A New Dawn

The Stonewall Chronicles - Book 1

by Herbert Grosshans

When Master Scout Terrex Stonewall returns to Epsilon, he finds much has changed in fifteen years. Humans are beginning to colonize the world of the Dinosaurs, but an alien species known as The Spiders challenges the humans for possession of the planet. Stonewall must find out why before it is too late.


Excerpt

Chapter One

 

Terrex Stonewall experienced a feeling of déjà vu as he stepped out of the shuttle. Almost everything looked the same. In many ways not much had changed. The mushrooms were still as huge and intimidating and the air as humid and hot. Standing still for a moment, he took a few shallow breaths, letting his system get used to the stifling heat.

Outpost Epsilon had been his first assignment as a Scout for the Solar Union. As he stood looking around, he could hardly believe that fifteen years had passed since then.

He swallowed hard as suppressed memories rushed into his conscious mind. It was here on Epsilon where he fell in love with a Tangari girl.

Sheera. He never really forgot her.

Shrugging, he studied his surroundings. The original dome, which protected the outpost, was still there, but he saw three more domes, one of them larger than the others. All four domes were connected by tunnels.

The area around the domes had been cleared of vegetation and a large number of the giant mushrooms, allowing a good view of the sky overhead. Even the landing pads for the shuttles had been enlarged and paved.

A Builder-ship was parked near the largest dome. Construction robots were busy cleaning up the site. As far as Stonewall knew, the habitat was finished. The ship might move on to another part of Epsilon and begin building another settlement or it might possibly travel to a different planet. He didn’t know its schedule and didn’t really care. 

This time, nobody came to greet him. He wondered how many members of the original crew were still around.

They had changed the entrance to the dome. Instead of a door, he saw a small building, like a guardhouse. His assumption proved correct. When he approached the dome, a door opened and a man wearing the brown uniform of the Scouts appeared. He carried a flash rifle, but he didn’t act hostile.

Stonewall wore the same uniform, except his was adorned with a small bar on his left sleeve, proclaiming his rank as Master Scout.

“Welcome, sir,” the guard said, saluting stiffly. “You’ve been expected.”

Stonewall returned the salute and smiled. “I hope there’s a cold beer waiting for me.”

The guard gave him a strange look, his posture still rigid. “I’m not sure what you mean, sir.”

Suppressing a chuckle, Stonewall said, “I have a feeling things have changed a lot. Relax. I’m not going to shoot you for not rolling out the red carpet as soon as I stepped off the shuttle.”

“I still don’t understand, sir.”

Stonewall sighed. “Forget it, son. Just let me get out of this friggen greenhouse. I’m dying here.”

“Sorry, sir.” The guard didn’t move. “I need to see your papers, sir.”

“My papers?” It was Stonewall’s turn to stare. “Didn’t they brief you about me?”

“They did, but I still need to see your identification papers, sir.”

Stonewall glared at him, irritated. “I am Master Scout Terrex Stonewall. I didn’t come here for a vacation because I love it here so much. We used to call this place Shithole and I was happy when I finally left it after spending two friggen years evading oversized lizards and other hungry beasties. So be a good boy and step aside!”

Stonewall noticed the tightening of the young man’s jaw muscles and the flickering in the brown eyes. He had to give him credit, because the man didn’t flinch otherwise.

“I am aware of your name, sir, but it is my job to insure that you are really Master Scout Stonewall. I can do that only after looking at your papers and taking a retina scan.”

Sighing again, Stonewall reached into his breast pocket. “You are a stubborn young man, but I guess you’re only doing your job. I hope this is not an indication of the way things are run here now. I don’t need any more aggravation.” He pulled out his ID card and handed it to the guard.

The guard ran his wrist scanner over it and gave it back to Stonewall. Holding the scanner in front of Stonewall’s face, he said, “Please, look into the screen.” Satisfied, he nodded. “Go ahead, sir. Sorry for the inconvenience, sir.” He saluted again and stepped aside.

Stonewall tipped his helmet and shook his head. “Welcome back to Epsilon,” he murmured. Then he walked into the guardhouse and through the door on the other end.

He stepped into cool air and breathed deeply.

At least that hadn’t changed.

When he looked up, he saw the sky above him as clearly as if the dome didn’t exist, even though it looked solid from the outside. Just a matter of bending the light. He still remembered William Peters explaining it to him the first time he entered the protection of the dome. Since then he had been in similar habitats on other planets, but it didn’t diminish his admiration for the brilliant minds that had invented and designed these marvels of engineering.

Walking toward the Administration building, he wasn’t sure how he would be greeted. He surely hoped that the incident with the guard was not an indication of what he could expect. The new chief of the outpost may not be as lax as Chief Farmer had been. He could still hear the Chief’s words the first time they met.

Call me Chief. We are not that formal around here.

Entering the building, he walked down the familiar corridor toward the office at the end. The man behind the desk looked up when Stonewall walked through the door.

First impressions are usually the most important. Stonewall didn’t get much of an impression from the man. Of average height and weight, in his early forties, his dark hair cut in the usual fashion of the Scouts, he didn’t look imposing. Neither did he emanate any power or anything that set him apart from the regular Scouts.

“You must be Chief Wallace,” Stonewall said, holding out a hand.

Wallace ignored the outstretched hand. He looked at Stonewall with expressionless eyes. “And you must be Master Scout Terrex Stonewall,” he said, his voice as expressionless as his face and eyes. “I was informed of your arrival.”

Stonewall smiled thinly. Taking back his outstretched hand, he said, “I expected a warmer welcome, Chief Wallace. After all, I came here to investigate alleged violations of treaty agreements with the indigenous population. Why the hostility?” He was surprised at Wallace’s apparent resentment. Even though they had briefed him about the new chief, he suspected they hadn’t told him everything.

To Stonewall’s surprise, Wallace actually allowed himself a small chuckle, but it didn’t sound friendly. “How would you feel if they’d send someone to undermine your authority, Stonewall?”

“So that’s what you assume the purpose for my visit is. Let me assure you...I’m not here to undermine your authority, Chief Wallace. And if for some reason you are afraid I might be looking for your job, relax. I have no such intentions. The two years I spent in Hell, one of the nicer labels we gave this planet, will last me a lifetime. I’m here only because I am an experienced tracker, I know this planet and I had a good relationship with the Uur queen.” He put his duffle bag onto the floor and began rummaging in it. Pulling out a bottle, he handed it to Wallace. “I brought you a present. This is from Earth. Authentic too. It is over forty years old. I was told you appreciate good Scotch.”

Wallace glanced at the bottle and then at Stonewall. His face and posture seemed to relax somewhat. “It’s been a while since I had a glass of good Scotch. Alcohol is not allowed on the outposts. You are aware of that, aren’t you? How did you manage to smuggle a bottle through controls?”

Stonewall grinned. “Did you forget that I am a Master Scout? I’m not only good at finding things. I’m also good at hiding them. Take a look at the label.”

“Dinosaur repellant,” Wallace read. He shook his head and chuckled. “Maybe you’re not such a bad sort after all, Stonewall. Will you share a drink with me?”

Stonewall sank into the only chair in the room and sighed. “I thought you’d never ask. I don’t mind a good stiff drink once in a while myself.” He removed his helmet and wiped his forehead. “There was a time when I didn’t drink alcohol, but time changes a man.”

“Yes, it does,” Wallace agreed.

Looking around the office, Stonewall said, “This office hasn’t changed much since I was here last. You haven’t even removed Chief Farmer’s pictures.”

Wallace sighed heavily. “I haven’t had a chance to do much of anything since I took over Farmer’s position. Too bad about him. He was a good man.”

“He did have his good qualities.” Stonewall watched Wallace take two glasses and a corkscrew from a drawer. It seemed that alcohol did make its way into the outpost at times.

Wallace took his time removing the cork from the bottle. He sniffed it and smiled. “Reminds me of the time I spent with my grandfather in Scotland. He taught me how to drink this stuff.” Carefully, he poured two glasses and handed one to Stonewall. “Slainte Mhath.”

“Slainte Mhor,” Stonewall said solemnly. He downed his glass, tried not to flinch when the potent liquid ran down his throat.

Wallace closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he regarded Stonewall silently. “Thank you, Master Scout. Maybe I misjudged you.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time someone read me wrong.” Stonewall smiled, leaning back into his chair. “I’m curious, Chief Wallace. What exactly happened to Chief Farmer?”

Wallace shrugged. “I think he just got tired of this place.” He squeezed the cork back into the bottle and got up to put the bottle into a small cabinet in the corner. Then he picked up a blue-shimmering many-faceted sphere from his desk. “You know what this is, don’t you?”

Stonewall nodded. “A sapphire. You could buy yourself a small space ship with that one.”

“Anywhere else but on Epsilon. This precious stone and others are found in abundance on this planet. The Uur mine them and shape them. They are masters when it comes to cutting gems. Of course, there are plenty of prospectors now on Epsilon who spend most of their time in the jungle digging for precious stones. The Union controls the export of these gems. Anyone smuggling them off planet is severely punished.” Wallace stared at Stonewall. “There are some people out there who dispute the Union’s right to control the gems and the drugs. Some very powerful people. It’s all politics, you know. Farmer tried to interfere in the politics and he was caught in the crossfire. Pirates and drug dealers are another problem. We haven’t been able to prevent every ship from landing in the remote regions and trying to make deals with the Uur. Some of those deals end up badly...for the Uur.”

“Where is Farmer now?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he’s rotting on some prison planet. They took him away in chains.” Wallace lowered his voice. “His reward for being a faithful servant of the Union for twenty years. I wonder what they have planned for me.”

“You are certain it was a Union ship that took Farmer away?” Stonewall asked.

“It had no markings, except for its black color. The soldiers who picked him up wore the black uniforms of the Solar Union Special Forces.”

“Nobody asked any questions?”

“You don’t argue with members of the SUSF.” Wallace chuckled grimly.

“Where were you when it happened?” Stonewall asked.

“In the office next to this one. I was Chief Farmer’s assistant, in my second month of my one-year contract. That was two years ago. They told me if I wanted to rise in the hierarchy of the Scouts, I would accept the position of Chief of the outpost. By the way, I’m also the Governor of Epsilon.”

“Governor? Hmm.”

“Don’t let the title fool you. I have very little powers. I’m just a representative of Earth.”

“Well, it’s a title, but I detect some reluctance on your part,” Stonewall said.

“I have a problem with being forced into doing something that may never have been my ambition. Besides, anywhere else would have been acceptable but not on this forsaken hellhole.”

“You could have declined.”

Wallace shrugged. “I could have but then what? I’m forty-two. Too old to start another career. They would have stashed me away on some other frontier world, worse than this one.”

Stonewall shuddered a little, remembering the four months he spent on Snowball, a world of ragged mountains, ice storms, and continuous volcanic eruptions. “I know what you’re talking about,” he said. “As hard as it is to imagine, but there are actually worse places out there than Epsilon.”

“You are right, it is hard to imagine.” Wallace smiled.

Stonewall rubbed his chin. “If you are so unhappy with your job why would my arrival worry you? I might want to undermine your authority? I don’t quite understand that.”

“Actually, it is not my authority I’m worried about. I resent the fact that they presume I am not capable of handling the situation with the natives.”

“I don’t believe that is the case, Chief Wallace.” Stonewall leaned forward, dropped his voice to a confidential level, as if afraid someone might hear his next words. “We have a problem. The Spiders have a battleship at the edge of this system.”

Wallace’s eyes widened. “This is the first time I hear of it. Why haven’t we detected it?”

“The ship’s been there for a month. It is just beyond reach of Epsilon’s detection net.”

“What do they want?”

“Epsilon.”

“Epsilon?” Wallace almost shouted it, his voice echoed from the walls of his office. When he saw Stonewall’s brows lift, he continued almost in a whisper, “Are they insane? Why would they send a battleship to a system that has nothing they ever wanted?”

Stonewall smiled at the other man’s short outburst. “It is true Epsilon had nothing to offer them...until now.”

“Like what?”

“Ancient ruins.”

 

 

 

 

"Outpost Epsilon" by Herbert Grosshans

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Genres

Sci-Fi
Erotic

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