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  1. Post Enemy One: Chapter Zero

    Chapter Zero

    Location: Unknown
    Time: Unknown




    THE FIRST SENSATION that struck Svetlana was a swell of disorientation, as if her body was dangling upside down, swaying back and forth in an absence of friction. She inhaled sharply, prompting a stabbing, acidic stench to assault her nostrils. It was like sucking in vinegar. Water swelled over her eyes, and she opened them.

    She saw ripples—wobbling ripples, as if she was underwater and staring up from an inch beneath the surface. Beyond the liquid, swaying with the flow, was the glow of a distorted blue light. She inhaled again, and once more, the acidic smell stung her. Her eyes watered again, and the wobble grew deeper. It was as if the mere act of tearing up had plunged her further below. But that didn’t make sense. Nor did the absence of water weight anywhere on her body. She was not underwater. She was staring through her teardrops. They were clinging to her eyeballs.

    Instinctively, Svetlana attempted to wipe them away, but the unforgiving rigidness of a metallic clasp kept her hand at her side. Repeating the effort with her other hand revealed that it, too, was locked in place. So were her ankles.

    “What?” she whispered, shaking her head quickly. The teardrops disconnected from her eyeballs and formed miniscule spheres which hovered in front of her. As her vision returned, the blue light became defined. It was light positioned just above a metal door—dark blue, dim, and the only light present in what she could now see was a windowless chamber. Gently swaying in front of her face were strands of her own hair.

    Microgravity.

    As if cued, a swell of nausea hit her. After several convulses, a spew of vomit erupted from her mouth, its chunky globules soaring forward and disappearing from view. Leaning her head back, she moaned.

    The whole left side of her face throbbed. Even without teardrops clinging, that side of her field of vision was obscured. It felt swollen. Coughing up what little throw up remained in her mouth, Svetlana opened her eyes again to gather her bearings.

    Where am I?

    She had seen that kind of dark blue light before, and there was no question as to where she’d often smelled that pungent, acidic odor. It was the reek of a Bakma Noboat. But that was impossible.

    I must be dreaming.

    It didn’t feel like she was dreaming. She felt everything—the swaying of her stomach, the weightlessness of her hair, the pain emanating from her face. The clasps that held her body to the wall weren’t figments of a dream. They were cold and real. She was in a Noboat.

    How can this be?

    The last thing Svetlana remembered was being in the infirmary. She was going over her medical charts. She was with Max. Then…

    …then what? Pressing her eyebrows together, she thought hard. Something had happened. Something had interrupted her. Interrupted everyone. An attack.

    Novosibirsk had been attacked!

    Everything came back to her in glimpses. In her short term memory, she saw objects being displaced from their shelves, falling to the floor in violent crashes. She saw fire. Whatever happened at Novosibirsk was bigger than just an attack—it was a full-fledged eradication. Whatever EDEN was doing, they were—

    Her memories halted.

    EDEN!

    A chill struck her spine as echoes of radio chatter reorganized themselves in her mind. The attackers were from EDEN. The invaders were EDEN. Novosibirsk had been blindsided. She recalled running with Max down a hallway, but nothing afterward. Even the memory itself was blurry, as if she was watching herself in a movie being filmed with a shaky camera, only to have it come to an abrupt ending after its hallway chase scene. And now she was chained to a wall in a Noboat in microgravity. Microgravity meant…space.

    At that word—space—the panic hit her. It didn’t matter how she’d gotten there. It mattered that she was there, bound to the walls of an alien spacecraft that was not on Earth. No additional context was required. Yanking her hands and feet fervently, the efforts did nothing to free them from the clasps. She was a captive.

    “Setana?”

    The emergence of a voice in the darkness startled her, and she gasped as she turned her head to face it. But along with the fear was familiarity. The deep, guttural tones were unmistakably Bakma. They were unmistakably Tauthinilaas. “Tauthin?” She could barely make out his form, illuminated only by the dark blue door light across the room. He, too, seemed chained to the wall.

    “Tauthin! What is—?”

    “Nikaash resh tischnaak, Setana,” Tauthin said, cutting her off. There was urgency in his voice, panic of his own. “Tha’hee ach lee-senach. Duu naach waech!”

    She shook her head. “I don’t understand! What is happening?”

    “Tha’hee ach lee-senach. Duu naach waech!”

    The desperation in his voice did little to quell her sense of fear. In fact, the more he spoke, the more dreadful she felt. Over and over again, he repeated the phrase, and every time she said she didn’t understand. Tha’hee ach lee-senach. Duu naach wa-eech. Then it came to her, the abrupt tones of Tauthin’s Bakmanese tongue linking together into broken, but recognizable English.

    They are listening. Do not wake. He was telling her to be quiet. Now she understood.

    Now was too late.

    There was a whooshing sound from the illuminated door, and it opened into a recess in the ceiling. A shaft of light cut into the darkness from what she now recognized as the Noboat’s central corridor. Hovering in microgravity, its emaciated eyes transfixed on Svetlana, was another Bakma. It was not clad in the black and brown body armor traditional of Bakma warriors. Quite the contrary, this alien’s clothing was ragged at best. In one hand, it held what could only be interpreted as some sort of spear, though it was the first time Svetlana had seen such a device in the hands of a Bakma. As the alien drifted into the chamber, its ghoulish features became more defined.

    The alien’s eye sockets were shrunken in to the point where its cheekbones protruded outward. Deep scars were etched into the alien’s face, which was as withered and wrinkled as the worst of the specimens Svetlana had seen at Novosibirsk. Stretched out beneath the alien’s nostrils were lipless rows of bare teeth, indicative of a creature whose lips had been completely ripped off. What remained was a skeleton’s grin that reached from one side of the Bakma’s face to the other. In all of Svetlana’s time visiting Confinement, she had never seen anything as horrifying. The alien met her face to face, its black eyes boring into her as if searching for her soul. Svetlana’s pupils shifted subtly between the Bakma’s eyes and its tortured, permanent smile. It was like staring at the devil.

    The emergence of an intermediary presence clicked in her head. As the lipless Bakma spoke, its rasps reverberated from her ears to her mind, where its Bakmanese words were unscrambled.

    An Ithini connection.

    “I am Nagogg, ordained of Uladek and chieftain of this vessel. You are named Setana, correct?” Nagogg’s voice was peculiar, even for a Bakma, no doubt a result of its tortured mouth. There was no flow to any of the alien’s words. Each one jarred. Svetlana was too alarmed to speak, but with the connection, she didn’t need to. Twitching his head oddly as if in response to spoken words, Nagogg continued. “You have been brought aboard this vessel by the infidel Tauthinilaas.”

    The…infidel?

    At the mention of his name, Tauthin lurched forward. The chains held him at bay.

    “It is fortuitous for you that you are given the choice presented to you now,” Nagogg continued. “You will serve by acceptance or rejection. The choice is yours.”

    Svetlana shook her head. “I don’t understand.”

    “You will denounce your false, Earthae god and submit to the one master, Uladek, bringer of Order and Chaos.”

    Speaking for the first time with an unscrambled language, Tauthin urgently said, “Denounce, Setana.” Svetlana looked at him, then quickly back to Nagogg.

    Nagogg twitched again. “You will choose now. You will denounce your false, Earthae god and submit to Uladek, or you will suffer.”

    “How did I get here?” she asked breathily.

    “Do you denounce?” asked Nagogg.

    Slamming his fists against the wall, Tauthin shouted, “Denounce!” His focus shifted to Nagogg. “She is too frightened to make such a choice now. Look at her! She has only just awoken.”

    Growling in disgust, Nagogg barked out a word, and the Ithini connection was severed. For the next minute, Svetlana listened as Tauthin and Nagogg argued back and forth, their words spat out and venomous. Ignored for the moment, Svetlana’s focus returned to slipping her clasps, but to no avail. When she looked back at Nagogg, he was staring at her. The connection reemerged.

    “You will be given time to reflect,” said Nagogg harshly. “That you are here now is evidence enough that your false god has failed you. Submit to Uladek and you may serve honorably.” The alien angled his head slightly. “Or you will serve with your suffering. The choice is yours.” Pivoting in the air, Nagogg drifted out through the doorway.

    It closed in his wake.

    The moment Svetlana was alone with Tauthin, she turned her head to face him. “Tauthin, what is happening?”

    Despite Nagogg’s exit, a connection remained between she and Tauthin. “You have been taken captive by Nagogg and his crew,” Tauthin answered.

    Who is Nagogg? How am I here?”

    “Your base was attacked by your own kind. We used the attack as a distraction to escape from your Confinement. I led my brethren to the Zone Runner your leaders had captured.” Tauthin’s voice lowered dangerously. “I intended to use this vessel to free ourselves from the Khuladi—an intention I shared with my brethren. That was my error.”

    That still told her nothing about her. “How did I get here, Tauthin?”

    For several seconds, Tauthin said nothing. Then he lowered his head. “That error was also my own. You were unconscious. You were being carried away by the Zone Runner’s human lord.”

    The Zone Runner’s human lord? That made no sense. “Tauthin, who are you talking about?”

    There was a flicker in the connection. Svetlana’s vision was suddenly replaced by images of the past, flashing through her mind from one scene to the next.

    “Everyone, pay attention! We go, we rescue the survivors, then we return! This operation is quick and direct.” Oleg sat in the captain’s chair. “It is time,” he said to the slayer by Tauthin.

    “Bakma,” said Oleg, “what can you see about this storm?”
    “His name is Tauthin,” snapped Svetlana.

    Glaring, Svetlana removed her helmet and gave it to Oleg, who deactivated its tracker. He returned it to her. “You remember how to use a pistol, right?”
    Hands yanking her hair into a short ponytail, she placed her helmet back on, unholstering her sidearm and cocking it loudly.


    The images were from the Falcon Platoon rescue, when Oleg had demanded Svetlana’s presence. Another vision followed—one she hadn’t been privy to. At least, not in the way Tauthin had.

    Nightmen bustled past them down the hallway. Beneath his black, armored guise, Tauthin led his comrades forward, his connection to Ed relaying directions to the Bakma at the front of the line. The Zone Runner would soon be theirs. Then he saw her.

    Svetlana.

    She was slung over Oleg’s back, her face bloodied and eyes swollen. A moment of realization came over Tauthin, before the Bakma’s pace quickened. He caught up with Oleg from behind. Reaching his hand out, Tauthin touched the fulcrum on the shoulder. Oleg stopped, turning abruptly. “What—”

    Clang!

    The fulcrum stumbled backward; the woman fell from his shoulders. Clasping his armored fists together, Tauthin slammed them straight down atop the fulcrum’s head, then straight up, then across. The fulcrum spun, hit the wall, then slid to the floor. Tauthin looked down at the woman. “Setana…”

    Nagogg, the lipless rider, rasped from the line of prisoners. “We have no use for a female!”

    Growling silently, his alien vocal chords mechanized by his zombified sentry helmet, Tauthin looked down and away. After a moment of silence, he looked at Svetlana again. Bending down, he scooped her in his arms.

    “For what purpose are we taking her?” Nagogg asked. “Leave her here to die!”

    “I will not leave her in the arms of one who wishes her ill,” Tauthin answered.


    The vision ended, and the chamber fell silent. As the dim blue light above the metal door reclaimed her vision, Svetlana looked down, her eyes open but staring at nothing. Her breathing grew heavier.

    Several moments passed before Tauthin quietly spoke. “I intended a good thing. That intention was betrayed by brethren who now call me infidel.”

    “Where are we going, Tauthin?” Svetlana asked.

    Tauthin hesitated. “The Zone Runner’s fuel cells must rejuvenate. We are in temporary orbit around—”

    She faced him deadpanned, her words leaving her before he could finish. “Where are we going, Tauthin?”

    The Bakma stared back in silence, jaw motionless as his opaque eyes regarded her. At long last, he answered. “We are going to Khuldaris—the homeworld of the Khuladi.”

    In that moment, Svetlana lost everything. Every comfort, every hope. Every flicker of a good memory that she’d intended to relive at some point in the life she was supposed to have had. It had all been ripped from her fingers in an event from which she had no recollection. The gravity around her body grew heavier, and she leaned forward as deeply as her clasps would allow.

    Images flashed through her mind without the need of an Ithini connection. The day she’d decided to pursue EDEN. The day she’d arrived at Novosibirsk. Meeting Max, and Captain Clarke, and Tolya. Being rescued by Scott. Being in love. Every moment she’d ever experienced had taken place on a planet she was no longer on.

    How can this be real?

    “Setana,” said Tauthin lowly, “when Nagogg returns, you must denounce the Earthae god. You must do this for your own benefit. The consequences for rejecting Uladek are severe.”

    Severe. How insignificant such a word sounded from the coldness of her chains, trillions of miles away from the only world she’d ever known. How could severity compare to this? Expression numbed, her eyes on the floor, she asked, “Will they kill me?”

    Tauthin hesitated. “You will suffer.”

    To love was to suffer. At no time did that feel realer than now. Beyond loving Scott, beyond loving the people she knew, Svetlana loved life. She loved her life, in spite of her tendency to overdramatize it and focus on its hardships. Life was messy—at times figuratively, at times literally—but it was hers.

    It…was hers.

    Inhaling slowly, Svetlana lifted her head and looked across the room. “I forgive you, Tauthin.”

    The words only deepened the silence. For a time, it seemed as if Tauthin wouldn’t respond at all. When he finally did, his tone was uncharacteristically withdrawn. “I would sacrifice myself to Nagogg’s spear if it would undo what I have done to you.”

    “I did not mean for that,” she said, gently interrupting him. “You do not need to be forgiven for intending a good thing.”

    The Bakma angled his head. The question, for what am I forgiven, was left un-vocalized.

    Svetlana’s jaw set. “I forgive you for thinking that I would be so weak as to denounce the only God I have ever known at the hour I need Him most.”

    Silence fell between them as Tauthin observed her, the crimson-purple arch above his eyes tightening ever so slightly. Though her own gaze remained downcast into oblivion, his remained solely on her. At the center of his opaque lenses, his violet irises widened. Turning his head without saying a word, he joined her in beholding the darkness.


    * * *


    Floating in the Noboat’s hallway, Nagogg pivoted in the air to face two of his Bakma brethren—the larger of which was clad in the sentry armor worn by Tauthin during their escape from Confinement. Ka`vesh and Gabralthaar. Behind them, Ei`dorinthal the Ithini hovered. “Do not allow this door to be opened,” said Nagogg.

    “Uladek speaks,” Ka`vesh answered, dipping his head.

    The giant Gabralthaar spoke. “What of Tauthinilaas? For how long will he be allowed to repent?” The alien’s deep, guttural tones were only amplified by his mechanized sentry helmet.

    At the mention of Tauthin’s name, Nagogg snarled. “Order and Chaos has used him as an instrument. I will allow him as far as Khuldaris before his choice must be made.”

    “Uladek speaks.”

    “Inform Wuteel: we will progress to the Mid Region as soon as fuel cells allow.”

    Gabralthaar nodded submissively.

    Turning away from Ka`vesh and Gabralthaar, Nagogg’s black eyes fell upon a blinded Bakma floating at the precipice of the bridge’s entryway. The alien had been there since the Noboat reached microgravity, positioning himself as far from the flow of traffic as was possible. Though his vacant eye sockets had long lost the ability to see, his head was tilted in the conversation’s direction, tacitly listening. As Nagogg drifted toward him, he lifted his head erect.

    “Heed well, Kraash-nagun,” said Nagogg. “Uladek speaks to those who listen.”

    Dipping his head as Nagogg drifted past, Kraash-nagun said, “Uladek speaks.”

    Nagogg disappeared into the bridge.

    From just beyond the corona of a red giant star, the Noboat sat in stationary orbit. In the seemingly infinite distance, almost too faint to be distinguishable from the countless stars around it, was the star the Earthae called the Sun. In the opposite direction, too far beyond the Mid Region to be visible from the Noboat’s vantage point, was a star that was much bigger. It was a star that demanded that all other stars bow. It was a star draped in dogma. Born out of hate.

    Beckoning its lost to come home.

  2. #2
    Have I told you today how much you rock? It is true. I hope the whole book is out by the time I start chemo. I'm too nervous to even start reading it.

  3. Don't be nervous. Chapter Zero won't bite!

    (that might be a lie)

  4. #4

    Count Me Interested

    After reading this, I will simply say count me interested in Epic Book 5: Enemy Zero!

  5. Nice! Thank you for sharing this early preview.

  6. Well, Chapter Zero certainly started things off with a bang. Woahhh nellyyy.

  7. #7
    I recently stumbled upon this octology and I have to say it is THE BEST thing I have read in a long while. I just bought all of the first four and read the this week, and just can't get enough, and as I see with Chapter Zero things are continuing to heat up. I can't even begin to say how absolutely anxious and excited I am for Enemy One to come out!

  8. Welcome, Taylor! E5 has some big shoes to fill but I'm excited about getting it out there for you guys. I might even have a little bonus in store for everyone when release time comes around. No one is more ready than I am to release all this!

    What's been your favorite part of the series? Any favorite scenes or characters?


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