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Antares Dawn— An Excerpt

...The first pictures of New Providence began coming in four hours later. Discovery's crew had been on full alert for all that time, scanning their instruments and checking their weapons. And, for all that time, the tension had been building aboard the battle cruiser. Every second that passed without someone detecting the presence of man on the ancestral home of all Altans brought with it a firmer realization that their worst fears might well be confirmed. New Providence had been a world of three billion souls; and now it was as silent as a tomb.

The first long range tele-views came from Scout Boat Drunkard. It showed a planetary limb, a blue ocean, and the unfamiliar shoreline of a continent. As they watched, the continent grew in size with surprising rapidity, an indication of the speed with which the scout was closing on the planet.

"What is Drunkard's target?" Drake asked.

"Regensburg," Lieutenant Cristobal answered. "The records indicate that it is the major metropolis in the northern hemisphere. Scout Boat Catherine will arrive five minutes later, and will over-fly a city named Terra Nova."

"One of my great, great, great grandfathers came from Terra Nova, I think," Bethany Lindquist said from her position beside Cristobal.

"I thought your family was from Earth, Miss Lindquist," Argos Cristobal said.

She swiveled to face the astrogator. "Only some of my ancestors, Mr. Cristobal. You'll find that I have quite a lot of Altan in me."

The view jumped once as Scout-Pilot Marman ordered a switch to a higher magnification. The scene was suddenly frozen on the screen as the computer chose a single frame from Drunkard's orbital mapping camera. The view was of the outskirts of the city of Regensburg taken at a slant angle of 45 degrees.

Regensburg had been built on a series of rolling, forested hills. The screen showed equal parts of city and forest. The forest was dead. Bare trunks jutted skyward, sprouting stick-like branches in geometric symmetry. Many trees had been uprooted by windstorms. Their corpses lay scattered randomly among the upright bodies of their brethren. In some areas, the tangle of deadwood approached jungle proportions, as if the natural process of decay had been halted.

"No microorganisms," Drake muttered to no one in particular. "The planet must be sterile."

He switched his gaze to the city. It, too, was the color of dead plants; and like the forest, showed signs of weather damage; yet with a degree of preservation unexpected in a hundred-year-old ruin.

"Scout Marman reports his flyby complete. He is headed out into space," Slater reported from the communicator's station.

"How many frames did he get?"

"Fifty thousand, Captain, all received and ready for processing. Catherine reports coming up on Terra Nova."

Drake turned his attention back to the main viewscreen. Once again there was a view of the planet's limb. Once again, the camera was switched over to high magnification, and a single frame was frozen on the control room viewscreen. This time the view was centered on a large city. But where Regensburg had looked as though its inhabitants had stepped away for a moment, Terra Nova was a shambles. Everywhere, blackened steel frameworks jutted skyward from piles of masonry, toppled towers lay where they had smashed across parked groundcars, and hollow shells stood guard over collapsed interiors. The sight of the destruction sent a shiver through Drake's soul.

"Some kind of out-of-control fire?" Argos Cristobal asked.

"It was an out-of-control fire, all right," Bethany Lindquist responded, her voice filled with horror. "Look at the way the outlying buildings all seem to have toppled away from the central point. I've seen that pattern before in history tapes. That city didn't burn of its own accord. Someone exploded a nuclear weapon on it!

 

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Page last edited on November 13, 2010 03:15 PM