Authors: Odette C. Bell
Tags: #space opera, #aliens, #light romance, #space adventure
All characters in this publication are
fictitious, any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is
A Galactic Coalition Academy Series
Copyright © 2015 Odette C Bell
Cover art stock photos: Sci Fi Logo Vector ©
twindesigner, Naked athlete © Serov_Vladimir, Space background ©
aviany, and Earth in a meteor shower © JohanSwanepoel. Licensed
Special Commander Joshua Cook opened his cruiser’s
hatch while it was still shooting through the atmosphere.
The computer immediately blared an alarm. He ignored
He latched one armored hand onto the side of the
hatch, and leaned right out into the air.
Clouds shot past him, billowing and puffing like
smoke on fast forward.
The cold didn’t chill his bones, nor did the clouds
obscure his sight; he was wearing some of the most sophisticated
armor in the Milky Way.
As his ship broke through the cloud bank, he saw the
It was a broken mass of brown and grey rock. Nothing
but a barren wasteland stretching from horizon to horizon.
Without a word, or a prayer, Josh suddenly jumped.
His ship was still miles up, but it didn’t matter.
He walked right out into the air.
He didn’t have a chute – he didn’t need one.
As his body plunged through the sky, his ship
suddenly stopped its descent, leveling out with a jerk.
It would descend to pick him up when he called. Now
it was time to complete his mission.
Shifting his body around until he dropped with his
head angled to the ground, he tucked his arms against his side and
squeezed his legs together.
He reached terminal velocity, his body shooting down
towards the planet. Though the air was technically thin and the
cold should have punched him unconscious by now, he was safe behind
his armor. He couldn’t even hear the scream of the howling
The surface of the planet got closer and closer –
the dust and rocks and crags growing in detail until he could see
each shadow and count each stone.
Three. Two. One.
With a massive thud, he landed, his body cracking
the rock and sending an almighty cloud of dust billowing around
He didn’t pause to orient – he leapt into
He had a mission, one only he could complete.
He wasn’t an ordinary Coalition officer. He was a
special commander, for one. That meant he had certain privileges,
certain powers, and a certain kind of history.
Josh hadn’t always worked for the Academy. A little
over five years ago he’d been a pirate for hire. Now he ran
top-secret missions for the same Coalition he once despised.
powered forward, his boots sending up a hail of dust and small rock
as he sprinted across the landscape. Over hills, around crags,
along cliff faces
– he was
aiming for a cavern.
He had to get in there, get his mission done, and
get the hell out of Barbarian space before they found him and
strung him up to die.
With a grunt, he leapt over a massive boulder,
landing on his shoulder and rolling until he jumped back to his
feet and continued the plunge.
In the distance, a valley opened up. Along a sheer
cliff face against the far side he saw a black dot.
His sensors went haywire.
They were in there.
Your average Coalition citizen was naive enough to
believe they were a myth. Josh was unlucky enough to know they
According to a legend scraped together from various
ancient galactic races, 20,000 years ago life was almost
extinguished in the Milky Way.
Planets were overrun, civilizations toppled, all at
the hand of the same enemy. The Rebuilders.
They weren’t human or biological – they were
machines. The first true machine virus, in fact. They could infect
any advanced technological device, reprogramming and recreating it
in their image.
To the modern hi-tech Coalition, they were a
nightmare. A true monster of myth. An unstoppable enemy that could
not be reasoned with, and was after one thing and one thing alone:
total annihilation of biological entities.
To the Milky Way of 20,000 years ago, they spelt
certain doom. One race, however, stood in their way. 498. That was
it – that was their name. There was insufficient historical data to
know what it meant. One fact was known, though: they sacrificed
everything to bring the Rebuilders under control.
Now, back in the modern day, the Coalition only
dealt with sporadic infestations. Maybe some cruiser would crash on
a previously undisturbed asteroid, or some foolish treasure hunter
would come across the wrong cave.
The Rebuilders had not reached plague proportions
since 498 sacrificed its civilization to destroy them. It was now
up to crack soldiers and teams like Josh and the other specialized
units of the Academy to ensure the Rebuilders never gained a
They were no normal enemy. You couldn’t fight them
like you fought a Barbarian raiding party. The Rebuilders were
attracted to anything electrical – anything they could infect. If
you landed your cruiser on their planet, they would swarm. If you
walked up to them with your Coalition pulse rifle, they would
As soon as they sensed technology, they became like
a hive of frantic, chaotic bees. They attacked from all directions,
relentlessly and unpredictably.
If you wanted to fight them, you had to do it
quickly and with as little technological impact as you could.
If it had been up to Josh, he would have stayed in
orbit and peppered this dead planet with high-yield plasma blasts.
Unfortunately it wasn’t up to him. He was deep in Barbarian space
and a heck of a long way from Coalition help.
Plus, he had to be sure he got the root of the
infection. The only way to do that, was to get up close.
He powered into the valley, his boots skidding over
the rock and dust.
The more sophisticated and larger the technology,
the more the Rebuilders would swarm. Josh’s armor and weapons were
small enough that the Rebuilders wouldn’t take this planet by
storm, but sufficiently enticing to get their attention.
Just as Josh reached the cave, he heard the
His mouth became dry.
Though he’d done various sorties like this before,
familiarity didn’t make it easy. Nor should it. Rebuilders were one
of the most dangerous enemies the Coalition faced, even if most of
her citizens were unaware of it.
So he had an understandable but thankfully brief
moment of hesitation before he pushed himself forward. Hands
gripping into fists, Special Commander Joshua Cook entered the
He wasn’t met with a hail of Rebuilder technology.
Those mechanical viruses didn’t wash forward in a wave of
But his sensors did detect they were straight
The cave mouth was rough, just rock hewn by weather
and age instead of the hand of intelligence. After he travelled 100
meters or so, it opened into a room of carved pillars. If he hadn't
been so focused on finding Rebuilder tech and keeping himself
alive, he would have appreciated the beauty. There was something
stark about this place, something that reminded him of the carved
palaces of the Centaur I Plains.
For all the bad in Josh's life, at least he’d
travelled. He'd seen more of the galaxy than most Coalition
commanders. But part and parcel of the experience was seeing the
dark side. From the slums of the Phoenix Sector to the inside of a
Barbarian prison, Josh had witnessed brutality. And though he hated
to remind himself, he'd doled it out time and time again until the
Coalition had found him. They'd resurrected him, washed away his
sins, and given him a purpose in life.
For the first time Josh Cook was saving people, not
So he wasn't going to fail now.
Instinctively, he grabbed the rifle from the holster
along his back. There was a barely audible hiss as it disconnected
from its magnetic lock.
Once he held it in his hands he felt stronger. It
didn't chase away the fear, though, and nor should it. If you
wanted to survive in this galaxy, you soon learnt fear had its
place. Only the fortunate and safe ever sought to eradicate it. For
them it was a niggling anxiety. For Josh it was survival.
Then he saw it. He finally saw it.
Shifting out of the darkness like interconnected
vines, or veins trailing up a human’s wrist, came the machines. On
close inspection, they were cables, thick black and textured with a
matte finish. Cables that could move, snaking along the walls and
floor like a pernicious infection climbing flesh.
This was the first stage of a Rebuilder infection.
Their true nascent form. Once they started infecting tech, they’d
become more robotic, like an army of scuttling metallic
Rebuilder technology would be attracted to his armor, his
– anything and everything
electronic. They were like mosquitoes beckoned by blood, or leeches
by breath. As soon as they got a whiff of electromagnetic activity
from any electronic device, they swarmed.
He stopped as he saw them amassing in the dark.
Primal fear pulsed through his mind, the kind of white-knuckled
panic that blasts the hindbrain before certain death.
Then he pushed past it.
He brought up his gun and started firing. Bullet
after bullet slammed into that coiling dark mass.
As one cable whipped to his left, he dipped to the
side, rolling out of reach.
As another cable sliced towards his throat, he
grabbed the electro whip from his holster and caught it. Then he
shot it with his gun.
It was frantic, like a horror movie condensed into
every passing second.
He had to be careful to keep hold of his weapons. If
the Rebuilders got hold of them, they'd surge. Not only would their
numbers grow as they carved up his gun and whip into more of their
own, but their intelligence would grow too.
Though this situation was unquestionably dire, it
wasn't the worst he'd faced.
The worst had been on Fori Prime approximately five
He'd come across them, not as a special commander of
the Coalition, but as a pirate for hire.
He'd barely gotten out alive, and it had been the
turning point of his life. Though he hadn't known at the time, a
Coalition team had been trapped by that same Rebuilder tech, and
he’d saved their lives.
He wouldn’t be here today if he’d lost.
And he wouldn’t live through another day if he lost
The black, snake-like pipes kept amassing over him.
Though their intelligence was still rudimentary compared to the
full-blown genius of a Rebuilder swarm, they kept trying to lure
and trap him. As he fought a seething mass to his left, several
tried to flank him from the right.
The battle was frantic, but somehow he managed to
keep his distance.
He also made a serious dent in their numbers.
keep fighting for hours like this
– days if he absolutely had to.
Josh's life had been all the training he needed.
When he'd gained his commission as a special commander, Admiral
Gaks had told him no one else could do what Josh did. Because no
one else shared his checkered history. For better or worse, the
Coalition recruited from the most peaceful planets of the Milky
Way. A lot of their cadets came from Earth itself, and Earth hadn't
seen an attack for almost 50 years.
While that made for hopeful, kind, sympathetic
recruits, you needed someone like Josh to fight for hours on