Date Published: Jan 2016 (paperback Dec 2016)
Sam, an ex-soldier who is trying to rediscover himself after twenty years of service, unwittingly stumbles upon a mysterious alien presence in rural Wales. He is drawn into a tangled web of intrigue, pitting him against forces bent on destruction and putting his life in peril. Feeling mentally eroded by his time in the army and having worked hard to overcome this, he is thrust upon an alien journey that will change his life and beliefs in a profound way.
Claims of benevolence are only the beginning of the mysteries he'll have to unravel as doubt and mistrust haunt him. He will have to form unlikely alliances in order to fathom the mysteries at the secret Mineran enclave, where intrigue, deception and imminent danger reside.
His journey for answers will introduce him to pernicious enemies with hidden agendas, as a heinous plot to kill him unravels. Can he defeat his personal demons to secure justice and discover the truth of who or what is behind the nefarious machinations and why?
Born in England and raised in Wales, I started my working life on a farm in the glorious rural Welsh countryside. I retrained to become an IT Consultant and having spent thousands on Microsoft, CompTIA and Cisco qualifications; I also obtained a contract to run and teach at a Cisco Academy in England. After this, I became a small business IT Advisor for WCBC and the Welsh Government. As this funding dried up, I retrained as a Business Advisor and have since helped thousands of people start up their own businesses.
In my leisure time, I work my way through a comprehensive bucket list with my Fiancée, Cath. This has caused us great delight as we have attended various courses and fun days out, such as beekeeping, pottery making, stained glass making, painting course, cooking courses, hawk walks, animal experiences, quad biking, gorge walking and much more. Our favourite one is learning to dance. This activity has remained with us and will hopefully do so for the rest of our lives. We can do a reasonable Waltz, collapse in laughter trying the Viennese Waltz, but it is the 1920’s Lindy Hop that we have fallen in love with. After three years of dancing, we still attend regular dance classes and events.
Strangely, for an ex-geek, my favourite gadget is my Italian Marcato pasta machine. I love real, unprocessed food and my freshly made pasta with a home cooked sauce is amazing.
I have always enjoyed reading, and in my early teenage years, I read authors ranging from Harry Harrison to HG Wells. Later in life, I turned to thriller writers such as the 3 C’s; Clancy, Cussler and Child. Also, I will always have a Pratchett book on my phone for light reading. His imagination was and always will be, inspiring. I have wanted to write the Mineran Series for several years prior to actually starting and with the encouragement from Cath, who has suffered my many varied, imaginative pranks over the years, I have begun.
Sam could see rows of large stacked cubes. They were polished bright, reflecting the light from overhead. Sam cast a questioning glance at Reb.
‘Would it make sense if I said they are a by-product of the process? To be precise, they are two-metre tall cubes of solid steel or eight cubic metres of steel weighing over sixty-two thousand kilogrammes each. Does that help?’ The sarcastic tone failed to mask Reb’s amusement at Sam’s quandary.
Sam touched one of the cubes as he walked by. The sides were perfectly smooth, and he couldn’t see the top as it was above his head height. The edges and corners were rounded, giving the cubes a look of gigantic dice.
A subdued glow was faintly visible from the end of the conveyor. Sam calculated it to be a quarter of a mile away. He didn’t bother to figure out how many barrels were passing him on the conveyor. A steady stream of them, spaced six feet apart, were travelling lengthways, slightly faster than the pace they were walking at. They disappeared ahead, near the glow. Sam could not make out what was happening, it all seemed to be occurring in shadows, which didn’t make sense as it was also glowing.
He picked up his pace a bit, subconsciously eager to solve the mystery. ‘Do I need to wear a suit or anything?’ he enquired.
‘No, but do not and I stress DO NOT touch anything. In fact, put your hands in your pockets when you get there,’ Reb replied cryptically.
He could feel the heat; it was definitely getting warmer as he drew nearer to the glow. The air had the feel of a smithy he had once visited. It had a perceptible ferrous taste. He could partially see the end wall of the tunnel thirty or forty feet behind the glow, but something large and dark was obscuring the view.
The conveyor ended suddenly with a short downward section. The barrels seemed to enter a dark cave. Bastards, he thought, they are dumping the drums, after all, that bullshit and holier-than-thou crap he had been fed. The bright glow prevented him from seeing into the new cave or tunnel entrance. It seemed to be a set of ultra-bright strip lights. In his haste, Sam had gotten ahead of Reb at this point; he looked back with anger in his eyes.
‘You go ahead, I’ll catch you up. For your own safety, please do not go up the gantry steps or go into the red zone.’
Sam didn’t realise it, but he had broken out into a small jog as he strained to see clearly what was happening. What seemed to be a tunnel entrance from further back must be the opening of a large twenty-foot diameter pipe, whose opening was facing directly at him as the opening was floating in the centre of the tunnel.
He could see the barrels rise to the top of the conveyor’s apex and then descend, lost in the illumination from the bright strip lights. At thirty feet, his assumptions fell apart. He could see that the glowing strip lights were, in fact, a constant stream of bright luminescent liquid flowing into a grill in the floor. ‘None of this makes sense,’ he muttered to himself. ‘If the liquid was the toxic waste, what’s the pipe for?’ He looked back at Reb. ‘I don’t understand, you’re just dumping it all into the ground, but what’s the pipe for?’
‘Look closer, Sam, you not allowing yourself to see the truth.’
Sam paused at the railings which separated the danger zone from the walkway with the aid of red markings on the floor, defining a twenty-foot radius from the illicit dumping area. The whole area was brightly lit. The liquid wasn’t luminescent. It was white hot. He could feel the heat searing his skin even from this distance. The pipe was blacker than night. It was void of any reflection from the incandescent liquid that was pouring down. The barrels moved along the conveyor, and they should have fallen into the centre of the dark yearning chasm and rolled away. Instead, they seemed to hit a solid barrier. Where the metal met the beginning of the opening, it instantly became molten liquid, running down across an invisible surface and into the grate in the floor.
Sam walked around the railing to try and see the process from the side. He didn’t hear Reb as he eventually ambled alongside him. There was no pipe, there was no nothing. From his vantage point at the side, the barrels stopped their descent from the conveyor in mid-air. The metal simply melted as if it were merely chocolate touching a white hot skillet. It ran down and back towards the direction of the conveyor. A river of molten metal floated in the air as if it were on top of an invisible thin sheet of glass that was set at a thirty-five-degree angle. Sam walked further round to see if he could make sense of what he was seeing. All he could see was blackness, a huge disc of blackness.
‘I don’t understand.’
‘My ancient ancestors with their primitive minds called it “Dia Kuklos” because they could go through the circle. This is the cause of distortion here in Minera. This is what we guard, keep secret and safe. This is our primary duty.’
‘So is this a black hole? Shouldn’t all of our solar system be sucked into it?’
‘No, you’re not seeing what is in front of you, Sam. Come back to the front and watch.’ Sam and Reb walked back along the railing to view the barrels landing on the Dia Kuklos.
‘Think back to the balloon model we discussed. If two distortions happened to touch each other, they’d perforate the fabric of space and link together. You can literally step through one side to the other. Your scientists theorise about this and commonly call them wormholes. There’s no tunnel connecting them. Both openings occupy the same space at the same time. They have many names in different cultures throughout the universe such as spatial apertures or perforations, portals, Quantum eyelets, interstices.’
He looked at Sam, beaming. ‘Cool, eh? So we are using this cosmic abnormality to dump your toxic waste. Just not where you thought. The metal can’t get through the surface tension. The reaction is so volatile that it melts upon contact. We use this to allow the waste to escape and flow through while collecting the metal for recycling.’
‘So you’re saying I could step through to wherever you are dumping this stuff?’
‘Well, you could step through, Sam, but you wouldn’t last very long. The other side is in a fixed position near a star you call Canopus. Over the course of a year or so, the waste is gently drawn in by its gravitational pull and destroyed. The aperture itself is black because neither side opens facing the star. If you could pop your head through and look to the right...’ Reb shrugged and put his hand on Sam’s shoulder. ‘I was hoping to have thought of something witty to say by now, but, there you go. What else can I do to prove to you we are the good guys?’ He handed Sam the small stone from his pocket. ‘Go ahead and toss it in, watch it float away. Do it from the other side to get a better view.’
Sam walked to the rear side of the aperture and gently, with an underarm throw, tossed the stone through the portal. It physically slowed as it passed through what Reb had called the surface tension. It carried on into the darkness with its left-hand side clearly visible as it was being illuminated by the unseen sun.
‘Why are you guarding these, why the secrecy?’
‘Why? Well, that’s a long story, but I’ll keep it brief. My race evolved on planet Minera long before the Overseer arrived. As our population spread over the planet, legend says they found a portal and called it “Dia Kuklos”. It happened in the midst of the harshest winter in history. My primitive ancestors found a window to a sunny world; it saved thousands of lives. They sought refuge through it and others harvested food and brought it back. Over the centuries, we eventually learnt how to detect the distortions in the fabric of space and found thirty more on our planet. Because of the nature of their original creation, these portals were always located within spatial distortions like Minera, making them difficult to find unless you know what to look for. Not all distortions contained a portal and many, being like this one, open into empty space, or hundreds of feet above the ground. As our technology evolved and resources dwindled, we abused these portals to other worlds to carry out raids and wage war.’
‘We discovered one portal close to a black hole. The conflicting forces waged between the portal, and the event horizon of the black hole made it jittery. The other end wasn’t permanently fixed. It sporadically lashed across the universe, momentarily setting on other portals. We learnt how to manipulate it with gravitational and spatial distorting fields. We could lock onto other portals within its original range. It is, to this date, the only one we know of with this ability. History says we were ruthless, relentless and barbaric. To the unwary, we came out of nowhere. Whole armies massed secretly in the distorted areas, unseen by the local population. It was an era of terror that we waged covertly over the universe and a shame we still carry. The Overseer stopped this. Somehow he changed the surface tension on all of the portals. Nothing but light passed through; they became useless windows. In one fell swoop, he had isolated us. We had no long distance space travel technology as we had never needed to develop it. Our planet was over populated, and resources strained. He gave us an ultimatum, either we sign up and with our knowledge locate these portals throughout the universe and guard them against further abuse or he would cause our extinction.’
‘The elders in their vanity would not bow down to an unknown enemy, and millions died as ruthless factions fought amongst each other for the dwindling resources. After 225 years of planet-bound war, they realised no children had been born. We had been sterilised. The last generation to be born were now in charge, and the war machine had fizzled out long ago. The remaining populace had reverted to a simpler way of life. The preservation of life and the recovery of our planet became almost a religion. It was a hybrid of high technology and ecological, environmentally friendly living. On the eve of 250 years, the Overseer spoke again. The message was clear: police the portals for him or die out. The rest is history, as they say, they capitulated, and we have served him ever since. The Overseer returned to us the ability to reproduce and the use of the portals, though he has never allowed any metal to pass through since.’
‘Well, that’s not what I expected. I don’t know what to say.’
‘There is nothing to say, but you can see a similarity between our chequered history and how your civilisation’s developing. It took a long time for our planet to recover from our greed and negligence.’ Reb ushered Sam back around with his arms. ‘We try to keep the portals secret to make our life easier. There are only a few races out there that are partially aware of them. For some they are a thing of myth and legend, magic gateways to other worlds, but nothing more.’
Sam subconsciously switched the case to his left arm as he walked back around.
‘The process,’ swinging his arm at the conveyor, ‘should end in a few minutes, then we have a few people to see.’
Reb’s head flew up as something caught his attention. He quickly moved himself in front of Sam, hugging and pushing his head down at the same time. The crack of assault rifles reverberated across the cavernous tunnel, regardless of the sound- dampening paint. Sam felt the impact of seven or eight bullets as they struck Reb in the back. The shudder of the impact passed through to him as Sam took on the full weight of his body.
Other bullets impacted all around him, causing shards of concrete splinters to fly all around. He grabbed what was left of Reb, and using his body as a shield, moved behind one of the huge steel blocks that were scattered around. ‘Shit!’ he expelled, as he tried to lower Reb to the ground with some reverence. He had, after all, sacrificed his life for Sam.
‘Oh God, that hurt. Bob, what the hell’s going on? Who are they and where did they come from?’ Reb shouted to no one in particular.
‘What the fu–’ He was cut short as Reb waved his arm for silence and stuck his finger in his ear.
Kneeling down, Reb popped his head around the corner of the block and just as quickly drew his weapon, firing off a short burst with a surreal, silent ‘pfft’ as the muzzle flashed brightly. ‘Should slow them down for a second.’
Sam looked at Reb’s back. The long overcoat that he always wore and trousers were pockmarked with bright, shiny metal bullets. Each one held what appeared to be a gel that had solidified upon impact. Without thinking, Sam brushed a squashed bullet off the coat and watched as the area reset to a flexible fabric.
‘What do you mean there is no one else here, I can bloody well see them.’ He indicated to Sam to take up a position on the other side of the block. Drawing his Glock, he did so.
Peering around, he saw three massive brutes taking cover from Reb’s fire. In the distance, he could make out a group of others rushing around the curve of the tunnel. ‘There’s more on the way, at least another eight,’ he shouted to Reb.
‘Bob, we need backup now! What, we haven’t got ten minutes. How did they get through? What do you mean there are only sheep in the tunnels, do they fucking look like sheep to you? I don’t care what the computer says. Get me some backup, now!’
Upon seeing their comrades closing the half-mile gap, two of which must have been an advanced scouting party, they leapt out with bravado, firing their carbines on full auto as they dashed to the next steel block. Both Reb and Sam took this opportunity to fire into the face of an inaccurate but just as deadly fusillade. Both running assailants took the explosive small arms fire to their chests. Sam was silently impressed at the reduced recoil and improved accuracy of his cloned weapon. He was less impressed at the supposedly improved munitions. ‘I thought you said these were explosive rounds,’ he angrily shouted towards Reb.
‘They are, one of these should take down a rhino.’ The aggressors each had four or five gaping wounds to the chest. The flesh was hanging off them, yet they still continued on. ‘Aim for the head.’ Reb’s next bullet took the man down with a crimson burst of colour that looked surreal as it splattered across the huge silvery dice behind. Sam grazed the head of his target just before he managed to gain the safety of another cube.
Inaccurate rifle fire suddenly pockmarked the cubes around Sam and Reb. Two of the approaching squad had climbed upon the metal blocks to offer a steady stream of suppressive covering fire. The main squad were approaching fast. Sam ejected the empty magazine. The prognosis for the next five minutes was not good. Pistols against rifles. They already had the advantage, never mind the superior numbers and the fact that Sam had hit the assailant at least five times, and he was still fighting. He was down to thirty rounds in two magazines. ‘Make them count,’ he said to no one in particular.
The barrels continued to trundle on above them, the sound of the conveyor muffled by the clack of metal hitting metal as bullets flew through the air. The last barrel was in sight, at this rate of progress, it would be processed in less than a minute.
‘Bob, I need you to stop the conveyor and divert the portal. We need to get out of here.’ He looked up as the rumble ceased. ‘Put the station on alert and tell them we are coming in hot. Get ready to reset the portal as soon as we pass through.’
The main force gathered just outside the pistol’s effective range, the controlled shots from Reb that were striking them were more of an annoyance rather than a terminal kiss of lead. They didn’t seem worried about waiting an extra few minutes to allow their quarry to deplete the limited cache of ammunition.
‘Who are they?’ Sam asked in a brief lull as they regrouped for the next onslaught.
‘Never seen them before, bipedal, humanoid and ugly. Although unlike you, they seem to be pretty immune to your primitive weapons,’ indicating his pistol, ‘even with our modifications. They must have an incredible muscle density and bone structure. Clearly, our shots are not getting past the rib cage. Bob is arranging for the portal to relocate to the station. Strip off now and when I say, run up the gantry and jump through slowly. The surface reacts badly to velocity. Oh, and try to hit the event horizon parallel. Sam, it’s going to hurt. You’ve got pins in your leg.’
Sam looked at the portal. It looked even blacker now that the heated metal was no longer pouring down its front. He looked at the cubes, suddenly realising that these were formed from the leftover metal from the process. Then he looked down at his right leg. ‘Shit!’ He stripped off as quickly as he could. For some reason being naked in the midst of a firefight made him feel extra vulnerable. He fired off a few shots to make himself feel better and managed to take out the previously wounded scouts with a satisfying headshot.
He was grateful that the metal cubes were made from a soft steel. The bullets mushroomed into them rather than spraying him with shrapnel or ricocheting about wildly.
‘What do you mean you can’t divert, you can’t be blocked out?’ As the heated discussion progressed, the black portal visibly shimmered with a variety of dark hues. Reb managed to catch the third scout in the head. His body crumpled to the ground, blood and cranial matter flowing onto the concrete floor.
‘The others are massing for a charge, get ready. Bob, how are we doing with the portal? What? No, it’s still black, I don’t know.’ Reb used his leg to quickly flick the plastic case that Sam had dropped behind the cube, just in time to avoid the next heavy salvo. ‘They’re coming.’
Sam braved the volley of bullets. He knew his luck couldn’t last much longer. He was already more exposed than he wanted to be, firing right-handed around a left-hand corner and now he was nude. He managed three head shots with the careful and calm precision that a trained soldier got from knowing that you were certainly going to die, and there was nothing you could do but seek pre-revenge.
‘Sorry, Doc,’ Reb said as he took out three of the four glass containers and threw them towards the charging brutes. They crashed onto the tunnel floor ahead of them. Reb had already wrapped a cloth around the fourth canister while Sam was preoccupied firing and now lit it with a hand lighter and threw.
The combustible vapour that now permeated the tunnel ignited with a whump long before the projectile crashed onto the floor, sending its liquid fire in all directions. The fire burnt fiercely with tall flames, but with little to consume it within the tunnel, it would only last a short while.
Reb looked across to Sam with a grin, only to see him leaning heavily onto the cube. Sam’s face was ashen, and blood was seeping down his torso from wounds on both sides of his right shoulder. An arrow-like projectile had skewered him to the cube. Thankfully it had not passed through Sam completely as the vicious looking finned tail would have caused horrendous tissue trauma. Most alarmingly, the projectile must have come from the portal.
‘Bob, what the hell’s happening?’ He moved towards Sam to assess the situation as the portal shimmered to settle, showing a steel gantry leading down to a room full of hostile-looking soldiers. Thankfully they wore Mineran uniforms. ‘Sam, I’m going to pull you free of the cube, we need to leave the arrow in to staunch the flow.’
‘Yeah, sorry,’ Sam replied groggily. ‘Yeah, ok.’ He looked down at the arrow. ‘It’s too high to have pierced the lung. But stupidly I nearly blacked out as I hit my head on the block.’ He broke out into a traumatic, shock-induced laugh. ‘I’ve been shot with a bloody arrow in a gun fight. If this is how you treat your friends I’d hate to see you on a date.’
‘Someone knows our history; this is a ceramic version of an ancestral arrow. If those fins feel any pressure from penetration, the whole back end will suddenly resemble an angry porcupine. It gets real messy.’ Sam blanched as Reb pulled the arrow and him with equal force. Sam groaned as he did so. ‘We need to go now. The portal is open. Go in forwards and try not to fall backwards onto the arrow.’ He pulled a small hood from inside of his coat, a quick, practiced action of fingering a tiny hoop in the back of his collar, stretching and releasing onto his forehead. It shrank to cling to the shape of his head.
Reb pushed Sam ahead as he fired off the rest of his magazine, dumped the gun and followed, covering Sam with his own body as he did so. As they ran up the gantry, bullets whipped all around. He lost count of how many hit him, his reactive body armour preventing penetration and spreading the force of the blow over a larger area. It was like being repeatedly punched, each one taking its toll on his body. He took two large blows to the head, dazing him instantly, his legs and body working independently of his consciousness to get him out of danger.
Reb was at the Dia Kuklos shortly after Sam. As he proceeded to step through, the area ahead of him suddenly splattered with blood and white hot metal as Sam’s body was ripped apart from the inside. Reb managed to twist in time to miss the white hot liquid metal from Sam’s leg pins. What worried him the most was the small piece of metal streaming down the portal surface at head height. He could see blood! Lots of blood.
Sam could feel the air move around him as bullets whisked past. He knew Reb was covering his retreat and that he must be taking hits. Pumped up on adrenalin, Sam raced up the gantry towards the Dia Kuklos. Part of his mind found it funny that he was running nude towards an alien Dia Kuklos to another world full of aliens and he was making his debut with his manhood swinging about and a 16-inch arrow in his shoulder. ‘You don’t see this in the movies,’ Sam groaned to himself as the jostling shaft sent a cascading wave of pain from his shoulder down throughout his body.
He was at the top and facing the angled surface of the Dia Kuklos. He certainly couldn’t jump through feet first, as the metal pins would burn up his body. It would have been better to come at it from the other side where the angle would work in his favour, but there was no time for that. He leant forward and tried to hit the surface of the Dia Kuklos in a falling walk, turning his head at the last second to look back to see Reb. Reb’s face was grim but had a look of determination. Suddenly Reb’s head violently jerked forward as if he was performing a violent Glasgow Kiss and Sam realised he had just taken a shot to the back of his head. Not having seen Reb apply the hood he thought him surely dead. At that instant, Sam’s face exploded!
He had utterly overlooked a forgotten amalgamation of mercury, silver, tin and copper, which instantly heated up to a liquid state. The sudden increase in size shattered the bottom molar that it had previously protected. The superheated liquid destroyed and cauterised flesh at the same time. Here was where Sam’s luck ran out as the molten metal had to pass through from right to left. If only he had looked the other way! Heat seared and burnt his mouth and throat, and the super-heated air made its way into his lungs, seriously charring the interior surface and making it impossible for him to breathe. The molten metal burnt its way through Sam’s tongue and lower jaw until it finally escaped through the left check. A fraction of a second later, seven micro pins burnt through his fibula, tibia and calf muscle.
Sam fell into a pair of outstretched arms. He couldn’t breathe as the nerves in his lungs screamed that they were on fire. It felt like most of his face was missing and in the haze of pain he was sure he saw part of his tongue fall to the floor. For some reason, the last thought that ran through his mind was ‘mind the porcupine.’ Then blackness enveloped him and the pain went away.