Category Archives: Renegade Asteroid

The Renegade Asteroid – Part Eight

renegade asteroid by Neal Patterson

Word of the alien ship’s destruction spread across the globe before David’s Slingshot had returned to Earth. When Spear, Televast, and Betty walked down the gangplank to the runway tarmac, they were surprised to see the flood of reporters and television cameras rushing up to meet them.

“Remind me to speak to my security chief,” Televast muttered.

The next two weeks were filled with a blur of activity: ticker tape parades, television interviews, and visits to the White House, Congress, and the United Nations. It wasn’t until the team had returned home and settled into their ordinary routines that Spear developed a sense of unease. It started with little things. Betty no longer spoke about the impending wedding. Stacks of invitations sat unaddressed on her writing table. Her kisses were cold and her embraces perfunctory.

Spear hoped for some escape from his domestic problems with his co-workers, but Nelson and O’Hanlon appeared distant as well. Everything ran smoothly during their training sessions, but Spear’s offers for an after work visit to their favorite watering hole were consistently rebuffed. For the veteran astronaut, it felt as if he had returned to a different world.

The nagging sense of disquiet turned to outright terror when he was leaving the simulation facility and past a television set in the lobby. The news report was beaming satellite images of the massive alien mothership entering Earth’s orbit. As he watched in horror, Nelson and O’Hanlon came up behind him.

“My God,” Spear forced out, “take a look at this! What in the world is going on?”

Nelson and O’Hanlon merely smiled in a self-satisfied way. Nelson said, “You’d better come with us.” Bewildered, Spear obediently followed the two men to Televast’s office. The old man and Betty were seated by a television set in the corner of the room watching the same news telecast. They turned to the three men as they entered.

“It’s all going as planned,” Televast said, beaming proudly.

“What are you talking about?” Spear asked. “What in the hell is going on here?”

Televast offered a sympathetic frown. “Yes, my boy, I’m sure this is very confusing for you. You see, you’ve been living in something of an illusion for the past few weeks. We’re not exactly what we appear to be.”

“And what about that spaceship?’ Spear shot back, pointing to the television.

“Oh, that’s quite real,” Televast said. “The mothership has arrived and a new order will begin.”

“What is this double talk? Betty, can you make any sense out of what your father is saying?”

Betty merely nodded. Nelson and O’Hanlon were equally uncommunicative. Spear’s mind raced as he tried to sort out the facts before him. “This is crazy. We destroyed that ship, and even if we hadn’t, the lunar defense station would’ve taken – wait a minute, the lunar defense station. Why did I not remember that until just now?”

“Because we didn’t allow you to,” Televast chuckled. “You see, my boy, the mothership did not land on the far side of the moon. It was waiting on the Martian moon Phobos all this time. What we destroyed was – “

“ – the lunar defense station,” Spear whispered, paralyzed by the stunning realization. “Laslo, Betty, all of you, why would you be a part of such a thing? How did you get me to – ?”

“Laslo and Betty are dead,” Nelson said flatly. “So are O’Hanlon and Nelson. At least, the souls who inhabited these bodies are dead.”

Spear slumped into a nearby chair, shaken by the flood of revelation cascading over him.

“Remember when O’Hanlon drifted into space?” Nelson continued. “That gave one of our agents just enough time to take over his body. I took over Nelson’s body during the attack on the asteroid by those hapless creatures.”

“So, you are the aliens,” Spear said. “You have no physical form?”

“Not like humans,” Nelson replied. “We are made of light particles. We penetrate into the body and take over. The agents who later inhabited the bodies of Laslo and Betty stowed on board before we blasted off from the asteroid. They took over these bodies as soon as we returned to Earth.”

“Now wait a minute,” Spear said, “What about Klanec and the Plunfar rebels?”

The group laughed. Televast said, “That was merely a ruse to get your jingoistic blood boiling. The creature we called Klanec was merely one of the creatures in our menagerie, possessed by us to say what we wanted him to. The beasts on the asteroid were also beings under our control.”

“And what about me?” Spear asked, “Why didn’t you take over my body?”

“We would have if you had been the one to repair the retro-rockets instead of O’Hanlon,” Televast explained. “Once we boarded your ship, however, we knew we would need your exceptional piloting skills. While your technology is inferior to our own, it is still unique to your species. We can read your blueprints and schematics, but the skill and finesse required to fly human space crafts were beyond our abilities. We needed you to help us take out the last line of defense against our invasion, so we used our telepathic abilities to fog your brain. We made you believe that the lunar station was in fact the mothership.”

“So you’ve won.” Spear spit the words out contemptuously. “But you said it yourself: you are creatures made of light particles. What do you need with our planet?”

“We have long coveted those creatures who have physical form. To touch and breathe and taste. We stole our spaceship from those spiny Plunfarians and filled it with everything we would need to start a new world in physical form. We have traveled the galaxy searching for a world as perfect as yours, with beings as easily manipulated as yours. On behalf of my people, I want to thank you for your cooperation.”

Televast laughed. Betty soon joined in, followed by Nelson and O’Hanlon. The room echoed with the cacophonous laughter of the alien beings. Spear clutched his ears to force out the malevolent noise as it crushed his soul.

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The Renegade Asteroid – Part Seven

renegade asteroid by Neal Patterson

Before dawn, Spear settled into his command seat and immediately noticed the extra elbow room. Nelson and O’Hanlon would stay behind in Central Command to monitor the critical functions of David’s Slingshot along with the position of the alien spacecraft. Betty sat to Spear’s right at the communications console. Although he hated putting Betty in harm’s way, he knew that they would need her special skills for this particular mission. Directly behind them sat Televast at the weapons console. The old man insisted on taking aim at the aliens himself, and Spear couldn’t argue with the boss.

“All systems are go. We ‘re starting final countdown,” Nelson’s voice carried over the radio. “Buckle up, boys and girls.”

The three settled into their seats. Betty and Spear exchanged a long glance. Spear searched Betty’s eyes for any fear, but he saw none. She was every bit her father’s daughter. As the countdown neared 20 seconds, they looked ahead at the forward viewports and studied the brilliant blue sky. Soon, the view would be replaced with inky blackness.

Then came the deafening roar and the oppressive g-forces. As was his custom during takeoff, Spear closed his eyes and focused his mind’s eye on the lake where he caught trout on lazy summer days when he was a child. His moment of meditation was interrupted by the sounds of switches being thrown. He glanced over and noticed Betty, seemingly oblivious to the forces of acceleration, working diligently at her console.

“What are you doing?” Spear cried out.

“This mission is strictly forbidden by the United Nations,” Betty replied. “I’m throwing off the surveillance systems around the world by sending out incorrect signals. As far as the world knows, we’re just a commercial plane making a sub-orbital flight.”

“That’s my girl,” Spear smiled.

Settling back in his seat, Spear could hear the main thrusters shut off and the g-forces eased to nothing. They were in free fall, plummeting through the void on a course for the moon.

“Remember Lance,” Televast said, “this ship does not handle like the typical rocket. Once we are in position to make a course for the far side of the moon, the craft will handle like a fighter jet. Be prepared.”

“Gotcha’, sir,” Spear said. His confidence was tested however when he switched over to the manual controls. While he had greater maneuverability, he was also dealing with no atmosphere. His initial efforts where met with wild overreactions from the ship. Televast chuckled at his hapless pilot. “You’ll get used to it.”

His years of experience paid off and Spear was quickly zipping the massive ship over the surface of the moon like a kite on a windy day.

“You’re approaching the alien ship,” Nelson’s voice filled the cockpit. “Estimated visual, 24 seconds. All systems functioning normally.”

“I think I see it,” Betty exclaimed.

The gleaming mothership sat majestically in the gray dust of the moon. Although red and yellow lights flashed along its perimeter, the alien craft was completely silent. “Maybe we should open a channel to the ship,” Spear muttered to Betty.

“Absolutely not,” Televast bellowed. “We have them with their pants down. We have to attack now. Prepare for a strafing run.”

“They should have noticed us by now,” Spear thought out loud.

“Billions of lives are at stake, Lance,” Betty said.

Her concerned gaze strengthened Spear’s resolve. “Very well. We’re going in.”

Delicately manipulating the joy stick, Spear set the ship on a gradual descent over the mothership. When the golden hull filled the viewports, Televast unleashed the nuclear missiles mounted on the sides of the ship. As soon as the missiles disengaged from the ship, Spear threw David’s Slingshot into a sharp banking move. The powerful thrusters pushed the craft hundreds of miles away from the target every second. “Switch on the aft monitors, Betty,” Spear commanded. The screens came to life, revealing a massive explosion where the mothership once stood. Chunks of the alien craft cartwheeled through space, taking a long languid descent toward the weak gravity of the moon.

“Let’s circle back to see what’s left,” Televast said.

Spear obeyed, turning the ship back in the direction of the destruction. As they approached the site, little was left of the alien ship but a pile of twisted metal and debris of an unidentifiable nature. “Let’s take another run at it,” Televast said.

“It’s destroyed, Laslo,” Spear cried. “Utterly destroyed.”

“Let’s make it vapor,” Televast shot back.

Spear forced the ship into a violent descent, accelerating faster than the first time. Televast’s fingers danced over his console and a blinding display of laser beams criss-crossed over the site. Plumes of smoke floated up from the remains, engulfing David’s Slingshot.

“It’s done,” Spear said, grimly. “Let’s go home.”

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The Renegade Asteroid – Part Six

renegade asteroidBy Neal Patterson

The worst part was over. Through some skillful maneuvering, Spear and Nelson manually set the Transtar 12 on a path through the upper atmosphere that allowed them to breech the stratosphere without burning up. It was far from perfect, however, and the high temperature in the cockpit signaled that the heat shielding was less than optimal. Still, the three astronauts were still alive.

“Estimated landing site,” Spear shouted to Nelson over the deafening noise of the vibrating ship.

“The equipment is fouled from the heat,” Nelson barked back. “Nearest I can guess is somewhere in the Mojave Desert.”

Spear clenched his jaw. “That’ll have to do. I’m taking ‘er in. You two get into the escape pod.”

Nelson and O’Hanlon looked at each other as if the Colonel had gone around the bend. When Spear caught their glances, he said, “The pod has an automatic guidance system set for a safe return to Televast Aerospace. At least two of us will make it back to base.”

“But Skipper,” O’Hanlon spoke, “even if the guidance system is in working order, we have no fuel.”

“I siphoned off just enough for the pod to carry two passengers,” Spear replied. “Now get in that pod. That’s an order.”

Reluctantly, the two men worked their way through the rear hatch toward the escape pod. One minute later, Spear saw the sphere, no bigger than a VW Beetle, fly off into the horizon. He breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that his actions from here on out would only affect his own life. He tried to force Betty from his mind.

The rear fins of the Transtar 12 were designed to operate like airplane wings in the case of an emergency landing. Spear switched on the rudder controls and steered the cumbersome rocket like a glider. The sandy expanse of the desert was rushing up to greet him. Mercifully, the mountains were well away from his intended landing point. Leveling the metal monster as best he could, Spear held steady and waited for impact.

When Spear regained consciousness, he could not move. Every bone, every muscle, flared with the heat of pain whenever he attempted to release his safety belt and adjust his position. The ship’s chronometer, if it could be believed, showed that he had been out for three and a half hours. He knew it could be at least 24 hours before a rescue team would reach him. That was provided the homing signal was working. Spear strained to tap a red button on his suit. His helmet visor closed and the suit filled with oxygen, laced with a potent painkilling gas.

Betty’s face appeared over him, her look of concern brightened as Spear blinked into consciousness. “How long have I been out?” Spear croaked.

“Nearly two days,” Betty replied. “Lie still darling, you have some broken bones. The doctor thinks you should be up and around in a few days though.”

“After seeing your pretty face, I’m feeling better already.”

Betty leaned down to kiss her fiancé when Lazlo Televast burst into the room. “Lance, thank God you are awake. I’ve just come back from the United Nations. The place is in chaos. Once news leaked out about the alien ship landing on the moon, the whole world has gone into a panic. Governments are collapsing. People are rioting and looting like it’s the end of the world. So far, the US military has managed to maintain some sense of order, but who knows how long that will last. I’m afraid it’s up to us now.”

Spear tried to lift his head, but a punishing wave of pain caused him to slump back in his bed. “What do you mean? I can barely move. Besides, even if I was in perfect health, what could we possibly do against that Goliath of a warship?”

Televast smirked. “I have just the rock to take down that Goliath.” The old man unfurled a roll of blueprints across Spear’s chest. From what the astronaut could make out, it was a design for some form of military spaceship. A cross between a fighter jet and a space rocket.

Spear whistled. “This is incredible. Far beyond anything we currently have in the field.”

“It’s a secret prototype I’ve been working on for the military,” Televast announced proudly. “Even they don’t know about it. I was about to start flight trials before this whole mess hit the fan. Now it looks like the ol’ girl will get some on-the-job training.”

“If we could catch that ship unawares,” Spear muttered, “this baby could do enough damage to at least paralyze it.”

Televast picked up his blueprints with an air of indignation. “It’ll do far more than that, or my name isn’t Lazlo Televast. Nelson and O’Hanlon are already prepping the ship for launch. You have two days to get back on your feet or we’re leaving without you.”

So happy was Spear that he hardly noticed the pain when he grabbed Betty by the waist and gave her a squeeze. “I’ll be ready if you have to haul me outta here with a forklift!”

It was Televast himself who named his new creation “David’s Slingshot.” He even painted the name along the nosecone of the craft in bold red letters, which was no small feat given the enormous size of his hybrid fighter/rocket vehicle. He was just placing the final flourish on the letter T when Betty called up to him from several stories below the scaffolding.

“We’re preparing for our final systems check, Daddy,” Betty said. “We need you in the cockpit.”

“May I lend a hand?” a familiar voice echoed through the hangar.

Betty turned and saw her fiancé walking toward her with the aid of a cane. Still bandaged and bruised, Spear was nonetheless walking with the same determined gait he always possessed. She charged toward her man and wrapped her arms around him tightly. “Oh Lance, it’s so wonderful to see you on your feet.”

“I told you I wouldn’t let you leave without me,” he replied.

“Excellent, you’re here,” Televast called down from his perch. “Come, my boy, we’re headed to the cockpit!”

Within minutes, the skeleton crew of Spear, Televast, Nelson, O’Hanlon, and Betty were gathered in the cramped control room running through the extensive check list. As the various systems were ticked off, Spear marveled at how well the craft had been assembled in such a short period of time. Ordinarily, it could take months to work out all the kinks of a new space craft. David’s Slingshot appeared to be in perfect working order within a few days. Televast studied every light and switch like a man possessed, filled with a sense of mission on a level Spear had never witnessed before.

“Maneuvering rockets,” Nelson barked.

“Check,” O’Hanlon replied.

“Weapons array,” Nelson continued.

Televast flicked a few switches. “Check.”

“I think that’s it,” Nelson sighed. “All that’s left is to light this candle.”

“Right! We launch tomorrow at dawn!” Televast slapped his hands together and raced out of the cockpit.

“He’s like a child with a new toy,” Betty smiled at Spear. “Coming dear?”

“I’ll be with you in a minute,” Spear said.

Betty kissed him on the cheek and left, followed by O’Hanlon who muttered something about a pint of beer with his name on it. Nelson also started to rise when Spear put his hand on Nelson’s arm.

“Can I speak frankly with you, Clark?”

“Of course. What’s on your mind?”

“While I was laid up in the hospital, I had plenty of time to think. Has our sensors picked up any activity from the alien ship?”

Nelson shrugged. “No not that I know of.”

“Doesn’t that strike you as odd? It’s been days with that ship just sitting there. If it could chase us across the solar system, why suddenly stop and do nothing?”

“Who knows how these aliens think?” Nelson answered a question with a question. “They might need time to implement their invasion plan.”

“Or they may not mean us any harm?” Spear countered.

“You heard what they said when we were on the Transtar 12. I thought their intentions were quite clear.”

“Maybe they’ve changed their minds. I’m just not sure that we should take offensive action when they’ve made no moves of their own.”

“What’s gotten into to you, Lance? Those aliens gave us a declaration of war, and they clearly have firepower far superior to our own. We have to strike first or we may not get a second chance.”

Spear carefully measured his friend’s words. He offered a weak smile, “I suppose you’re right. Full steam ahead, Captain.”

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Renegade Asteroid – Part Five

renegade asteroid
By Neal Patterson

“What’s our distance from the alien spacecraft, Clark?” Spear barked to his co-pilot.

“Five hundred kilometers and holding steady,” Nelson replied.

Leaning toward his engineer, Spear asked, “Riley, how’s our fuel consumption?”

O’Hanlon checked his gauges and said, “358 grams SFC.”

Spear remained silent, but all three men knew what this grim statistic meant. At the current rate of consumption, they would not have enough fuel to reach Earth. Transtar 12 hurtled through space at top speed. While it felt to Spear as if he had cut and run, there seemed little alternative once he laid eyes on the massive alien ship that emerged from the rubble of the exploded asteroid. Any ship the size of a major city had to possess unimaginable firepower. Transtar 12 was no match. The only hope was to return to Earth and warn the United Nations.

“How can that ship move so quickly?” Nelson pondered out loud. “When it was hidden inside the asteroid, it was moving at only a fraction of its current speed.”

“It was a Trojan Horse,” Spear sighed. “It was moving at a speed we would expect such a heavenly body to move at. Now that it’s exposed, it’s showing its true power.” The experienced space jockey rubbed his chin thoughtfully. After a few moments, he said, “Clark, cut speed by half and open a channel to the alien ship.”


“You heard me. We can’t outrun this thing and make it back to Earth. Time for us to face the music.”

Nelson studied the control panel. With some hesitation, he slid down the thrust lever and the vibration in the floor plates eased. Spear looked at his navigator for a reaction. Nelson smiled in disbelief. “I’ll be darned. The alien ship is slowing down to match our speed.”

Spear smiled and nodded. Then the main monitor came to life. Through the snow of interspace static emerged what vaguely resembled a face. More insect that human, it nonetheless appeared intelligent.

“This is Colonel Lance Spear of the spaceship Transtar 12. May I ask to whom I am speaking?”

The insect-like head bobbled. “I am Klanec, leader of the Plunfar Rebellion Force. We have traveled many light years from our home world in the Alpha Centauri system.”

“You understand English,” Spear noted.

“Our translator device allows you to understand our language. Why have you contacted us?”

“We want to know your intentions in our solar system.”

“For years, we fought the Plunfar government and its tyrannical ways. However, their army is strong and their resources greater than our own. Instead of accepting defeat, we concocted a plan to steal one of their great warships and escape into space to find a new homeland. Along the way, we used the ship’s technology to draw in debris around the outer hull, forming a rocky crust which disguises our ship as an asteroid.”

“Very clever,” Spear responded, “but you still haven’t answered my question.”

“When we detected your planet and deemed it appropriate to serve our needs, we plotted a slow course toward Earth. We assumed you had interstellar capabilities like our race and, upon seeing the asteroid on a collision course with your planet, you would evacuate, leaving the planet for us to inhabit. We did not expect that you would take a more aggressive approach. Now we have no choice but to take your planet by force.”

The three men aboard Transtar 12 exchanged somber glances before Spear spoke again, “Now wait a minute, Klanec. The planet Earth is a large place. I’m sure we could welcome your people as cohabitants on our world. Let us go to Earth together and we can explain your situation to the United Nations. I’m sure we can work out a peaceful resolution.”

Klanec’s movements indicated a state of irritation. “We have no interest in quibbling and bickering with the puny minds of your world governments. We have experienced enough lies and deceit on our home planet. No, we will make ourselves the new indigenous species of planet Earth.”

The monitor screen went black. A heavy silence hung in the air. O’Hanlon and Nelson looked to their skipper for word. Spear turned to them, his face filled with resolve. “Top speed, Clark. Don’t spare the horses.”

The floor plates hummed again. Spear leaned back in his chair and fixed his gaze on the telemetry information darting across his screen. With some careful maneuvering, he thought, we might just be able to get in radio range of Earth while they still have time to launch a missile attack on the golden warship looming behind them. Fuel consumption be damned. There was little hope for them now, but maybe Earth could still be saved.

“Where’s that blasted ship, Clark?”

“Five hundred kilometers as usual.”

“They’re toying with us. Squeeze everything you can out this bucket.”

“We can’t risk breaking apart,” O’Hanlon cried.

“We can risk not informing Earth in time! Now push ‘er as hard as she’ll go!”

Not since his test pilot days had Spear felt a ship rumble under the strain of such thrust. At least when he was testing shuttles and fighter planes, the flights were relatively short. By Spear’s calculations, they were still at least 36 hours away from the moon. Could the ship hold together that long? Could his crew hold together that long? He had no choice but to sit still and find out.

The fog along the Seine was thick and the pale light of the half-moon did little to illuminate the promenade. “Lance, are you there?” The words were murky, as if floating up from under the river, but Spear would recognize the voice anywhere.

“Betty, it’s me. I’m here, darling.”

A vague silhouette cut through the fog. A flowing negligee flustered in the mist and a face began to emerge. “Betty, I’m right here. Come to me, dear.” The figure moved closer, but the countenance did not have Betty’s soft features. The skin looked hard. The eyes were huge glistening orbs. Spear’s knees gave out and he tumbled to the wet concrete.

A red orb hovered over him. Not perfectly round, but sort of spikey.

“Colonel, can you hear me?”

The voice was clearer this time. And the orb came into view. It was a face, but not quite. The eyes were too large and the mouth…were they pincers?

“Klanec!” Spear exclaimed.

“Calm yourself, Colonel. It’s me, O’Hanlon.” The red-headed engineer beamed at the Colonel. Spear relaxed and leaned back into his seat. “You must’ve fallen asleep, Skipper.”

“Where are we?”

“We’re approaching Earth,” O’Hanlon replied, returning to his post.

“Limping more like it,” Nelson corrected, “we barely have any fuel left. I’ve cut our speed to orbital norm.”

“Orbital norm,” Spear cried. “What about the alien ship?”

“That’s the good news,” O’Hanlon said. “The ship turned off and landed on the far side of the moon. It’s just sitting there.”

Spear sighed. “Okay, maybe we’ve bought a little time, but they’re still up to something. We can’t afford to go into Earth orbit.”

“That’s our only option, Lance,” Nelson said sternly. “We go into orbit and radio for a shuttle to rendezvous with us.”

“That’ll take too long,” Spear barked. “We have to land now. Gentlemen, prepared for a crash dive!”

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Renegade Asteroid – Part Four

renegade asteroid By Neal Patterson

Past Unsafe Limits! The indicator light on the terra-cycle’s display screen flashed the message with annoying regularity. Spear could feel the wheels slipping out from under him, threatening to leave the ground and send himself and the cycle into orbit around the asteroid. The Colonel felt he had no choice however. His co-pilot and friend was being attacked by a strange creature who possessed enormous strength and could function in the airless environment of the dead rock. Any monster that rugged was a serious threat, and Spear still had a dozen miles to cover before he would reach Nelson’s location.


The cycle hurtled over a boulder and sailed for fifty yards before landing on the jagged surface. The vehicle wobbled, but Spear compensated with lightning reflexes. Not too much further now, he thought to himself. He had to be alive. He just had to be!

A glint could be seen on the horizon. The reflected light from the massive planet Jupiter provided a faint glimpse of something metallic ahead. Spear knew it had to be Nelson’s terra-cycle. Twisting the accelerator to maximum, Spear willed the cycle ever faster. It shot across the desolate expanse of rubble toward the shining object ahead. Within seconds, Spear could make out the terra-cycle clearly along with the still form of Nelson on the ground.

Once he was within a few yards of his friend, Spear leapt off his vehicle and bounded over to the prone Nelson. Spear bent down and grabbed him with both arms. “Clark, are you all right? Say something?”

For a few agonizing seconds, Nelson made no move. Then a deep exhalation fogged his visor and a slight moan was heard on Spear’s helmet speaker. Spear felt his heart beating again. “Thank God, I thought you were dead.”

“Almost,” Nelson sighed. “I managed to bash the beast’s head in with the nuclear charge I was holding. He ran off, but not before his claws tore a hole in my suit. I managed to repair the hole with the emergency kit in my pocket, but I must’ve passed out right afterward. I don’t have much oxygen left.”

“Do you think you can operate the terra-cycle?” Spear asked.

“I doubt it,” Nelson forced out. “My leg is pretty banged up from the monster’s claws.”

“Then you’ll have to ride in the storage compartment of my cycle.”

“We haven’t finished placing all the charges.”

“We have to hope that 24 are enough,” Spear said, grimly. “You have to get back to the ship. I have the rest of the charges out of my cycle in a jiff and I’ll come back for you.”

The storage compartment was not the most comfortable accommodation, but Nelson could not complain. With 98% of his oxygen already gone, he needed to get to the rocket in minutes or he was dead. Spear shot toward the rocket at speeds never attempted before on a terra-cycle. Spear quietly mused that it would be nice to have someone from the World Records Organization around to clock his speed. Then the gleaming tower of silver steel that was the Transtar 12 loomed over them. Without delay, Spear wrestled his wounded comrade from the small compartment and jogged over to the gang plank. Once on board, he slammed the button which retracted the plank and sealed the airlock. Nelson and Spear shared a look of relief. They had made it, just barely.

“We’ve reached the explosion point,” O’Hanlon said.

Spear took a deep inhalation and held it. His finger hovered over the detonation button on his control panel. Nelson looked over at Spear quizzically, “Something the matter, Colonel?”

Spear shrugged. “I was just thinking, those creatures we encountered on the asteroid. Somehow they are able to survive on that godforsaken rock. No water, no food. How? Such amazing beings. Do I have the right to just wipe them out with one push of a button?”

“Are you kidding me?” O’Hanlon barked. “You saw what those things did to Nelson. How can you feel sorry for them?”

“It’s all right, Riley,” Nelson interjected. “I think I understand what the Skipper is saying. They would be fascinating subjects for study. But Colonel, we don’t have the luxury of debate. Billions of people on earth will be killed if that asteroid is allowed to stay on its present course. We can’t be concerned about a few aliens when we have a whole world to save – our world.”

Spear smiled at his friend. “You’re right, Clark. I was just musing. Stand by for blast, and let’s hope we planted enough charges. In five – four – three – two – one.” The Colonel pressed the button and flipped the monitor display to the rear cameras. Without a sound, the giant ball of jagged gray splintered into a shower of rock. From their vantage point, it looked like a volcano spewing forth its magma and dust into a massive plume. Then the shards of an unformed world flew into the void of space and the dust cloud thinned. The three men collectively released deep sighs and wipe their brows. Spear reached for the yoke on his panel. “Right, let’s set a course for – “

“Wait a minute, Colonel,” O’Hanlon interrupted. “What in the cosmos is that?”

Spear looked back at the monitor. As the dust cloud continue to dissipate, a gold football-like shape appeared just behind the fog of detritus. The object, almost as big as the asteroid that once filled that point in space, moved forward, beyond the cloud. As its details became clear, everyone on the Transtar 12 tensed. Lights flashed along its sides and a frosty dome sat atop the saucer shaped object. Spear knew in an instant that this was an alien spacecraft, and it was big enough to hold the population of New York City.

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Renegade Asteroid – Part Three

renegade asteroid by Neal Patterson

“If you do that, you’re talking suicide,” Nelson cried.

“We’re talking certain death for O’Hanlon if I don’t,” Spear shot back. The Colonel was already squirming into his space suit. Nelson paced nervously, “If you fire the emergency tether gun, there’s a good chance you will lose control and you’ll both be floating in space.”

“I’ve done this before in training,” Spear said, a hint of irritation in his voice. “Look, I’m in charge here. This is my call.” With that, Spear climbed into the air lock and fastened his helmet tightly. The air lock only took seconds to depressurize, but it felt like an eternity to Spear. He held the bulky tether gun in his hand, feeling a bit like Captain Ahab. He looked at the giant red letters along the side of the barrel declaring, “For Emergency Use Only!” Spear couldn’t think of a bigger one than right then.

The door slid open and he was suddenly facing the vast unknown. Already tethered, Spear slipped his boots into the foot harnesses on the floor and balanced the device on his shoulder. Although the gun was equipped with an exhaust to mitigate the force of the exploding gases within, Spear knew from his training on Marsbase that this thing could still pack a wallop. He planted himself firmly and scanned the ebony abyss through the viewfinder, desperately seeking some glimpse of his friend. Sweat ran down his neck and tickled his chest, but he had no way to scratch. Stay focused, he told himself. Then he spotted a fleck of yellow. It must be O’Hanlon’s suit! Spear squeezed the trigger.

There was no sound, but Spear could feel the jolt of the gun. An arrow darted into the inky space, followed by the life-saving length of tether. With no gravity, the line stood straight, but there was no tension on the other end. Spear’s heart sank. He took too long. O’Hanlon must be too far away. His finger moved toward the release button when he felt another jolt, much softer than the firing on the gun, but definitely firm. Then the line went taut and a steady tug pulled him toward the doorway. His spirits lifted. The yellow speck moved closer turning into a man.

The swirling colors of Jupiter’s gaseous surface filled the sky as Spear and Nelson delicately maneuvered the rocket down to the asteroid’s surface. O’Hanlon’s repairs were even better than Spear had anticipated and the spaceship settled into a rocky valley without incident. As soon as the engines powered down, Spear checked the monitor screen to his right.

“Just as Dr. Buttons had predicted,” Spear smiled, “the asteroid is rotating at a speed that creates a gravity about 35% of Earth normal. That should make our lives a little easier.”

“Sure,” Nelson agreed. “That’s just enough to use the terra-cycles. We can zip around the equator of the asteroid in style.”

The two men laughed, but the terra-cycles were a critical piece of the mission. The nuclear devices had to be placed at regular distances along the equator of the asteroid. Accomplishing that task in a timely manner was critical to completing the mission within a safe timeframe. Their oversized motorcycles were designed, not only to carry the devices, but to handle the rugged terrain.

Spear and Nelson wasted no time in donning their environmental suits and wheeling their terra–cycles from the storage bay. As planned, O’Hanlon would stay on board to monitor their progress and prepare the ship’s engines for immediate liftoff. Rolling his bulky vehicle down the gangplank, Spear felt a spring in his step that reminded him of his days back on Marsbase. He allowed himself the luxury of feeling slightly confident about the success of the mission. Then he looked back and noticed his partner awkwardly skipping sideways and manfully struggling to keep his cycle upright.

“This lighter gravity takes some getting used to,” Spear spoke to Nelson over the communicator built into his helmet. “Try to relax and think of each movement like the delicate response of the joystick controls.”

“I’ll give it a try,” Nelson sighed and proceeded walk more cautiously.

By the time he had wheeled his cycle onto the rocky ground, Nelson seemed to have a feel for things. Spear gestured to the west, indicating that he would head westbound along the equator. Nelson nodded and pointed east. With that, the two were on their way. Charges were placed every 20 miles. Arming each device was simply a matter of removing the protective cover from the control panel and pressing the red button. This placed the explosive in a standby mode. The devices could be exploded only by the controls on board the rocket.

“This is your three-hour check, gentlemen,” O’Hanlon spoke to them over the communicator. “What is your status, Colonel?”

“I’m just finishing number 12. Only three more charges to be planted,” Spear replied. “How are you doing, Clark?”

“Keeping the same pace,” Nelson reported. “I should be rendezvousing with you back at the ship in approximately one half hour.”

“Sounds great men,” O’Hanlon said in the same professional monotone he would use whether he had landed on Pluto or was about to be struck by a comet. “I’m running the final systems check. We should be ready to take off by the time you get back.”

“Roger that. Out,” Spear replied.

“Roger, Nelson out.”

Spear pressed the red button on Charge #12 and turned back to his terra-cycle. He barely took a step when he was greeted with a sight that froze him in place. A dark figure about six and a half feet tall and covered in fur was looking over his terra-cycle like a claims adjustor examining a wrecked Studebaker.

“Hey, who are you?” Spear cried out before realizing the foolishness of his actions. His voice could not carry through the airless void of space. The creature, however, seemed to become aware of Spear’s presence all the same. He leapt back in a display of surprise and started to run. Spear gave chase, forgetting about his training and hopping like a cricket across the terrain at 10-yard intervals. Within seconds, he was upon the lumbering beast.

“What were you doing with my cycle?” Spear asked, now face to face with the being. Actually, the creature barely had a face, just two black orbs for eyes and a gabbing maw. He stared blankly at the Colonel for a moment, then pushed him to the ground with a force Spear was not expecting. By the time Spear could scramble to his feet, the strange visitor had disappeared.

“Nelson,” Spear cried. “Nelson, come in. You won’t believe this.”

The speaker in Spear’s helmet crackled with static. Then came a faint cry. “Nelson, what is it?”

“Lance, I’m being attacked by – “ Spear could make out heavy breathing and grunts, as if Nelson was struggling with a tremendous force. “Help!”

Spear could only think one thing: Whatever beings inhabit the lonely asteroid, one of these beasts was trying to kill his friend.

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Renegade Asteroid – Part 2

renegade asteroid By Neal Patterson

The General Assembly Hall of the United Nations exploded with the cries of angry, confused, and ultimately frightened representatives. While the cacophony of voices in numerous languages and dialects echoed about him, Laslo Televast calmly took a drink of water and waited for the excitement to die down. The committee chairman pounded a gavel on the table, “Please delegates! These outbursts are not productive! And will the representative from the USSR kindly put his shoe back on!”

As a semblance of calm returned to the hall, Televast continued, “There’s no point in trying to deny it, ladies and gentlemen. This asteroid is on a path that will bring it in direct contact with Earth within the next six weeks. Our data is infallible. However, just as our science has helped us detect the problem, our science can prove to be the solution as well. I propose that we sent a three-man crew into deep space using one of my Transtar rockets and intercept the asteroid while it is a few weeks away from Earth. Upon landing on the asteroid, the crew will place several atomic explosives at key points along the asteroid’s equator. The crew will then depart and trigger the explosives once they reach a safe distance. With any luck, the asteroid will be reduced to hundreds of smaller rocks and the debris will disperse through the solar system.”

Delegates shouted and banged tables once again, but the debate was more for show than anything else. In the end, everyone in the room knew that Televast’s plan was the only one that could save the planet.

Under Televast’s driving leadership, the Transtar rocket and its crew were ready within a week. Along with Colonel Spear as commander, Spear’s old friend and colleague Clark Nelson was recruited as co-pilot, and to handle the mechanical details of the flight, crusty technician Riley O’Hanlon was brought out of retirement. Spear was happy to know that one of the most experienced rocketry engineers was going to sit beside him. There was no room for error on this mission.

In the wee hours of a Wednesday morning, just as the sky grew purple from the rising sun, the three astronauts sat strapped down in their contoured seats scanning a flashing array of lights and monitors. All systems had been checked and double checked. Everything was in order. All that was left was the silent waiting for the countdown to begin.

“Via con dios, mi amigos!” Laslo Televast barked over the intercom, shattering the tension-filled silence. “We will be monitoring your progress the whole way. This should be a walk in the park for you fine gentlemen!”

“Sure, a walk with a 100 sticks of dynamite strapped to your back,” Nelson muttered.

Spear was about to respond when Betty’s voice came over the speaker, “My darling, please be careful. I’m so proud of you. I want you to come back to me in one piece, you hear?”

Spear grabbed the microphone from its holder on the control panel, “You just worry about picking out the prettiest wedding dress you can find. I’ll be home before you can say, I love you.”

There was no response because the rocket systems engineer in the control room cut in with, “10-9-8-7…” Spear, Nelson, and O’Hanlon sunk into their padded seats in anticipation of the g-forces. No matter how many times these men had experienced the effects of massive thrust on their bodies, they never got used to it. The force could be excruciating, but within minutes the rocket ship known as Transtar 12 was speeding past the moon and hurtling toward the vast reaches of deep space.

Transtar 12 settled into a slow rotation as it flew toward its objective, creating a light gravity. While much lighter than Earth normal, the astronauts were still able to walk across the floor and avoid flying into delicate equipment. For three days, the men went about the regular monitoring and maintenance associated with a deep space flight. At times, Spear found himself almost forgetting the tremendous task awaiting him at the end of the flight. It didn’t help that he was leaving Betty behind just weeks before their impending marriage. He could only imagine how difficult it was for her, waiting for news, praying that he would return unharmed. This was a new sensation. When he was single, he felt little concern for his own safety. Now he felt an obligation to stay alive for Betty’s sake.

“Colonel Spear!” Nelson’s cry shook Spear from his reverie. “There’s an object approaching at tremendous speed!”

“What kind of object?” Spear asked.

“Unknown, sir,” Nelson replied, his look of concern made more shocking by the glow of the monitor reflecting on his face.

Spear made his way from the aft control panel to take a look, but was halted in his forward progress by a severe jolt to the ship. Tumbling to the floor, he felt a momentary increase in gravity as the spin of the rocket accelerated. By the time the onboard computers compensated for the speed, the object was gone.

“Can you see it on the rear cameras?” Spear yelled as he rose to his feet.

“Nothing,” Nelson sighed. “It disappeared as fast as it came.”

The floor hatch creaked open and O’Hanlon popped his head out of the opening. “Holy Moses! What was that?!”

“No idea, Riley,” Spear replied. “Damage report.”

“Whatever that thing was, it hit us in the worst possible spot,” Riley said, “our rear retro-rockets are completely smashed. Without them, there’s no way we can land on the asteroid.”

A moment of grim silence hung over the room. Spear knew there was no way to plant those explosives remotely. To work effectively, their placement had to be precise. Spear asked, “Are they repairable?”

O’Hanlon rolled the question around in his head for a minute. “Well, from what I can see on the monitor, they could be jerry rigged back into working order. But someone has to go outside to do it. That would mean reducing speed.”

“Not a chance,” Spear shot back. “We have to stay on schedule. I’ve made space walks at this rate of speed before. I’ll go out there.”

“Wait a minute, Colonel,” O’Hanlon raised his hand. “As my sainted mother used to say, ‘You don’t send the cobbler to fetch the evening tea.’”

Spear chuckled, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

O’Hanlon shrugged. “I have no idea. She would get in her cups now and then. What I do know is that you are not qualified to fix those retro-rockets. If anyone is going out there, it’ll be me.”

“Keep a steady hand on the helm, Clark,” Spear ordered. “We don’t want to jostle our only engineer.”
“You got it, Colonel.”

The two watched the monitor closely, surveying O’Hanlon’s progress on the retro-rockets. The work was maddeningly slow, but Spear knew that nothing could be left to chance. Even with the best repairs, the ship would still handle like a bucking mule when they landed on the asteroid.

“Onto rocket four and then I should be done.” O’Hanlon’s voice crackled over the intercom.

Spear wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. They were less than 24 hours from the asteroid. Soon, Nelson would have to change course to put them in position for orbit around the runaway rock. The maneuver could not be accomplished with O’Hanlon on the skin of the ship. Spear could feel his stomach turning as another hour ticked away.

“I think I’ve got it fixed,” O’Hanlon called back finally.

Spear gulped air and exhaled with relief. “That’s great, Riley! Now get back in here as soon as you can.”

“Will do, Skipper.”

Spear smiled at the monitor as he saw his engineer rise for the slow walk across the surface of the rocket. Then he noticed something that washed the smile from his face. O’Hanlon’s tether was tangled on a damaged section of the hull. From Spear’s view, the cord looked frayed, possibly from rubbing against the metal while O’Hanlon worked on the retro-rocket. “Riley, hold on.”

Before O’Hanlon could respond, the tether snapped. The man who had just saved the mission was floating away from the ship.

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Renegade Asteroid – Part One

renegade asteroidPART ONE by Neal Patterson

Rusty Weaver pedaled frantically past the administration building of Ivydale College, a massive stack of papers strapped to the basket on his handlebars. Spying the bundle nervously. Rusty decided to veer off the sidewalk and shoot across the grassy courtyard. The distance between the Televast Science Building and the observatory was a mere quarter mile as the crow flies, but the journey was far greater by bicycle.

“Watch it, you red-headed creep,” Sally DuMarr shouted at Rusty as he blasted by. Rusty felt a slight twinge of excitement as he realized it was the first time the stunning cheerleader had ever spoken to him.

His mind quickly shifted back to business as he raced down a hill and onto the winding sidewalk which led directly to the observatory entrance. Rusty’s professor and mentor, Dr. Buttons, had appeared more distant and absent-minded than usual. The long nights working in the laboratory had caused his graying temples to turn prematurely white and the ashen circles under his eyes plumped into puffy bags. Whatever was weighing on the poor astronomer’s mind, Rusty knew that these computer printouts would hold the answer.

After wrenching the stack of papers from the bicycle basket, Rusty leaped up the four steps to the building entrance, wrestling the door open with his free elbow and scrambling across the linoleum floor to the telescope room.

“Dr. Buttons,” Rusty cried, his voice echoing off the curving walls. “Dr. Buttons, I’m back from the computer room!”

Dr. Buttons shambled down the wrought iron staircase from his perch beneath the viewfinder of the massive telescope. “I know, Rusty, I know. I heard your footfalls before you got here.”

“I have the report you wanted.” Rusty held the heavy ream above his head.

Dr. Buttons waved his hands. “All right, all right. Put it on the desk. I’m not as strong as you, young man.”

Rusty obeyed and stepped aside as the professor hunched over the printout. At the flip of each page, Dr. Buttons would make grunting noises. Rusty shifted his weight from one foot to the other, hoping for a profound announcement. Maybe now he would know what great discovery the astronomer had made. After several agonizing minutes, Dr. Buttons lifted his head, removed his glasses, and cleaned them on his necktie.

“Well,” Rusty blurted. “What is it, Doctor? A new planet? Some sort of heretofore unknown space phenomenon?”

Dr. Buttons turned to his young assistant and smiled. Patting Rusty on his wiry thatch of red hair, he said, “Youth. So positive. So optimistic.”

Rusty didn’t like the sound of the professor’s tone. His eyes widened. “What’s the matter, sir? Is it bad news?”

“Will you do me a favor, Rusty?”

“Sure, Doctor. Anything!”

“When you say your prayers tonight, ask the All Mighty to give the people of our fragile little planet the strength and wisdom to do the right thing.”

Rusty swallowed hard.

The security protocols for the Televast Aerospace compound were complex and rigid. Electrified fencing reaching 20 feet into the air surrounded the 80-acre facility. Armed guards were stationed every 50 feet along the perimeter of the fence. The gleaming archway at the main entrance was not purely decorative, but held within its chromium structure an array of closed circuit television cameras and ten machine guns controlled remotely by the guards inside the bulletproofed booth. Those who drove up to the massive iron gate were not allowed past unless they provided a specially made ID badge with a microscopic code etched into the border and only readable by the guard with special glasses.

Colonel Lance Spear had nothing to worry about as he approached the guard station. After retiring from the U.S. Air Force, he had worked at the aeronautic and space conglomerate for five years and was a familiar face to everyone. A quick flash of his badge and the gates parted. He maneuvered his sleek roadster to his personal parking space by the administration building. Just as he lifted his briefcase from the passenger seat, Betty Televast approached and offered a warm kiss.

“It’s about time you showed up Mister,” Betty playfully scolded. “When I’m in charge around here, I won’t tolerate such tardiness.”

“Now wait a minute,” Spear grinned. “You know very well after we’re married, your old man is going to hand me the reigns of this operation. Besides, you’ll be too busy taking care of those five kids of ours.”

“Five?!!” Betty gave her fiancé a poke in his firm stomach. “Who said anything about five kids?”

“Well, I always wanted my own basketball team,” Spear shot back.

“Oh, men!”

“Just be glad I’m not a football fan!”

“All right, Mr. Funny Man,” Betty said. “You run along. Daddy is already in a snit.”

“Laslo Televast in a snit?” Spear whistled. “This must be big.”

By the time Colonel Spear stepped into the mahogany paneled office of his future father-in-law, Televast had chewed the ends of three cigars into soggy shreds. Tossing the third one in the trash can, Televast gestured for Spear to sit down. “Glad you’re here, Lance. We have a real mess on our hands and I need a man like you to help us get out of it.”

Spear shifted uneasily in his chair. Throughout his career, he had become known as the Handyman. Whatever problem came along, he was the man who could find the solution. This reputation was becoming a bit tiresome, but he never backed away from a tough job.

After Televast hit a button on his desk console, Betty opened the door and ushered in Dr. Buttons. “Come in, the both of you,” Televast ordered. “Colonel Spear, meet Dr. Buttons. He’s our top astronomer at Ivydale College. He’s come across a startling discovery.”

“Mr. Televast, Colonel Spear, I just completed the final computations on the super computer,” Dr. Buttons began. “Based on my telescopic observations over the last few weeks and the computer extrapolations, there is no longer any doubt in my mind.”

“C’mon, Doc,” Spear said, impatiently. “Spit it out. What gives?”

“Gentlemen,” Dr. Buttons proclaimed, “there is an asteroid of incredible size heading on a collision course with Earth!”

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