Title: Solar Warden
Author: Peter Fuller
Genre: Military Science Fiction
After Air Force pilot Steve Richardson crashes his F-35 in the mountains of Afghanistan, the last thing he sees before blacking out is the UFO that caused his flame out.
And it's coming for him.
Steve didn’t expect to survive his injuries, but he did...to find that the universe, as he understands it, will never be the same again.
Steve is aboard the space carrier SWS Nautilus, flagship of the Solar Warden fleet—a military arm secretly tasked with defending Earth from an extraterrestrial threat he can hardly believe is real.
Asked to join the program, he struggles to master technology half a century beyond his training and experience. But he has to learn it if he’s going to help defend humanity from complete and utter annihilation.
And he has to learn it fast.
The Nautilus is under attack, the enemy vanguard is on its way and the aliens may not be the only ones who want to see him fail.
Sprinting away from the burning F-35, Scarecrow began a frantic search for a firebreak or outcropping that could shelter him from a blast. There was none. Dodging brush and rocks, he raced as fast as he could away from the crash site, despite being weighed down with his flight gear.
Just when he thought he might make it to safety, the feared explosion erupted, launching shrapnel-like debris in all directions. A smaller piece hit him in the back of his HMD, cracking it open and pitching him forward to bounce and flop across the hard desert ground like a rag doll in a gale. While his helmet kept him from being killed instantly, Scarecrow still suffered a massive concussion. He managed to stop rolling and lay face up on the packed earth. Dazed, he fought to remain conscious as flaming debris landed all around him. Unable to move, he was convinced that if he was hit again, it would all be over.
This time providence smiled on him, and he remained unscathed. When the echo of the explosion subsided, Scarecrow’s ears were filled with a loud ringing, augmenting the pain now growing inside his wounded skull.
Struggling to stay conscious, Scarecrow stared up at the sky. As he lay on the cold ground, he knew Bagram Base would be scrambling a quick reaction force (QRF). Unless they arrived soon, he also knew they would find him dead, overwhelmed by the head injury now beckoning him down into a seductive oblivion, or shot by a roving Taliban patrol.
Either way, he could no longer move, even if he wanted to. For the first time in his life, his fate was in the hands of others.
Lying on the ground, Scarecrow drifted in and out of consciousness. He thought of family. His father was already gone – his mother was in an assisted living facility enduring her final days. His sister hated him, but despite her best efforts, her two pre-teen daughters adored their dashing Air Force uncle. He would miss those precocious girls.
His thoughts drifted next to his crew chief and his 18-month old daughter, Brittany. Disappointment filled his fading consciousness, because now he would never know what her first word to her father would be.
Scarecrow thought about his life. The “flashing before your eyes” you were supposed to experience just before you died. Only disjointed failures played out in his mind. His whole life had been an ongoing attempt to protect people. That was why he joined the Air Force – to protect his loved ones and his country from their enemies. However, as he relived the key events of his life in his injured mind, he realized he’d failed to achieve his lifegoal. He thought of Sam. Of Chrissy. Both disasters of his own making. Add to that the loss of a wingman, not to mention the failure of this current mission. Other pilots would have to take up the slack and complete it. The mess he would leave behind was much larger than the burning debris field surrounding him.
Scarecrow rejected the survival instinct screaming at him to fight to stay alive. His body relaxed. It was better this way. Just let go – no more mistakes, no more failures. No more Sam’s, no more Chrissies, no more Retros, no more intact Tallie weapons’ caches. The world would be better off without him. Hopefully, on the other side there would be no more guilt, no more life and death responsibilities. He longed to be free from the overwhelming remorse that had haunted him for so long.
The irony wasn’t lost on him. Even though he was a combat pilot, Scarecrow hadn’t thought much about death. At least not about his own death. This was not the way he imagined he would die. He figured he would be shot out of the sky in a blaze of glory, his demise instantaneous. No time to think about anything. Yet here he was, lying flat on his back in northern Afghanistan, unable to move, the pungent odor of hawthorn and burning jet fuel stinging his nostrils as the first rays of the morning rose above the eastern peaks, setting flight to the stars above.
Though Scarecrow was no longer fighting to remain conscious, his ears still rang, and his head felt like it would explode. He took one last look up at the sky that had been his refuge and home for so many years before casting himself into the arms of the angels who would convey him to his eternal reward. But like everything else today, that didn’t go as planned, either. In fact, he was convinced he must be hallucinating.
In the sky above him, a shadowy shape appeared from nowhere. Unlike angels with white wings illuminated by the Shekinah glory of God, this angel, if that’s what it was, was dark. Black. Triangular. Silhouetted against the night’s fading stars, it had a white light at each of its three outer points and a larger red light in the center.
That’s got to be the most unusual angel anyone has ever seen. Perhaps I’m not going up. Maybe I’m headed in the other direction. Fitting, considering the failure that was my life.
It hovered more than 50 feet in the air, spinning ever so slowly. Even though he knew it was too far away, he stretched a hand toward it. Then, as his lids became too heavy and he lost his battle to keep his eyes open, Scarecrow sank into a state of unconscious bliss, his arm collapsing over his chest.
Above him, the dark, triangular angel proceeded to descend.
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Share a holiday family tradition:
On Christmas morning, before we open any gifts, my family gathers around the Christmas tree and we read the story of the first Christmas from the Bible. This helps us to put the holiday into its proper perspective, and makes our giving to each other more meaningful as we ponder the gift that God gave to us on that morning two thousand years ago.
Why is your featured book perfect to get readers in the holiday mood:
That’s a tough one. Military science fiction doesn’t seem to dovetail very well with the message of Christmas. However, my story is about people and their relationships with each other. It’s about reconciliation and forgiveness, two core elements of the Christmas story. God sent His Son to earth to take the penalty for our sins upon Himself, so that we could be reconciled to Him, and receive forgiveness for our sins. This message is for everyone, regardless of who they are. As Linus once said, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
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