another ship sprung into view promptly behind it. That was the shooter—the farthest ship. As the images sharpened, their configurations appeared identical: they were simple gray flying saucers with short fins on either side and a protruding tail, metal manta rays in space. To Sam, they looked like uninspired UFO's culled from any of a hundred classic sci-fi flicks he had watched over the years.

   “I don't think they're shooting at us,” Sam said. He tapped a finger on the screen. “Look. That one is shooting at the other. We're just... we're in the way.”

   “Whether they meant to or not, they've damaged us badly!” Bohai strained over the controls.          “We've lost power to navigation.”

   Another volley of torpedoes screamed from the attacking saucer, but the second saucer swerved to avoid the hit. The torpedoes missed and shot off into space. Purple flares exploded in the starry distance like a splash of colored powder.

   “They look like the same design to me,” Sam said. “Shouldn't they be on the same side? I mean, it's not like a Sayan glider shooting at an Earthian ship. That I'd understand.”

   “Maybe it's a family squabble.”

   “Where the hell are they from—out here in the middle of nowhere? Those saucers are small; they can't be far from home. But there's no planet or starbase close enough to land them.”

   “No clue, man.” Bohai sped up to keep their ship ahead of the two combatants. Without navigation, he was powerless to steer away from them. Straight ahead was their only option.

Another round of torpedoes scored a direct hit to the fleeing saucer, disabling its navigation. Against its will, it collided with the Praihawk, forcing it further off course. Both ships banked to the right and spiraled out of control. Like two crocodiles in a death roll, they locked together and spun through black space… until the black space morphed into something else.

    A massive sphere of color materialized on the viewscreen. Like a Polaroid coming to life, the darkness developed into an image of a red and brown orb—a planet.

Another torpedo hit the saucer, slamming it anew into the Praihawk. The two ships plummeted fast into the planet's thermosphere.

    “Get us up!” Sam yelled over the sound of vibrations. The ship shook as if it might break apart. A cabinet broke open and tools fell to the floor; a sonic wrench rolled under his chair. “And get that saucer off of us!”

    “I'm trying!” Bohai stabbed at multicolored buttons. “We've lost power to one of our engines. That ship latched onto us and is forcing us down. We're gonna hit the planet.”

Both ships crossed into the stratosphere. The vibrations subsided when they reached the inner atmosphere, and thin clouds parted to reveal a craggy planet beneath them. The surface blistered with uneven layers of granite and clay. Rivers of brown and orange soil twisted across its face. It looked barren—a desolate wasteland. A yellow sun floated in the sky and cast blinding rays across the parched landscape.

    Where did that come from? Sam wondered. The sun in this corner of the galaxy could not be seen from that direction or at that size. This improbable sun closely matched Earth's. It defied physics.

The attacking saucer fired two final torpedoes. The second saucer and the Praihawk, locked together, had no means to avoid them. Both missiles smashed into their target, a fatal blow, sending the ships down. The entwined vessels tumbled to the rocky surface.

    “Brace yourself,” Bohai said. “This is gonna be bad.”

    He raised the inertial dampers and switched all power to the absorbers and shields. They collided with the planet's surface and slid forward. Upon striking the ground, the second saucer broke away and skidded further ahead, skipping across the dirt like a rock on a lake. The Praihawk felt the impact less, thanks to the dampers. Both young men were thrown to the floor but were unharmed. The spider still clung to the ceiling, undisturbed by the incident.

Dirt kicked up over the hull and covered the cameras, lending the viewscreens a grainy outlook. After a long slide, the rocks and clay absorbed their energy and brought them to a halt with the ship tipped at a steep angle to one side.

On the bridge, lights flickered and alarms began to wail. Bohai climbed back into his seat and shut them off, then set the diagnostics program to begin surveying the damage. He launched the repair sequence. The primary lighting shut down, and the engines sputtered to a stop, automatically cutting power in order to expedite repairs to the ship's critical modules.

Sam grabbed his chair and pulled himself up from the floor. Red and blue lights on the control panel illuminated his silhouette. He checked the external scanners. Readings indicated the planet's atmosphere nearly duplicated that of Earth.


    A wild stroke of luck.

    “Hmm. What are the odds,” he remarked. It was a peculiar coincidence, but he accepted it gratefully. He hated wearing oxygen suits. “A million to one.”

Bohai wasn't listening. He had already checked the readings and was now at the weapons cabinet, pulling two pulse rifles from their brackets. He threw one to Sam and jerked his head toward the back of the ship.

    “Come on. We need to meet the flying saucer men, or women.”

    “You sure?” Sam asked.

    “Sure. There could be women in space. Why not?”

    “No. I mean, you sure about going outside?” Sam still handled the alien pulse rifle clumsily; it was something he might never get the hang of. At least he had his “sparking” abilities.

    “We came out here to explore. So, let's get to it. Besides, I don't want to sit cooped up in this tin can all day. The system says it will take nineteen hours to repair the engines and vitals.”

    “I'm fine with being cooped up. What I don't like is being eaten by space vampires.”

    “Man up. Let's go.”

    Sam didn't agree, but followed his friend to the bay door, anyway. They struggled to keep their balance on the slanting floor. Bohai told Teak to stay behind and guard the ship.

    “Don't talk to strangers,” he said to Teak.

    The spider silently crawled across the ceiling and took up a corner. He would be their back-up if things went wrong. And things often went wrong.

The hatch gasped open, and the two young men jumped onto the cracked surface of the unknown planet. The ground was uneven, with small crevasses every few yards; some only a few inches, but many stretched a foot wide. It would be easy to twist an ankle, if not careful. They stepped over the cracks and edged toward the crashed saucer—the one that had been attacked. Odds favored that the underdogs, the victims, might be friendlier.

    Odds were wrong.

    Two male figures spilled out of the manta ship, but they weren't human. They had the arms and legs of a humanoid, but their heads were long and oval—almost reptilian. Exaggerated eye sockets framed ophidian eyes with vertical, elliptical pupils. Over seven feet tall with broad shoulders and bulging muscles, wrapped in cobalt blue armor from neck to feet, their skin was light gray, almost milky around the face. From a distance, it was hard to tell where their armor ended and their skin began, as if fused to their bodies. Each alien carried a three-foot curved blade.

One of the manta ray saucer men spat a frantic string of words to Sam and Bohai, completely foreign to them. He gestured wildly with his arms. The alien behind him spoke in the same unknown language. Its tone was guttural and menacing, unpleasant to the ear. They were agitated, for sure, and visibly upset with the two humans.

    “We come in peace. We didn't shoot you down,” Sam tried to explain. “It was those guys.” He pointed to the other manta saucer still in the air.

    The two aliens growled louder and brandished their blades, but they did not come any closer. They glanced nervously at the other ship—now circling above them—then turned back to Sam and Bohai with fierce determination in their misshapen faces. They shouted and pointed toward the desert, which stretched for miles and culminated at a distant mountain range. One alien burst into a diatribe, but it was gibberish to the Earthlings. His hands gesticulated madly again.

Bohai took a step forward, and the aliens got angrier. They now pointed to a low ridge of contorted hills that swelled up from a nearby section of the desert. It seemed they wanted Sam and Bohai to go that way.

    “Well, so much for the welcome wagon,” Sam muttered. “I don't think they want us here.”

    “We didn't come by choice.”

    Sam spoke louder, as if louder were the universal translator. “Look, guys, we need to make repairs.” He pronounced each word slowly and distinctly. “We do not want any trouble.”

    “Dude, you're like a tourist in Shanghai. They don't speak English. Talking louder won't help.”

Bohai stepped forward again and lowered his weapon to the ground. Placing one hand on his heart, he then extended it, cupped as if filled with water. He thought this might illustrate his friendship, but instead it got the aliens angrier. They screamed and howled and finally moved toward the Earthlings.     Their gestures were furiously aggressive.

    Bohai snatched his rifle from the ground and aimed it at them. Both aliens stopped short. They pointed again toward the hills.

    New movement disrupted the sky behind them. Another manta saucer sailed in low and joined its comrade, skating fifty feet from the surface. The aliens gave up on Sam and Bohai and turned toward the hills. They ran.

    The new manta ship outpaced the aliens in a strafing run. Lightning sizzled from its underbelly and knocked the aliens to the ground. They both fell motionless—either stunned or dead.

The ship swerved toward the Praihawk and landed on the rocky dirt, while the other continued to patrol the sky. Struts extended on the landed craft, and when the hatch opened, what emerged caught both Sam and Bohai by surprise.

    Two humans exited the ship and marched across the terrain directly toward them. They looked human, not merely humanoid. Sam thought they might have even been from Earth; they could easily pass for Earthlings. In their late thirties, each sported close-cropped crew cuts, wore striking red uniforms, and had a military clip to their stride. However, they were unarmed. That seemed odd.


    The city rose as an oasis from the desert, and to Sam it looked magnificent. Skyscrapers reached as high as forty stories, glassy and metallic. Their spires poked upward and created a saw-tooth skyline—impressive but cold and uninviting. On approach, he first thought a sheen of ice covered the ground, but then he realized the streets were paved with tile.... acres of shiny black tile, polished to a mirror-like gloss—with no dirt or grass in sight. Shrubs lined the edges of town, but no greenery lived inside its borders.

    The manta saucer swooped low and ducked into the wide mouth of a hangar, a sleek metal structure with a high roof almost as tall as its width. Here another saucer was parked, and their companion vessels soared in after them. Men guided their arrivals with neon sticks in each hand. The ship parked with a jolt and powered down.

    Sam and Bohai still held onto the straps fixed to the wall. The crude bounce of the saucer's landing instilled no confidence in them for the pilots or the craft.
Something was still wrong here ...


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