When Dwayne "Glitch" Mitchell wins a contest to visit a NASA facility and view an alien gateway, his life seems complete. But then a terrorist takes the project's lead scientist hostage. In the ensuing chaos, Glitch and Air Force Captain, Scarlet Anderson, are pulled through the gateway.
Trapped on an alien world, Glitch and his friends must find a way home before the planet's inhabitants can eat, crush, drown, or execute them. But even if they can escape in one piece, will they still have a home to come back to?
If you liked the wild adventures of Flash Gordon and The Guardians of the Galaxy, you'll love the fast-paced sci-fi adventure that is Glitch Mitchell and the Unseen Planet.
"The mood is very tongue-in-cheek yet deadly serious at the same time, making it a perfect blend of comedy, action, and drama… The serial style it emulates both matches the roller coaster flying by the seat of your pants feeling while also elevating the story above its source material. It perfectly captures the sense of wonder that Glitch experiences with each new situation he faces"– Chris Fried, The Indie Athenaeum
"Flash Gordon-like serial adventure that takes your breath away, with cliffhanger chapter endings, strange alien life-forms, comedy, death, and destruction."– Amazon Reviewer
"…an exciting sci-fi adventure with more twists and turns than a rollercoaster!"– Amazon Reviewer
Five hours before Dwayne "Glitch" Mitchell died, he was standing outside a hotel, waiting for a bus and wondering if the whole "Win a Trip to NASA to See the Greatest
Scientific Discovery the World Has Ever Made" thing was an elaborate practical joke. He checked his watch for the fifth time and looked down the street. A yellow bus rolled steadily toward him. A handwritten sign propped in the front window read NASA.
Glitch felt a flicker of disappointment. He'd been expecting a blue luxury coach emblazoned with the NASA logo and perhaps a painting of an intrepid spaceman or Neil Armstrong's portrait, not a battered old school bus that leaned heavily to the right. Still, he couldn't be too picky. He was visiting a secret NASA base to see an artifact that might change the world. He was just a science fiction geek. Real scientists would probably kill to be standing where he was, school bus or no school bus.
The decrepit vehicle shuddered to a halt, and the door began opening. It hissed, rattled, and scraped, moving slowly, as though it wasn't entirely convinced it wanted to let Glitch on board.
"I take it you're Dwayne Mitchell?" said the driver, squinting at Glitch.
Glitch nodded, smiling.
The driver frowned at him. "Come on, we're late."
Glitch hurried onto the bus. Distracted by the driver's hostility, Glitch caught his foot on the edge of a step and stumbled forward. He tried to turn the trip into a run up the steps, but there were only three of them, and he just looked even more stupid. The driver sighed and asked Glitch for his ID. Glitch wrestled his driver's license out of his wallet and showed it to the driver. He ticked Glitch's name off of the list on the clipboard he was holding and closed the door.
Glitch blushed. He counted eleven more people on the bus, most of them men and most of them seated in pairs. Only a middle-aged man, who was so excited he looked in danger of wetting himself, sat alone. At the front of the bus sat a dour-faced man and a woman Glitch would never have the courage to sit next to. Both of them were wearing Air Force uniforms.
Several of the passengers frowned at Glitch as he hurried down the bus. He was the youngest person by at least five years. He was wearing black jeans, a battered old jacket, and a Firefly T-shirt that read "Also, I can kill you with my brain."
Anxiety wrapped its arms around Glitch, the feeling familiar, almost welcome. He wasn't one of those people. They were nerds and geeks, just like him, but like a Trekkie at a Star Wars convention, Glitch was out of place. He was a different breed of geek. Sure, they put on their Doctor Who boxers one leg at a time just as he did, but then they put on grown-up clothes over them. Clearly a T-shirt and jeans were not appropriate attire for an exclusive trip to NASA.
Keeping his head down and trying not to trip over anything else, Glitch made his way toward the back of the bus. As he passed the uniformed woman, he glanced at her.
She smiled. "Nice shirt."
Glitch blushed again, mumbled his thanks, and continued by, picking the second-to-last row. He barely had time to throw his bag onto the seat next to his and sit down before the bus moved.
As the vehicle lurched away from the curb, the dour man at the front stood. He was tall and thin faced, in his late fifties, Glitch guessed, with gray hair. He had the imposing air of someone used to getting his own way. He pressed his lips together into a thin line as though this was the last place he wanted to be.
"Good morning," he said. His voice was gruff and tinged with more than a little contempt. "My name is Colonel Vaughn. I'm in charge of the Gateway Project."
Just hearing those words made Glitch smile.
"I'm sure I don't need to remind you of the… unusual nature of your visit today, ladies and gentlemen. You will be the first civilians, outside of NASA employees, to visit the project. I trust that you will treat this occasion with the respect it deserves. Not Twitting or Facebooking or whatever."
Glitch saw a young woman off to his left surreptitiously slip her smartphone out of sight.
Colonel Vaughn gestured toward the woman in the uniform next to him. "Now, I'm going to hand you over to Captain Anderson. She'll be showing you around, answering your questions and so on. Captain Anderson?"
Captain Anderson stood and turned to face them, her smile broad. Her face was much more welcoming than the colonel's. "Thank you, Colonel, and congratulations to all of you." She smiled again then began explaining the logistics of their visit.
Glitch tuned out most of it, paying just enough attention to get the gist of any critical instructions while he scanned his fellow contest winners. They all looked very serious—scientist types mostly, probably professors. Again he considered his T-shirt and cringed inwardly.
By the time Captain Anderson had finished talking and answered the handful of questions the passengers had, they'd arrived at the Rockies. Captain Anderson invited them to come to the front of the bus if they thought of any more questions or needed anything, and sat down.
The people around Glitch chattered away, getting to know each other and speculating on the nature of the gateway. Glitch was content to stare out the window at the dry landscape. He was almost disappointed when the bus turned down a narrow road then bounced and bumped its way through a checkpoint and into a narrow parking lot.
Captain Anderson stood, and the bus's door reluctantly opened. "If you'd like to follow me, please."
The passengers filed out of the bus, the air filled with nervous excitement. After a tall, almost emaciated man checked their IDs and marked their names off on a tablet, four serious-looking men in military police uniforms led them to the security screening area.
It took over an hour and a half for the ten civilians to shuffle through two different scanning machines, have their IDs examined, and get their hands swabbed. Their cameras, phones, watches, and anything else that might conceal some sort of recording device were taken from them for "safekeeping." They'd be returned at the end of the visit. After that, they had to stand in line while, one by one, they approached a security desk to answer half a dozen seemingly random questions about their personal circumstances.
A young man with short black hair, dressed in a sharp black suit, was in the queue in front of Glitch. There seemed to be some issue with his identification, and it had to be checked and rechecked for almost fifteen minutes before he was allowed through the checkpoint. When Glitch stepped forward for his own interrogation, he was just about ready to admit to whatever they cared to accuse him of. Glitch stumbled through the questions, convinced he was about to be thrown out or arrested. When the guard smiled at Glitch and welcomed him to NASA, Glitch almost hugged her in relief.
After yet another ID check, they were handed clip-on plastic passes and led through a small, unassuming door into the NASA facility. They walked down a series of tunnels lit by dozens of portable halogen lamps. The walls were uneven, just rock painted white.
An older man, short and stocky with an eager grin, fell into step beside Glitch. "It's exciting, isn't it?"
"Uh huh," said Glitch.
The man offered his hand. "My name's Winston. I'm a molecular biologist."
Glitch shook the man's hand. It was warm and slightly sweaty. "I'm Glitch. Electro-mechanical engineer."
"Yes, it's a long story."
Winston raised his eyebrows, seemingly waiting for Glitch to tell his story. When he didn't, Winston shrugged. "What was your essay about?"
Glitch struggled to find a few words to describe his essay. He'd been surprised to find out he'd won. He'd thought his rambling descriptions of alien planets and creatures that the Gateway Project might uncover were self-indulgent and trite. Apparently the judges disagreed.
"I… wrote about the things we might find with the gateway."
"Oh." Winston seemed to have been expecting something a little more erudite.
They walked for a few empty seconds until Glitch thought to ask the man about his essay. The man's face lit up, but as he opened his mouth to respond, they reached a door. This one was much bigger than the one they'd entered through, and it looked a lot more solid. In the middle of it was a broad wheel, like an airlock.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said Colonel Vaughn.
A hush fell over the group.
"Before we go onto the site, let me remind you once more that this is an active research facility operating under the watch of the United States Air Force. Try not to wander off and get shot."
A wave of nervous laughter rippled through the group, but Colonel Vaughn didn't look as though he was joking. One of the guards opened the door and ushered them inside.
The room beyond was smaller than Glitch had expected. He'd had visions of a huge hangar lined with dozens of rack-mounted computers covered in flashing lights and dials. He'd imagined row upon row of control consoles manned by NASA scientists in crisp white lab coats. A video display twice the size of a cinema screen would dominate one wall, and the gateway itself would sit on a raised platform in the middle of the room, humming and glowing with energy, eagerly waiting for mankind to unleash its potential.
Instead, he got a cave roughly the size of a basketball court. There was a single control desk, just wide enough to seat a couple of people. A few pieces of equipment lay scattered on the ground nearby. At least there were computers. A bank of them stood along one wall, complete with flashing lights and LED displays showing temperatures and short strings of digits that presumably meant something to the five people in lab coats.
Three of the cave walls had been painted white. The fourth, the one opposite the entrance, was bare rock. Embedded in the rock was a five-sided metal frame slightly larger than a standard door. It looked somewhat coffin shaped. The frame appeared to hold a flat sheet of dull silver metal. There were no markings on the metal or its frame and no door handle, but a small metal box with a bright red light on top sat on the ground nearby. A thick metal cable ran from the back of the box to the lower right-hand side of the frame.
As the visitors shuffled into the room, no one wanting to stray too close to any equipment, one of the lab-coated scientists faced the group. She was an Asian woman in her late forties, with bright, excited eyes and a soft, friendly face. Her chestnut hair was pulled back into a ponytail.
"Ah!" said the woman. "You're finally here. I was beginning to think the colonel had whisked you off to interrogation." She laughed as though she was trying to make it clear she was only joking and that the Air Force hardly ever did that sort of thing. "My name is Doctor Grace Zheng."
Glitch recognized the name. She'd been one of the competition judges. She had a distinctly upper-class English accent, each word clearly enunciated, but an underlying excitement belied her stuffy heritage.
"I'm sure you're all very keen to see the gateway in action, so I won't keep you waiting too long. I would like to congratulate you on your success in the competition. There were so many fantastic entries, it was hard to choose the winners." The doctor beamed at them for a moment as though she expected the group to break into spontaneous applause. When they didn't, she waved them toward the wall with the frame. "Well, come on, don't be shy."
The group made their way across the room, barely able to contain their excitement. Winston, the man who'd spoken to Glitch, was almost running. Glitch ended up standing next to him in the middle of the line of eager visitors, right in front of the gateway. The doctor and Colonel Vaughn were nearby, next to the control panel. As the excited guests jockeyed for position, the colonel motioned at them to step back, insisting they keep a safe, respectful distance from the gateway.
Glitch glanced over his shoulder. Captain Anderson was standing behind him. She smiled, and he gave her what he hoped was a friendly smile in return. Blushing, he hurriedly turned back to the gateway.
Doctor Zheng nodded to one of her colleagues and smiled at the impatient group. The red lamp on the box at the foot of the frame turned green. Glitch felt the hairs on his arms stand up and his chest tighten as energy filled the air. A low-pitched humming grew in intensity until he felt the ground vibrating. The smell of ozone filled the air as the humming was joined by a brief buzzing sound that repeated every few seconds, as though a train of motorcycles was racing through the room at high speed.
The sheet of metal within the frame, if that was what it was, rippled. The shifting was subtle at first, but it grew stronger. Concentric rings emanated from near the top of the frame and rolled across the metal. Another set of rings joined the first, then a third. There was a loud crack, a sharp snap, and blue-white electricity burst into life around the edges of the gateway. The energy leapt from the frame, crawling across the wall like lightning.
The scientists were glued to control panels, but no one seemed overly concerned about what was going on. Apparently, that was how the gateway worked. The electricity writhed and sparked for a couple of minutes. The room began to feel smaller, the air denser. Glitch was starting to get a headache when, with a loud pop, the gateway started to glow, pulsing gently with a silvery light.
The tendrils of energy retreated. As they vanished, the gateway stopped glowing. But where the metal had been dull and lifeless, now it was a silver mirror that rippled occasionally, as though it was a pool of mercury and someone was dropping pebbles into it. The motorcycle buzzing stopped, and the humming was barely noticeable. The oppressive atmosphere in the room faded.
The whole process couldn't have lasted more than three minutes, but it left Glitch, and the rest of the visitors, speechless.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said Doctor Zheng, "I present to you the Gateway to the Stars."
Most of the visitors burst into a round of applause. Someone shouted, "Bravo! Bravo!"
Glitch found himself grinning and clapping along. "Did she just call it a Stargate?" he said, mostly to himself.
He heard a snort of laughter behind him and turned to see Captain Anderson trying to stifle a grin. Glitch looked toward Colonel Vaughn. He was frowning at them both.
"He doesn't seem very happy," whispered Glitch.
"No," said Captain Anderson. "He doesn't approve of the competition—feels this is no place for civilians, no matter how desperate NASA is to sway public opinion in its favor."
The man beside Glitch held his hands over his mouth, his eyes wide and tears forming at their corners. NASA had certainly won over at least one of its visitors. The man in the black suit stood on the other side of Glitch, and he seemed a lot less impressed. He was standing perfectly still, his narrow eyes fixed on the gateway.
Doctor Zheng joined the group, and she was walking down the line, shaking hands and answering questions.
No, it wasn't dangerous as long as you stayed at least six feet away. Yes, they had sent and retrieved probes, but she couldn't discuss their findings at this stage. No, they hadn't sent a human being through it. Yet. And no, they didn't need any volunteers.
Colonel Vaughn trailed behind her, still bristling with resentment.
The tearful man was much more effusive, and it took Doctor Zheng several minutes to extricate her hand from his grip and answer his series of ever more technical questions. Eventually, she managed to shut him up by promising they'd have more time to talk later. Glitch wanted to ask the doctor a question, something smart, but when she appeared in front of him, his mind went blank. He just smiled, carefully shook her hand, and congratulated her.
She moved on to the man in the black suit. Doctor Zheng reached out a hand, a broad smile on her face.
"Congratulations," he said, not taking her hand. "You must be very proud."
The doctor lowered her hand, her smile wavering slightly. "Thank you, I am, but it has been a real team effort."
When the man didn't say anything else, she stepped past him toward a young woman whose excitement was tangible; she danced from one foot to the other as though she couldn't quite believe she was there. Or she needed the bathroom. Doctor Zheng had just turned to talk to her when the man in the black suit lunged forward, swung his arm around her neck, and dragged her backward toward the gateway. Glitch didn't see where the gun came from, but it was small, probably easy to hide, and it looked as if it was made from beige plastic rather than metal.
The man pressed its barrel against the side of the doctor's head and looked around the room. "Everyone stay where you are, or our friend Doctor Zheng won't be making any more scientific breakthroughs."
Glitch felt Captain Anderson lightly touch his back, and he stepped sideways, out of her way.
She moved forward, arms outstretched, palms raised. "Okay, don't do anything rash. Whatever it is you want, we can work it out."
The man in the suit gave a little snort but didn't reply. He just kept pulling Doctor Zheng toward the gateway.
"Don't be a fool," said Colonel Vaughn. "There's nowhere for you to go."
The man in the suit stopped and stared at the colonel, a puzzled look on his face. "Of course there is, Colonel."
It took Glitch a couple of seconds to realize what the man meant, but Anderson was quicker. "No one has gone through the gateway," she said. "We don't know what's on the other side."
The man in the black suit smiled and shook his head slowly. "We both know that's a lie." He lowered his gun and fired three shots at the box at the base of the gateway.
"No!" screamed Doctor Zheng.
She struggled in his grip, trying to free herself, but the man's arm was locked around her neck. The gun clicked, either jammed or empty, and the man threw it away.
Colonel Vaughn barked orders, and the four guards raised their guns, but they were too late. The man in the black suit grabbed the doctor with both arms and propelled them both through the gateway. A loud hissing, like a burst of static, filled the air for a couple of seconds then rapidly faded to nothing, and they were gone.
The humming from the gateway grew louder again, rising in pitch. Its mercurial surface shuddered and bulged, distorting its reflection of the world like a funhouse mirror. Captain Anderson ran toward the gateway.
"Get these damn civilians out of here," shouted the colonel, fighting to make himself heard above the steadily increasing noise from the gateway.
Most of the visitors had taken cover when the firing started; now they ran toward the exit. They gladly followed the military police's commands, happy someone was taking charge of the situation.
Glitch crouched on the floor, doing his best to present a small target for any stray bullets. He watched the captain run toward the gateway and launch herself through it. There was another burst of static, louder and rougher than the first.
"Come on," shouted one of the guards.
Glitch turned and ran toward the exit. He was the last person left in the room—even the guards were standing on the other side of the door. For a terrifying moment, Glitch thought they were going to lock him inside to contain whatever explosion was about to go off.
He was almost at the door, ten feet away at most, when the room gave a sickening lurch. The walls elongated, pulling away from him until he felt as though he was looking down the inside of a straw. The doorway shrank, the guards seemingly being dragged down the straw. Glitch was still running as hard as he could, but the door just got farther and farther away. One of the guards reached out, his arm stretching to comical lengths and the tips of his fingers just inches away.
In desperation, Glitch lunged toward the outstretched hand, but he felt himself stop and hang in mid-air. Then the world snapped back. The doorway and the guards rushed toward him, returning to their normal proportions. But Glitch was traveling backward toward the gateway. He clutched desperately at the control desk, but his hand skipped across the smooth metal.
Seconds later, Glitch hit the gateway.
A deafening wave of static crashed over him. The copper tang of blood filled his mouth, and he felt something warm and wet trickle from his ears.
A vise closed around Glitch's chest, crushing the air from his lungs, and his heart stopped.