Cold Fear

an excerpt

Chapter One

It had been a long trip and it was good to arrive finally. Theta was the farthest planet in the system from Alkya, but it was also one of the most mineral-rich that had yet been discovered. The readouts from the long distance scans had the whole geology department salivating, not least one Lieutenant Matthew Ronson. Matt was delighted when General Banks had assigned the survey mission to our team. He hadn't minded that it would be a particularly long journey, even though Matt was never at his best in space. He liked to have his feet on terra firma--not surprising for a geologist, I guess.

The atmosphere surrounding Theta was thick with many layers, estimated at being at least two thousand miles deep, and I was expecting a rough ride. I double-checked my pilot's harness, glancing over to watch as Matt strapped himself into the co-pilot's chair. I knew that Captain Waterston was in the rear compartment. He'd been cataloguing and preparing the supplies we'd need for our mission, and I trusted Dennis to secure himself in plenty of time.

"Inform base we'll be landing shortly, Matthew," I said.

"Yes, sir," Matt replied with a grin. He flicked the switch to operate the comm-unit, and I ran a final landing check as he reported to Alkya.

"Here we go," I said, flipping the alarm switch momentarily to give Dennis a final warning. I began the descent, carefully following the flight path described by the computer.

"I just hope the scans are accurate," Matt commented. "You never know with an atmosphere this thick," he added.

"Even if they're not exactly accurate, I'm sure you'll find more than enough to make you happy."

"I'm not going to give the obvious answer," Matt said.

"Obvious answer?" I queried, one eyebrow lifted, trying to hide my smile.

"That I'm already happy--" He stopped, shaking his head. "Joshua Marsden, it's a good thing I love you."

"And that I make you happy."

Matt sighed. "Yes."

I felt a tightness in my chest and smiled. God, did I love this man.

Turning my attention back to the flight computer, I confirmed we were spot on target. I glanced at the main screen and the dull grey of the top layer gave way to a swirling mist of orange and pink that stretched away as far as the eye could see.

"Wow, look at that," Matt suddenly said, pointing to the top right corner of the viewscreen.

Following his gesture, I saw what looked like a piece of string, coiled and twisting as it snaked across the view. It was a sickly green color and I had never seen its like before. Even as I watched, it suddenly jerked and a bolt of energy shot out, sparking and arcing, not unlike an electric charge.

"What the hell is that?" Matt asked.

"Damned if I know, but I don't like the look of it." I breathed a sigh of relief as the thing disappeared from the screen as we moved lower in the atmosphere.

"Wasn't anything like that mentioned in the report I read," Matt said.

"No, but then again, it was a long range scan. You know they're rarely as accurate as we would like."

"I'll feel happier when we're finally down."

I couldn't argue with that sentiment.

The exterior view changed again, streaks of blue against a white background, and it was much more relaxing. I glanced at Matt, who was staring at the screen. He must have sensed my regard because he turned in my direction. In that same instant, something slammed into the ship. I grabbed the arms of my chair, my gaze shifting to the viewscreen. I gasped at what I saw: the sickly green string was clinging to the hull of the ship beyond the main window; arcs of energy were shooting from it in all directions.

My fingers were dancing across the control panel when, without warning, an electric shock shot through my fingers and pain raced up my arm. Green energy arced across the main console, power failing as one system after the other faded.

I saw Matt attempt to operate the comm-unit, but he jerked his hand back just as the console sparked and a bolt of energy shot from its surface to the ceiling above. Matt yelled.

I prayed he wasn't hurt badly as I struggled to keep some kind of control over the vessel, but I knew I was fighting a losing battle. As if to prove the point, another surge of the green energy flowed through the main console and shot out toward me. I tried to turn aside but, I was engulfed in it...and...