The 1st Secret ~ The Prologue
The opening instalment of the Astro Saga
Zarrox, Keeper of the Celestial…
'Had me on the edge of my seat throughout the entire descent to Earth,'
Lord Steal, ambitious, aggravating and aggressive commander of Aztex forces in the pre Earth sequence of asteroids of the Midgard layer.
Prologue: The Satellite of Silence
The History of the Quest for the Celestial Secrets is shrouded in mystery. What we do know is that the Quest occurred at a time when the fate of humanity hung in the balance, when the heroic actions of a few, saved the future for us all.
It’s a tale that involves dragons, dinosaurs, two evil empires, His Imperial Majesty’s armed forces, clones, pirates, aliens, dazzling technological weaponry, more secrets than you can carry in one hand and a handful of children just trying to find a way to survive. Most of all, though, this is the story of a boy who starts out looking for his parents and finds much, much more.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. You’ll find all of this in the stories ahead, some in this book and others in the books to come. So, where did it all begin?
Some would say that it began thousands of years ago when two powerful empires, the Aztex and Carthaginians, decided to disappear from the pages of history rather than face final defeat. They both apparently vanished, in reality, nourishing and nurturing their power, hiding and preparing for when the time was right for them to re-appear. That time might be now and therefore our adventure is ready to start, right away, right below.
… hidden between the stars in a place that’s never been mapped. Those that have seen it never speak about it and those who do speak about it are probably lying.
Concealed here, aboard the aptly named Satellite of Silence, are the Seven Celestial Secrets. They’re powerful secrets, which keep humanity alive and safe from harm. But, if they fall into the wrong hands, they could destroy all life as we know it.
There’s no record of what the Satellite of Silence looks like. You’ll just have to use your imagination to fill in any gaps as all plans have been destroyed in a futile attempt to make it hard to find. Unfortunately, it’s an extremely cunning ruse that appears to have failed.
A small spaceship, the Eos, slides into view, its inhabitants lost and its navigation systems helpless. Onboard klaxons burst into light, shocking Torr, one of its passengers, from his childhood revere.
“What’s going on?” he asked, stumbling into the control room, dazed and confused before slumping his average sized frame into one of the chairs and kicking off his slippers.
“I think we’re lost,” shouted Uncle Otto, frantically punching buttons and pulling at switches.
The Eos wasn’t responding as she should and he was beginning to worry. She might only be a small spaceship but she was all his and completely paid for. Her design, like a swan, stretched out in full flight, had seemed like a good idea at the time. After the first hundred, million miles though, the soft curves had dropped out of fashion and her engines would benefit from a complete re-fit.
Come to that, Otto felt that he would also benefit from a complete re-fit. Middle age, zero gravity and an aversion to exercise had cost him his waistline. Poor genetic stock had lost him his hair.
From his perspective it seemed that his life had become a succession of one boring day running straight into another. At least being lost might create some novelty. It was a line of thought that he was going to regret.
“What makes you think we’re lost?” asked Torr.
“I don’t know. The automated navigation system just went awry. It’s never done that before. Maybe there’s some kind of local gravitational flux nearby.”
Otto didn’t look like he knew what he was talking about, which didn’t exactly fill Torr with confidence, but it wasn’t unusual for him to feel like that.
“Where are we?” asked Torr, trying to remain calm.
“I don’t know. That’s what being lost means. It means I don’t know where I am, where we are, but don’t panic, I’ll think of something.”
Outside the observation window the Universe slid past around them, slithering wildly about in a carousel of stars as the Eos spun around, whirling helplessly. Suddenly, darkness swept the stars from view as an immense spaceship, clothed in deepest black, slipped closely by, obscuring the celestial backdrop behind its enormous curves. In total contrast to the Eos, this ship, the Typhon, knew exactly where she was and why she was there.
The Typhon was the pride of the Aztex Empire, designed to make you regret seeing her as soon as you did. There was no softness to its curves, these were vivid, angry and razor sharp, rising in waves of darkness and gloomy despair in all directions.
Aboard this imposing spacecraft, formidably armed soldiers stared avidly into endless computer displays, reading weapons, preparing for the conflict ahead. They’d been hunting the legendary lost Satellite of Silence for a long, long time and now the tell-tale, give away signal of a magnetic flux resonator had pinpointed their quarry for them. They’d come looking for the Celestial Secrets and now that they’d found them they had no intention of leaving without the legendary artefacts.
Aboard the Eos, Torr knew none of this, but the sheer size of the Typhon felt ominous and he wondered whether now would be a good time to start panicking. He looked up at the shadowy bulk of the Typhon in dismay.
Torr and Uncle Otto held their collective breath in anticipation, waiting to be spotted. But the soldiers appeared to be so totally focused on finding the exact location of the Satellite of Silence that they were oblivious to the Eos right beneath them.
Somewhere else, Destiny paused in hesitation. Fate considered his position precipitously and then ploughed on. The die were cast and Fortune held the future in the palm of her hand. Gingerly, she dared to look at what it held. With collective breath the three children of eternity stared at the result. What had they done, what had they started?
Near the Eos and the Typhon, aboard the Satellite of Silence, Zarrox, the Keeper of Secrets, peered out at the unfolding scene in consternation. Despite its much smaller size the Eos was easier to see than the completely black orb of the Typhon.
Zarrox unfolded his tall frame from his seat, clenching his blue fingers into fists of futile defiance. This wasn’t going according to plan.
When he’d first seen the Eos he’d been unsure whether it was a reconnaissance scout, or just a bunch of hapless, lost, tourists. He didn’t think the Typhon knew his location but he couldn’t be sure. Deploying the magnetic flux resonator to make the tourists quickly scurry for home had been a gamble. With the sudden arrival of the Typhon it looked like that was a bet he’d just lost - big time.
This new arrival spelled trouble with a capital T. The large, dark, spacecraft had, no doubt, homed in on his use of the magnetic flux resonator. It was his first mistake. He knew that he didn’t have room for many more.
The Typhon blotted out most of the view with its black bulk. By the look of it, he guessed that the huge vessel belonged to the Aztex Empire. If Zarrox was right then that presented a serious problem. The soldiers of the Aztex Empire were just the sort of people who would aim hundreds of guns at you before even stopping by to say hello. The Empire had a reputation for it’s mean, nasty and aggressive nature.
Zarrox was fairly certain that the Typhon was here by design rather than accident. Someone, somewhere, must have given away some component of his location and the Typhon had, beyond doubt, been sent out to investigate. If the people on board knew he was hiding somewhere nearby then it wouldn’t take them long to discover his exact whereabouts, if they hadn’t already.
He also knew that if these unwelcome visitors really were from the Aztex Empire then his chances of survival were close to slim. It was a foregone conclusion that there were would be more of them than he could handle alone. An Aztex battleship was a formidable enemy. That meant only the Satellite’s airlock stood between him and a very personal doom. Surviving the rest of the day whilst also protecting the Seven Celestial Secrets was looking more and more impossible with every passing moment.
Getting through this alive was going to be tricky, he thought quietly to himself because speaking out loud was a waste of time inside the Satellite of Silence. The spacecraft was silent by name and silent by some strange, unearthly quirk of nature, or possibly a unique, deep, dark, design.
Silent or not, Zarrox knew that it was only a matter of time before the Aztex soldiers launched an assault to recover the secrets he was here to protect. He was sure that very soon waves of soldiers would leave the Typhon and travel across the short stretch of empty space between them to assault the outer airlock door.
The fact that they were here in the first place was bad news in itself. The sad truth was that the secret of its location was not just the Satellite’s first line of defence, but also its only one. There were no ultra, super powered techno-weapons for Zarrox to call on for protection.
Now that the Typhon knew about it even the magnetic flux resonator wouldn’t work for more than a few moments before the battleship’s inevitable backup systems re-stabilised the situation. Zarrox tried it anyway. There was no discernible result. The battleship carried on relentlessly heading straight for him.
The ship was so close now that no room for reasonable doubt remained. Zarrox was certain that the crew of the Typhon knew exactly where the Satellite was hiding.
All he could hope to do was to limit what the Aztex soldiers gained from daring to assault this secret bastion of power, this centre of hope for all humanity. They needed to be punished for wanting to take what rightly belonged to the whole of mankind. The Seven Celestial Secrets were too important, too powerful, to be owned by just one man, or one nation, or even one Empire. They had to belong to everyone.
Aboard the Typhon, the Aztex search team visually confirmed the location of the Satellite. The hunt for the Satellite’s exact position was over. With a short, sharp nod, the officer in command of the assault team acknowledged the news and immediately commenced the next phase of the operation. It was time for the specially trained strike force to begin their attack. Soldiers gleefully rushed to obey.
In the few moments that remained before the invaders arrived, Zarrox carefully locked down and disabled each and every one of the Secrets onboard the Satellite. Moving cautiously and arduously, he opened up each egg shaped treasure and tinkered around inside before carefully closing it firmly shut once more.
When he had finished he was satisfied that if unauthorised hands ever opened the Celestial Secrets then the technology inside would shut itself down and stop working completely. With heavy heart he knew that whilst this would be devastating for humanity it would be far, far, better than the fate that would befall them all if the Celestial Secrets fell into the wrong hands.
A tiny beep from the Satellite’s automated monitoring systems told Zarrox’s that his window of opportunity to fabricate any defence, or attempt a safe retreat, had just closed with a snap. The external monitors clearly showed that the Aztex had started their assault.
As Zarrox prepared his final, inadequate, defences he could see that outside the Satellite’s airlock door the leading Aztex soldier bared his teeth and grinned fiercely before raising his cosmic axe, ready to strike. The expected invasion of the Satellite had arrived.
Surprisingly for the lead soldier, eager to smash his way in, the door unexpectedly slid aside an instant before his weapon struck home. Zarrox hated unnecessary damage.
In the darkness, the soldier’s grin turned to a howl of alarm that hushed to a whisper as he tumbled headlong inside, falling forwards in silence. With battle hardened reflexes he prepared himself for a sudden attack from any hidden defender.
But there was none.
The airlock was empty and of course, very, very quiet.
Baying and laughing mutely, the other soldiers helped their startled colleague up and together they cautiously peered around at their new surroundings. Then they cautiously slunk further inside.
Fanning out they made low, slow, furtive progress down long, deliberately darkened corridors through to the very heart of the Satellite. The last dark corridor opened out into a large, extended, chamber with a high ceiling. Ahead of them, in the centre of the room an immense display of controls, meters and screens was shining with the brilliance of a thousand exploding fireworks. Within the dazzling radiance, they could see the Seven Celestial Secrets intricately locked into the display by a hundred flashing networks of wires and lights.
It was all very bright, very colourful and highly distracting as their eyes tried to search for patterns that simply weren’t there.
Vigilantly and slyly, the invaders cautiously approached each of the Seven Celestial Secrets until they were standing right next to them, arrayed in a circle around the control panel. Uncertainly, they prepared to smash each Secret free from its shimmering web of light. Where were the expected defences? Anxiously, they glanced at each other, blinking in the brightness. This seemed almost too easy. Raising their axes in the air, cold metal reflected the dazzling display a thousand fold, blinding them momentarily with its deadly glare.
From his hiding place, Zarrox knew it was finally time to make his move, while they still couldn’t see. Breathing deeply, he tightly gripped the thin, metal pole that was his only weapon and prepared for battle.
Shouting a yell that rapidly vanished into the quiet depths of the satellite Zarrox launched himself from his hiding place and out into the unsuspecting circle of soldiers. The first that the startled attackers saw was a frantic, flying figure, covered in trailing lights and cables, emerging ghostlike out of the machinery right in front of them. Covered in flailing iridescent wires that twirled and swirled with every movement, Zarrox appeared to the soldiers exactly like the evil space alien that they’d been warned to expect. Despite their training they backed away from the whirling, furling fiend in disarray and confusion.
With the advantage of surprise Zarrox easily knocked the first two soldiers from his path. Unfortunately, it was only moments before the other soldiers had recovered their wits and were upon him, eliminating his early advantage with innate cunning and snarling ferocity. Blindness only slightly blunted their effectiveness and deafness worked both ways. Fighting with low slung movements, they edged Zarrox backwards, along the darkened corridors and closer towards the airlock. Only the inner and then the outer doors stood between him and an endless drop into the dark filled abyss of deep space.
The ferociousness of the soldiers’ assault forced Zarrox up against the inner door and with dismay he felt it open up with automated helpfulness behind him. Reluctantly he stepped backwards into the airlock and the nearest soldiers eagerly pressed in after him. They shut the inner door behind them.
Zarrox was trapped and the soldiers knew it. Savagely they pressed their advantage in the confined space while one of them pressed the airlock cycling switch. Behind the walls pumps evacuated the air inside the chamber. If he hadn’t taken the precaution of getting into his space suit while waiting for the attackers to reach him Zarrox would now be facing suffocation. Instead he had a frightening premonition of what was coming next.
Defending his position furiously, Zarrox risked a glance over his shoulder and realised with dread certainty that he had been right. Behind him, the open doorway gaped hungrily. Pumping the air out of the airlock had enabled the soldiers to open the outer doors.
A trickle of chilling fear slithered down his backbone. Inevitably the soldiers’ superior weapons and skills were forcing him further and further backwards. Suspended over the void, his heels on the edge of the infinite, Zarrox considered his few remaining options.
Pains in his chest made him suspect that he’d already been badly wounded. He could choose to die here, beneath the sharp bite of the soldiers’ axes, or take the long slow death of deep space. After a lifetime of dedicated service, it wasn't much of a choice.
Pushing himself backwards he felt the floor disappear beneath his feet. Gently and serenely he floated away from his open-mouthed aggressors as he fell away from the satellite and outwards towards infinity.
Empowered by the force of his departure the gap became a rift that rapidly widened into a gulf. Even the huge bulk of the Typhon dwindled as a modest black shuttle detached itself from the enormous battleship and headed for what had so recently been Zarrox’s Satellite of Silence.
But now it was someone else’s.
He didn’t feel well. His ribs hurt badly and he only had a limited supply of air. His future didn’t look very promising and he hoped beyond hope that he’d done the right thing.
Entering in quiet victory, Lord Steal strode briskly straight from the shuttle straight towards the shattered remnants of the Satellite’s control panel where the Seven Celestial Secrets remained defiantly embedded. Far behind him, the airlock doors shushed back into place.
His features were hidden behind a dark, hooded cloak and only vague hints of his facial characteristics were visible beneath the concealing veil of shadows cast by his cowl. Few alive knew what he really looked like.
The satellite's silence generator had been damaged in the fighting around the control panel and was now only partially working. Unfinished sounds were beginning to emerge furtively from the hushed corridors, creating a cackle that fractured and frustrated all attempts at communication. Stale conversations slunk back from where they had been impotently sulking. Words became jumbled up with strange sounds replacing common letters. It was only many years later that the conversations were ever untangled and deciphered.
“Well done!” Lord Steal said to the squad leader after they had closed the doors and removed their helmets.
The squad leader saluted, whilst trying not to look down on Lord Steal’s dreadful gaze.
“We h... succ...f.lly capt...d th. S...n Ce.......l ...rets .. l..d.”
“W.at a...t t.. K..per .. Se...ts?”
“.. won.. ...vive .... lon. a...ft in .....e. .. c.n f..get ab..t h.m.”
“Yo. f.ol. H. w.ll h.ve dis.bled ... S.v.n C.l.st..l S.crets. W. n..d h.m .. t.ll .s h.w t. m.ke th.m w.rk for .s. T.ke s.me m.n & g.t h.m b.ck .mm.d..t.l.”
“W..t?” said the startled soldier.
Lord Steal frowned. Now totally fed up with trying to make himself understood he reached up and struck the soldier hard. The partially working silence generator was getting on his nerves and he was beginning to lose his temper, which was never good at the best of times. His large nose, which reminded the squad leader of a bald badger’s snout, twitched and snuffled with irritation and indignation.
“I s..d, w. m.st r.c.v.r the K..p.r .f the S.v.n C.l.st..l S.cr.ts. W. n..d h.m t. t.ll .s h.w w. r.m.ve the b.oby tr.ps. Q.ickl., f.nd h.m!”
The soldiers rushed to re-open the airlock door to see if they could spot Zarrox. In the abysmal, dark, blackness of space there was no longer any sign of him. He’d vanished beyond any chance of visual re-discovery and was already virtually lost in the vast emptiness of the infinite.
Lord Steal’s temper simmered silently as he reflected on what he had achieved. Putting the frustrating loss of the Keeper of the Secrets to one side he had at least managed to recover the Seven Celestial Secrets. If he could figure out how to harness the power within them he could become the mightiest mortal in human space.
It was a big if.
His lips twitched as his rage struggled with his unthrottled ambition. He must be successful for the greater glory of the Aztex Empire. No other outcome was acceptable. The Seven Celestial Secrets would make the Empire unbeatable and then… …then they could crush the Carthaginians.
He could do it. He would do it!
After all, he was Lord Steal, feared throughout the whole Solar System.
Once he succeeded in cracking the Celestial Secrets he would be unstoppable.
Nothing would stop him, nothing could stop him.
Nothing maybe, except a boy named Torr, but neither of them knew that yet.
The quest for the Celestial Secrets continues in: -