Crystal Horizon: A Short Prequel to Crystal Deception

BOOK: Crystal Horizon: A Short Prequel to Crystal Deception
10.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

 

 

 

Crystal Horizon
A Short
Prequel to
Crystal Deception

Doug J. Cooper

 

 

Crystal Horizon

Copyright ©2015 by Doug J. Cooper

 

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

 

All rights reserved, including the
right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

 

Published by: Douglas Cooper
Consulting

 

Manuscript evaluation: Tammy Salyer

Cover design: Damonza

 

ISBN-10: 098993814X

ISBN-13: 978-0-9899381-4-3

 

Author website:
www.crystalseries.com

 

~~~

 

 

 

 

 

for
Jim

with
thanks

 
About
the Prequel

 

Hello and welcome!

 

I like stories about people, and I
particularly enjoy it when these people are engaged in adventures with aliens,
spies, artificial intelligence, romance, and battles in space. But then again,
who doesn’t?

 

Crystal Deception
is a
science fiction thriller that includes everything from my list above, and this
work,
Crystal Horizon
, is a prequel to that book.

 

I wrote this short piece with two
thoughts in mind. One was to give new readers a no cost opportunity to sample
the larger story and meet a couple of characters from the series. Perhaps you’ll
enjoy yourself so much, you’ll want to read the full length books?

 

My second reason was to give current
fans the backstory on Sid and Cheryl. This prequel takes place five years
before the time of
Crystal Deception
, where we meet Cheryl as a captain
of a military space cruiser and Sid as a covert warrior for the Defense
Specialists Agency.

 

We learn in
Crystal Deception
that Sid and Cheryl have a shared history and, in particular, a romantic
relationship that has somehow gone awry. In this prequel, we join them on the day
they first meet and we experience that history with them.

 

I hope you have as much fun reading this
mini-adventure as I did writing it.

 

Enjoy!

 

Doug J. Cooper

 

PS: For more information about the
Crystal series books, please visit:
www.crystalseries.com
.

 

 

C
rystal Horizon

 

Sid climbed the steps of the aging
fitness center and a shadowy flicker caused him to look up. Squinting, he contemplated
the massive Kardish vessel—small to the naked eye—as it passed overhead in its
orbit around Earth. Huge, silent, lingering, the alien spaceship had been a
fixture in Earth’s sky for the past fifteen years.

The Kardish had never done anything threatening or aggressive.
In fact, it was their silence that made Sid wary. His intuition screamed that they
would someday transition from visitor to enemy. He couldn’t see a different
outcome.

And that’s why he’d accepted an invitation to attend Fleet’s
talent development school—a place called “camp” by those who knew of its existence.

Stepping through the door at the top of the steps, a
muscular instructor in a too-tight T-shirt caught Sid’s eye. “Welcome to camp,
Lieutenant.” The instructor tapped a locker with his index finger. “Get into
pads and move out to the floor.”

It was his first day at the elite facility, and Sid took his
time changing so he could absorb the rhythms of the place. He dressed in the
flexsuit he found in the locker, then touched his toes, rotated his torso, and
stretched his arms to confirm that the protective pads gave him a full range of
motion. As he passed from the locker room out into a large hall, the same burly
instructor handed him a wooden pole about as long as he was tall.

“You’re with her,” he told Sid, nodding toward an attractive
woman wearing similar gear. He pointed to an area on the far side of the room.
“Take that spot. Warm up a bit. You’ll be sparring with each other in a few.”

Sid and his sparring partner looped around the outside of
the room to avoid the waving sticks of those who’d arrived ahead of them. They
reached their destination and turned to face each other.

“Hi. I’m Cheryl.”

He nodded politely but remained silent, studying her calm
resolve as she squared up in front of him. He judged her to be in her late
twenties—same as him—and he could see enough of her face and figure through her
pads to conclude she was not only pretty, but also had the tight body of a natural
athlete.

She held the stick in one hand like a spear, and her
unpretentious manner disarmed him.
It’s her first day, too,
he thought.
Go
easy on her.

The instructor clapped his hands. “Let’s spar, folks. Work
up a sweat. Convince me that it’s real.”

Cheryl threw some swats and jabs at Sid, and he blocked her
stick in a series of practiced moves. The physical activity warmed his tall,
broad-shouldered frame, and he welcomed the sensation.

Sid’s priority was to learn everything he could about camp,
so he went through the motions of defending himself while he scanned the room
with his peripheral vision. He saw Captain Dooley chatting with a couple of
instructors, and stopped his visual sweep to watch.

Cheryl goaded him for his lack of effort. “C’mon, sport. Are
we fighting or dancing?”

When he didn’t respond, she slipped her hands together at
one end of the stick and swung it at his head, much like she was swinging a bat
at a ball. As the stick accelerated, he heard a growl from the back of her
throat.

Amateur
, he thought, disappointed with her tactic. He
timed the stick’s motion and, dropping his chin, ducked forward so it would
swing by overhead. Her momentum was about to expose her midriff and he’d use
the opening to execute a “take down and kill” sequence.

As the arc of her swing developed, she pivoted her stick
while maintaining the power behind its motion. In rapid sequence, she twirled,
dropped to one knee, and lowered her shoulder to protect her midsection. Her
stick veered down on a new path and she swept his legs out from under him.

By the time Sid realized what was happening, he was flat on
his back.
I got suckered,
he thought, scolding himself. He looked up
from the ground and saw her smile.

“I am so sorry, champ,” she mocked, projecting a lightness
that suggested humor.

Hopping up, he reassessed both her and his strategy. He
didn’t give a moment’s thought to the fact that she’d dropped him in front of a
crowd. Instead, just as he’d done at the beginning and end of more than a
thousand sparring bouts, he brought his feet together, pressed his hands to his
thighs, and bowed at the waist. He wasn’t surprised when she returned the
formal gesture.

She assumed a fight-ready stance, crouching ever so slightly
as she centered her body over her feet. Shifting the stick to her side, she
held it parallel to her body, one hand next to her waist and the other up near
her shoulder.

He’d trained hard for more than a decade on a variety of
martial arts and other fighting forms, and recognized her classic
bojutsu
stance. Adrenaline spilled through his veins, causing his skin to tingle.
This
is gonna be fun
, he thought.

He assumed a ready stance that was not identifiable to any
particular school or style. But anyone watching would have no doubt he was
proficient with hand-to-hand combat and staff weapons.

They began to circle each other. A hush developed in the
room as the pair drew attention. Everyone, including Captain Dooley, drifted in
their direction and formed a ring around them. Neither Sid nor Cheryl noticed.

The muscular instructor appeared between them, raising his
hand high to stop their movement. He looked at Sid and caught his eye. Turning
to Cheryl, he did the same. After a brief pause, he called, “Ready,” then
dropping his hand in an arc between them, shouted, “fight!”

Cheryl leapt forward and unleashed a lightning-fast attack
sequence. The air was filled with a
click-clack
staccato of impacting
sticks as Sid struggled to block and parry the onslaught. He retreated several
steps during her opening flurry to protect himself from her weapon.

He soon deciphered her patterns and methods, and fell into
an easy rhythm, alternating between attack and defense. During the bout, Sid
landed several sharp jabs to the pads on her chest, stomach, and thighs. His
own suit protected his shoulders and forearms from some vicious slices.
Not
bad
, he thought, having met few opponents who could touch him in this sport
when he was fully engaged.

The battle raged for twelve minutes, then the instructor
appeared and yelled, “Break,” to end the bout. Both dropped their guard and
bowed again.

Sid leaned on his pole and took deep breaths. Cheryl sat on
the floor and sucked in air. Still breathing hard, she lay back on the ground
and splayed her arms wide.

“Nice work, slick.” She smiled for the second time.

He sat next to her and continued his recovery. “I’m Sid,”
was all he could think of to say.

* * *

The next morning, Cheryl swam into the
tube-like entrance of an underwater obstacle course. She wore space coveralls that
had been modified with foot fins, added to give the swimmers greater agility in
the liquid environment.

Pulling herself through the lake water, she advanced into a labyrinth
of looping and intersecting tunnels. Colorful geometric shapes—boxes, balls,
cylinders, and cones—were attached above, below, and on either side along the passageway,
providing handholds and hiding places as far as she could see. With her com disabled,
she heard only the background thrum of filters keeping the water clear.

Sid, her same partner from yesterday’s sparing bout, trailed
behind in a gold-colored suit that matched her own. He swam up next to her and,
using hand gestures, signaled that he was taking the leftward path at the
intersection up ahead. She nodded and signed that she’d go right. She smiled
encouragement through her clear hood, but he’d moved ahead and didn’t see.

Other teams were spread throughout the maze, and the
challenge they all faced was pretty much a kid’s game—the last team standing at
the end of the exercise won the bout. Everyone in the game had a short baton as
their only weapon. If she touched an opponent’s head or torso with the tip of
the baton, their suit would glow, confirming their “death.”

I’m not sure splitting up was such a good idea
, she
thought as the branch she was in channeled up a level. She quickened her pace,
anxious to rejoin Sid so they could protect each other. At the next corner, the
tube continued up yet another level.

Cheryl looked back the way she’d come, hesitated, and
decided to keep going forward. A movement through slits in the tube wall attracted
her attention. Peering through a narrow gap, she looked into a largish open chamber
that served as an intersection for several passageways.

Her senses on edge, she watched as the two members of the
red team swam into hiding places among the obstacles scattered around the walls
of the chamber.
Nice place for an ambush
.

She studied the different features of the intersection so
she’d recognize it if she ever made it to that location. A flash down a tube on
the far side of the open space lifted her gaze. Something yellow was advancing
toward the chamber. Squinting, she studied the object and felt her pulse
quicken. The color was more gold than yellow.
Sid’s swimming into the trap!

Cheryl controlled her breathing and willed her heartbeat to
slow. With confident, focused movements, she kicked and pulled herself deeper
into the maze. A fork came into view and she swam left. After another turn, the
passage brightened from light coming up through a hole in the tube floor.

Edging up to the lip of the hole, she peered into an open
area.
The chamber!
The red team members were barely visible in the
recesses bracketing the tube where Sid would emerge. From her vantage point at
the top of the compartment, she couldn’t see her partner. Using her memory of
his position and progress in the tube, she made a guess as to when he would
appear.

The challengers, focused on the tube holding Sid, had their
backs to her. Pulling herself through the hole and into the chamber, she
positioned her feet against the edge of the opening and drew herself into a
tight ball.

Her instincts told her it was time to go. With her arms
pressed against her sides, she extended her legs and pushed as hard as she
could, flying into the top of the chamber. The resistance from the water slowed
her to a drift before she’d traveled three body lengths.

Dammit.
Stroking and kicking, she descended behind
the red team, watching to see if her flailing limbs attracted their attention. When
she was level with them, she turned and approached cautiously, studying their
backs for any sign that would indicate awareness of her presence.

She’d made it most of the way across the chamber when Sid
poked his head out of the tube. The two reds attacked. Cheryl felt a moment of
relief when Sid somehow broke into the open chamber without being eliminated
from the challenge.

 Swimming forward with her baton out in front of her, she watched
for an opening that would let her engage the opponents and help Sid. He had the
two reds on the defensive and, as she approached, she sought a pattern in his
actions so she could time her strike. The water provided so much resistance to
movement that the fight played out in a slow motion dance.
Punch. Kick.
Block. Block.

Trying to catch Sid’s eye, she sidled up behind the nearest red.
She chose to act and, snapping her arm out, touched the opponent on the side of
his torso. His suit glowed, and as he turned his head to glimpse his
vanquisher, he dropped his hands and disengaged. The glow of light caused the other
red to lose his concentration for a brief instant, and Sid used the opening to eliminate
him from the game.

Swimming over to Cheryl, Sid gave her a one-armed hug. As
they rotated together in a circle and looked into the tubes, he leaned his hood
against hers and yelled, “Nice work, partner. This is a good spot. Let’s hang out
here and wait for our prey.”

Over the next hour, they ambushed the orange, green, and blue
teams. They waited for a bit, agreed they’d won the challenge, and worked their
way to an exit. Swimming into the open lake, Cheryl’s com activated.

“You two aren’t done.” She recognized Captain Dooley’s
voice. “There’s still another team.”

Sid, apparently having received the same message, canted,
and using strong strokes, swam back toward the tunnel. Her gaze shifted to
activity past where he’d just been. Two people dressed in black suits separated
from a group and entered a tube farther along the maze. Clenching her jaw, she swam
hard to catch Sid. He was deep in the labyrinth when she got close enough to tap
his leg.

Pulling up next to him, she leaned her hood against his. “The
black team is camp instructors. We’re being set up.”

Sid nodded. “I saw. Let’s get to our ambush room before they
do.”

Cheryl’s arms ached as she worked to match Sid’s pace. She breathed
a private sigh when they spilled into the open chamber.

Giving her another one-armed hug, Sid touched hoods. “Which
tube will they come through?”

Trusting her instinct, she pointed. “There.”

“I agree.”

“How about me there and you there,” she said, choosing the
tubes on either side of the one they’d agreed would deliver the instructors.

Sid nodded, released his hold, and swam toward one of the
passageways she had identified. Cheryl swam to the other. Pulling herself about
ten body lengths deep, she turned to assess her view.
Too far
, she
thought when she realized she couldn’t see into the tube where the instructors
would appear. Hugging the tube wall to get a better viewing angle, she edged back
toward the chamber.

Satisfied with her position, she looked across the open space
and, perplexed by the sight, scrunched her eyebrows. Sid had positioned himself
at the opening of his tube with his head protruding into the chamber.
He may
be able to see them better this way, but they can see him, too.
She waved
her hands to catch his eye, but he either wasn’t looking or chose to ignore
her.

BOOK: Crystal Horizon: A Short Prequel to Crystal Deception
10.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Engines of War by Steve Lyons
Hot Summer Nights by Briscoe, Laramie
Cabin Fever by Diane Awerbuck
Cycling Champion by Jake Maddox
Pony Express Courtship by Rhonda Gibson
The Dog and the Wolf by Poul Anderson
A Cat Of Silvery Hue by Adams, Robert
Midnight Guardians by Jonathon King
Candy's Daddy by Cherry Lee