New Project: Lights and Shadows

I’ve never been one to stay idle for too long. Let’s face it, a writer who isn’t writing isn’t much of a writer. That being said, I went into my Idea Folder and dug out a new project to work on.

This project is Lights and Shadows, a story that shares the same universe with Parallax, but with a different set of characters. While Parallax’s cast deals mostly with Space, L&S is ground-based, meaning that these characters spend the majority of their time down on planets chasing bad guys and fighting whatever monsters are unlucky enough to cross their path.

Here is the synopsis for L&S. Enjoy:

ZACK MOREAU is a cop, a cop whose beat takes him all over the Alliance. He’s bold, he’s experienced, and he gets the job done, though his methods often give his bosses in the Stellar Alliance quite a bit of heartburn. However, times are changing at the Alliance Investigative Service and he finds himself paired with an attractive and brainy partner, MARLA FINCH, who brings a new dynamic to his solo career and with over thirty worlds in his jurisdiction, that extra layer is going to come in handy. Finch is young and new to the field but her enthusiasm and optimism is infectious and though they get off to a rocky start, she and Moreau develop a working relationship that makes them an unbeatable combination.

Their first assignment together takes them to Planet Tarson near the start of the planet’s annual Sandstorm Season, where rolling sand storms make travel and commerce difficult to both the Alliance Settlements and the native Tarsonian population. The storms are a fact of life on Tarson but when Research Outpost 19 goes silent during preparations, the AIS Office on Conrad Station is contacted for assistance.

Moreau and Finch are reluctantly dispatched to investigate Outpost 19 and after a contentious briefing with the settlement’s Administrator, they are provided with equipment and transportation to travel to Outpost 19. Moreau has some history with Tarson from the War with the Locknar Hegemony and when the alien leader, KRAG UDULA, is mentioned, he expressed mixed emotions over a reunion.

When they arrive at Outpost 19, they find a station under lockdown and evidence of a conflict but no clear cut explanation of what killed the skeleton crew assigned to secure the facility. Shortly after starting their investigation, a rogue storm strikes the facility, knocking their personnel carrier out of commission and forcing them to take up temporary residence until they can call for help.

Unbeknownst to them, Alliance Intelligence Agent CARTER STEIN has been watching their progress in secret and though his agenda parallels theirs, his mission is decidedly different. He’s a curator of secrets and his job is to keep them protected, even if it jeopardizes Moreau and Finch’s investigation. When they stumble upon the first clues to Project Shattered Glass, Stein takes it upon himself to go to the facility personally.

Moreau and Finch continue to piece together the events leading to the Outpost’s blackout despite several life threatening brushes with a hologram that appears to learn from every encounter. The records they recover from the outpost computers area heavily encrypted but Finch’s skill allows them to read several references to Project Shattered Glass and the arrival of Doctor GEMINA BURKE, a noted physicist and AI specialist with a checkered past. Burke’s story would have ended there except for the war with the Locknar Hegemony pressed her into service developing weapons that were later condemned for being exceptionally cruel to their targets. Burke escaped prosecution for war crimes with the help of Alliance Intelligence and dropped off the collective radar to pursue black projects under their supervision.

Their efforts with the computers lead them to the main Research Lab where they discover Dr. Burke and PIERCE MONROE in stasis pods and unharmed by the recent carnage. Lieutenant Monroe is grateful for the rescue but like Burke, he is tight lipped about what happened. While he displays the classic symptoms of situational shock, Moreau isn’t buying his story of an accident and is more determined to get to the truth of the matter. Before they can evacuate the facility, a ground quake triggered by the sand storms topside knock all their repairs offline and they are forced to find an alternate way out.

The group now leaves the outpost after discovering an excavated underground tunnel. At first, salvation appears at hand using the tunnel’s ventilation shaft until the holographic being reappears as a fully formed Alliance soldier, who identifies itself as JOSHUA BLUE-24. Moreau doesn’t spot the fake until it refuses to recognize his AIS credentials and attacks. A running gun battle ensues, forcing the group to escape down the opposite end of the excavated tunnel.

The hologram pursues them only to stop and glare as they cross to a catwalk structure that overlooks an ancient alien city that extends to the horizon. They marvel at its tall crystal spires, its extensive road networks but the eerie quiet that blankets the area forces Moreau to comment that not only was the city old but something bad happened here based on damaged vehicles and buildings he observes while the group travels toward a golden light that has appeared over the tallest building, an obelisk shaped tower ornately decorated with Tarsonian symbols. Following the light to its source, they explore the building and discover evidence that Burke and Monroe had been there before, complicating their story of an accident gone wrong. When Moreau presses them, the two scientists explain that the city was discovered during a routine expansion of the outpost facilities but a complete exploration had been suspended due to Sandstorm Season. Finch pulls Moreau to the side for a private talk and tells him that the equipment she’s seen is more than typical archaeological fare. Moreau agrees and tells her to find out everything she can while he examines a second staircase carved into the rock that he had noticed from the catwalk. He notes a cleverly hidden exit hidden in the rock face, its presence betrayed by a sunburst design topped by a small clear crystal. His first attempts fail at activating the exit so he returns to the makeshift encampment in the golden tower.

Moreau returns to a three way shouting match between Burke, Monroe and Finch. Once he establishes order, he learns that while Finch was studying the equipment that Monroe had activated an alien device that was believed to be producing a dampening field that was preventing communications to the outside world. He remembers the hologram stopping just outside the city and surmises that there must have been remote holographic projectors planted in the tunnel and that the dampening field had blocked further passage. Attempts to reengage the field fails and he begins ordering the main entrance be fortified against attack. Finch pulls him to the side and informs him that she discovered that a key piece of equipment that that the Alliance was studying is capable of transferring neural energy into special storage crystals. But what was the Alliance doing with it? Finch also found another reference to Project Shattered Glass and is convinced that the device is a crucial clue.

Further investigation of the tower reveals an archive of Tarsonian history dating back thousands of years. Records of war and devastation had forced the last of the native population to build a massive city underground where they hoped to wait out the damage they had wrought. However, the damage had shifted the planet’s original orbit and changed the weather patterns. The stress of living underground caused factions to form and a civil war to erupt, forcing the losers to be exiled to the surface. They discover that the sunburst emblems are locking mechanisms designed to keep the losers out.

Finch puts together the final pieces of Project Shattered Glass and realizes that Alliance Intelligence was trying to create holographic soldiers as a secondary security force for remote bases. The discovery of an old AI template left over from Earth’s AI Rebellion provides the flaw in their experiments. The anti-human template was unstable by its very nature, causing the holograms to be homicidal and virtually uncontrollable.

Before Burke and Monroe can be confronted, Joshua Blue-24 attacks the encampment, forcing a hasty defense and Monroe heroically sacrificing himself in order to give Burke, Moreau and Finch time to escape to the stairwell. Monroe sets off an explosion that delays Joshua and allows the hidden exit to be opened. The survivors escape to a tunnel that leads to a chamber inside the mountain.

The chamber was well lit and bore similar decorations to the city but before they could get their bearings, they are set upon by the Tarsonian inhabitants, led by their leader, KRAG UDULA. The Tarsonians are tall and grey skinned with only a brightly colored Mohawk hair fringe as a means of determining individual differences. Wearing a copy of the sunburst emblem around his neck as a symbol of his leadership rank, Udula is a proud member of his race and he is not pleased with seeing humans in his home. However, a contentious argument with Moreau soon convinces him to shelter them until arrangements can be made to return them to the Alliance Settlements. Udula’s opponents, KORAL and DOHREN do not agree and a new confrontation breaks out between the three aliens.

Joshua Blue-24 breaks through the doorway and attacks the encampment. The human and alien weapons used against him appear to be ineffective until a flash from Udula’s sunburst dissipates the hologram and the threat appears to be over. The aliens want retaliation against the humans until Moreau and Udula come to a compromise, agreeing to return to the city, and restore the dampening field that originally kept Joshua at bay before returning to the outpost and shutting down the Shattered Glass experiment down for good. Udula’s advisers prevent him from joining the expedition and Koral refuses to go but volunteers Dohren to go in his place. After a brief but guarded repast, the group gathers itself up and reenters the tunnel.

They return to the city and find that the dampening field generator cannot be reactivated due to lack of power from the ancient power sources. After Joshua reappears, kills Dohren and threatens Burke, Finch and Moreau devise an improvised weapon to use against Joshua Blue-24. They manage to drive off the hologram but questions still remain. Why is the hologram still appearing after they had shut down the Shattered Glass equipment? After a fierce debate, the decision is made to return to the outpost and put an end to the threat once and for all. Burke is reluctant to return but firm persuasion by Udula and some of his warriors forces her to reveal that a hidden backup system was installed in one of the engineering areas and set to trigger if the main projector controller was shut down without proper authorization. Another attack by Joshua is driven off, cementing the decision to return to the outpost.

The makeshift army returns to a quiet outpost and begins their search for the backup projector controller. With Udula’s help, the blocked areas are cleared until the controller is located. Burke tries to interfere with the shutdown and is batted aside when Joshua appears and attacks the group. A desperate move by Finch ends the encounter by transferring the template from the controller into a portable data storage unit. Moreau places Burke in restraints and a messenger is dispatched to bring Koral to the outpost. Later, Moreau and the two alien leaders confer on the status of the city and they agree on formally charging Burke with the crime of mass murder.

The storms abate long enough for repairs to be made to the personnel carrier but when Burke is being led to it for transport, she manages to break her restraints and holds them at bay with a small detonator keyed to explosives hidden on her person. She threatens to blow herself and everyone around her up unless she is provided with a way off the planet. However, when Finch challenges her, the detonator fails to go off. Finch confirms that she detected the wireless signals from the device and sent a canceling wave from her tablet to render the transceiver useless. Burke is re-restrained and the personnel carrier heads back to the Alliance Settlement.

As they ride back, Burke pleads with Moreau for his protection, claiming that her knowledge of Alliance Black Projects makes her very valuable and she’s willing to cut a deal if Moreau doesn’t turn her over to Stein. When Moreau asks about Stein’s involvement, she refuses to say anything more unless Moreau agrees to take her off the planet and to a secure cell at Conrad Station. Before Moreau can agree, an escort converges on the carrier and accompanies them the final way to the Settlement, where Burke is taken away under Militia guard. When Moreau protests, Stein appears and informs him that Burke is a special case and he has been assigned to take personal control of the situation.

The next day, Moreau and Finch, attend a ceremony inaugurating the opening of the Tarsonian and the signing of a new agreement between Blankenship and the new Co-Rulers of the Tarsonian Nation headed by Udula and Koral. The new rulers demonstrate their good faith by unveiling an ancient yet untested device they discovered in the city. The device is activated and for the first time in thousands of years, the planet’s weather systems are adjusted to counteract the sand storms, ending Sand Storm Season forever.

Moreau and Finch watch as the prison shuttle with Burke and Stein lifts off. Finch tries to console Moreau to have faith in the Alliance legal system. Moreau doesn’t agree but there’s work to do back at Conrad Station. They turn and head to their shuttle.

Stein congratulates Burke on her progress with Shattered Glass but she has become a liability and must be “retired” for the good of the Alliance. After he gives her a friendly pat on the shoulder, she notices the needle on his ring and find she cannot speak. He speaks gently to her and explains how the poison he administered to her was fast acting, painless and after the bomb he planted on the shuttle explodes, there won’t be any trace of her left to fill a teacup. With a small wave, he retrieves the materials recovered from the outpost and follows the flight crew to the escape pods.

Two days later, Moreau and Finch are relaxing at Conrad Station when the report of Burke’s shuttle accident reaches their screens. Neither believes the accident story but a new case diverts their attention.

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