What is your name?
The Universal Protectors named me “Nakio Atana” when they rescued me at fifteen. I do not remember my name before that time.
I am a Technical Integrations Specialist and code-named “Tango Sierra One One.” I am also “Commander” to the twenty-eight sergeants of Sand Base Eight and “Katana” to my Command.
What do you look like?
I’m 5’8” (1.72meters) tall with deep red hair and blue eyes. I always wear a rust red leather uniform to hide the scars covering my mocha skin. I’m a bit higher in muscle mass than most female soldiers. I’m told it’s genetic.
Where are you today, and what are you doing?
I am a shepherd for the Universal Protectors which keeps the people of Earth safe, but am on mandatory “restoration” at my apartment. I do not like stalling my progress in capturing Kronos rebels or sitting in the silence where voices from my past can taunt me. But my wristband’s Comprehensive Endocrine and Neurotransmitter Analyzer (CENA) function has determined I need restoration. Sometimes, I wish I hadn’t programmed the systems to be so sensitive.
Describe the outside of your home.
My apartment above Sand Base Eight, where I command, is a second story glass and steel box at the edge of a rebuilding city in the Nilsa Sand District. Nilsa is in an area above where the Nile used to have tributaries. The city is a jagged oasis the surrounding dunes continually try to wash away. The Three Hundred Year War caused extreme climate change and shifted a lot of weather patterns.
I often stay at Home Station, my organization’s center of operations, hidden below the Pacific Ocean’s surface. Dolphins swim by the windows of the lunchrooms. Transports rush in and out of the main hangars built into the island as waves crash into the rocky cliffs.
Space Station Hope is another home, on the moon. Commander Lee and I are well acquainted. I trained many of his recruits when I was younger. It is cold up there, in space. I hate looking out at the stars like pinpricks in the black or endless night. Someone up there took me from Earth when I was five.
Earth is my true home. All of it. It’s in our Shepherd’s Oath.
You come face to face with your worst enemy. How do you react?
Interrogate. Torture. Execute. Krage, the leader of the Kronos rebels uses women and children as body shields. He poisons his bullets. He wants the world in chaos so the people will bend to him for supplies and peace.
I bow to no one who harms others.
Information is always useful. Since Krage has tortured innocents and fellow shepherds alike, by the standards of the 2800s I am legally allowed to torture him. Because he has killed, I am authorized to end his life. It is the way we balance all things.
Prior punishments were not severe enough to deter crime. Now we have little crime. The judges were not impartial. Now we are.
You keep a photo album of memories from your lifetime. If you could only keep one photo, which one would that be?
Photo albums are not things permitted to shepherds unless for the sole task of working an assignment. Paper is nearly obsolete. But if I could have one photo, I would wish for one of my family, together. My father died before I met him. My little brother was a baby when I was taken. I worry my mother and brother died that day.
I wish I had a way to remember them.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I prefer not to sleep at all. The broken memories are too much during rest. I am awake at all hours, but primarily the dark ones. My eyes are more adjusted to the shadows. I feel...safer there than in the light. I can watch others without being seen. I get stared at a lot. Scars are like eye-magnets. The sunlight makes it worse. There are also fewer people up at night, so I can work my shifts in peace. Besides, most of my targets are active in the middle of the night.
A police officer stops you for a minor violation. What violation is that and how do you react?
I am the police. But UP’s Command still controls my life. I don’t work well with other teams and have had several shepherds die under my command—only the ones who wouldn’t listen. I do not make mistakes. I just need shepherds that don’t hesitate. So Command ruled me an “Independent,” and I am no longer permitted the usual assignments with teams. I’m a solo act. And I don’t mind one bit.
What is your favorite piece of clothing?
All I own are my uniforms. I do not own pajamas or street clothes. I appreciate my corset the most. It matches my leather jacket and pants, but is specially designed to help with the pain. It stabilizes my spine without looking like a brace. I do not need any more pain or attention from others.
Do you have any phobias? What are they and how intense are they? How have they impacted your life?
I have two phobias. The first is that I will never remember who I was from before the crash that took my memory at fifteen. I have pieces, nothing more. It’s infuriating and frightening to be in control of everything but myself. I cannot even remember my mother’s face.
The second is being trapped in a cage I cannot breathe in, like a ship with no oxygen or an underwater dunk tank chute for accessing Home Station’s exterior. For that matter, swimming pools.
I suppose I’m lucky to be so busy with work that I do not have time to consider my fears. I’m just too busy. There are more important things to address. Plus, all shepherds are on serum to keep our emotions and reactions regulated. Serum takes the edge off of everything. Except, I don’t need it. I’m the only one of almost 100,000 of us.
Open your wallet, purse, or briefcase. What do you find?
No one in our century owns wallets or purses that I know of. We all have chips embedded in our wrists with all the data necessary to communicate our worth. Shepherds have additional wristbands which contain all of our teams, assignments, work notes, etc. Mine also contains designs I’m working on for transport modifications and the like.
I do carry one special tool, a hooked blade, against my low back. I cannot explain my need for it except that there is something familiar and comforting about the menacing curve of the metal and the way the handle balances perfectly in my palm. It calms me.
You move into a new home. What's the first thing you buy for it?
UP provides most things, but not the food in our residences. I love cheese and Marusa tea. Those are the first things I pick up.
How do you feel about mortality?
I’ve died more times than I have fingers and toes. (I haven’t lost any.) My Instructor, Rio, said there’s something different about me, like an instinct that won’t let me die. He says Command lies about saving me so I don’t think I’m different. I know better. There’s something important I still have to do. I can’t die yet. It isn’t my time. But when it comes, I’ll be grateful for the rest.
What scares you?
Losing control of my body. When I was abducted, they did tests on me, took away my ability to consciously move and breathe. I can push through pain and exhaustion to fight, not numbness... not the loss of sensation as if my body is gone. I know it too well.
How would your parents describe you?
Unsure. All shepherds are orphans. I hope they’d be proud of me. My father was in something my mother called the Vioran Army. I couldn’t find any information on it in Human Cataloging databases. I am a soldier now. But I actually think she’d be disappointed. Shepherds are not permitted families or friends. If there is one thing I do remember about her, it was that she was a gentle person.
The other shepherds use the terms “merciless” and “apathetic” behind my back when they think I can’t hear them. I guess I’m like my father.
What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed at night?
My first instructor, Sensei, taught me to start off thinking about a place I enjoy or picturing a blank gray screen—if I’m feeling overwhelmed. Meditation is my preferred method of rest.
Who is your best friend?
Shepherds do not have friends. I don’t even have a co-shepherd like most. Frank has been my assigned residence guard for many years. I think he understands me the most. He respects my privacy and always seems to know what I need him to do before I request it. I trust him to relay orders. By all standard definitions of friends: understanding, well-acquainted, respectful, trustworthy, I believe he would be my friend if we were not bound by law to relationship isolation.
Who is your worst enemy?
Most shepherds would say Krage of Kronos. I know there is something far more evil in the stars, something Command has lied about to protect the people of Earth. But as I’m the only remaining survivor of the rescue mission, they only have to keep me silent. It’s not hard. I don’t like talking.
Are you faith-oriented?
No. Shepherds aren’t permitted religion. But I do not believe in magic, gods, or an afterlife. I see the hungry children and fighting villages in this life. I work to protect them in the present.
Are you married or in a relationship?
Shepherds aren’t permitted relationships. We are bound by oath to our jobs.
Do you have children?
I do not think so. I do not believe I had any prior to age fifteen. Nurse Orley tells me I could not have any now, if it was permitted, anyway. I was injured on the ship that took me. I do not remember how, only that I was not alone. Someone else knows.
Where is your favorite hangout?
There is an island in the Pacific, not on maps, that was given to those of us from the rescue as a place of peace to meditate away from society and work. It has a mountain that almost always has a patch of snow. A river runs through the forests and meadows and pours off of the cliffs in white sheets. I enjoy swimming in the warm saltwater there with the sea urchins and other oddities. They make me feel like less of an outcast.
You are at the zoo. What is your favorite animal?
Zoos no longer exist in our century. Some of the richer families have exotic pets, but all other animals are wild. We are more concerned with saving humanity.
I admit, I sometimes encounter animals on missions. They usually pause and stare for a breath but always seem to conclude I’m no threat and wander off.
On one assassination mission in Mountain Zone Forty-seven, I encountered a black wolf that stood almost my height. We did the usual stare-down, and then he sauntered closer. I let him for a reason I can’t explain. He sniffed my pack, licked my face a few times, and then continued past me into the snowy night. Sometimes, I wonder where he is.
You just woke up to find that war has been declared. What’s the first thing you would do?
Get the people of the city underground in the bunkers. Assess damages from Sand Base Eight. Report to Command in Home Station, and then await further orders.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A soldier, like my father, until I was abducted. Then I just wanted to survive, to defy my captors, to escape and find freedom. UP gave me a chance to do both when they rescued me.
If there was one thing you could change about yourself, what would that be?
I’m told I take my job and life too seriously. But I’ve seen things others wouldn’t believe unless they were there. I am precise, accurate, timely, innovative, and ultimately effective because of what I’ve been through. My scars are proof of my experience level. So I have to say that I need to be more understanding when it comes to younger shepherds and civilians. It’s just hard for me to be sensitive when my life has been about desensitization for the purpose of work and survival.
I also wish I understood what family was like: to be accepted and loved just because of what we are... and to know what a hug feels like. I can’t remember ever sharing such an intimate embrace.
Thanks for listening. If you have further questions, pick up a copy of Stellar Fusion, or email our reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have to prep my chute for a night jump. May the stars guide you home.
About the Book
Title: STELLAR FUSION
Author: E.L. Strife
Author: E.L. Strife
Earth, still patching itself together from the 300 Years War, is severely unprepared and outnumbered when the invasion hits. Their only hope is a small team of soldiers on a suicide mission to infiltrate the mothership and relay critical defense information home.
The last survivor of the first encounter can't explain why she knows what she does. Sergeant Nakio Atana is the Universal Protectors’ elite assassin and holds within a spark of unimaginable power. But a daring escape from an enemy ship knocked the first fifteen years of her life into darkness, leaving her with only inexplicable apathy and technical knowledge beyond Earth’s evolution.
What she is can change their future.
Sergeant Bennett must guard her with his life.
Together, Atana and Bennett lead the team in hopes her knowledge, and his crew’s skills, will render them a soft spot in the alien armor. What they find when they reach the mothership is entirely unexpected. The truth they uncover will challenge the code they live by and their concepts of the power within.
“Stellar Fusion is the work of a new aspiring writer with a penchant for exploring possibilities of future life for humankind. Good versus evil, loyalty, truth, integrity, and the power of strength, love, and hope are all masterfully interwoven into this inaugural novel by E.L. Strife. With the age-old theme of making the world a better place, Strife casts her characters in the spotlight as they embrace survival on the planet. Stellar Fusion offers readers an opportunity to look to the future and reflect on what is most important to ensure the happiness, success, and survival of the human race.”
“Great book. Would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fast-paced sci-fi action with moments that slow to profoundly grab your heart and draw you into the characters’ lives. Looking forward to reading book 2 when it’s released.”
Order Your Copy
Amazon → https://amzn.to/2PfzdPQ
About the Author
"I like to question everything, figure out how things work, and do tasks myself. Experiencing new things is fun but also helps with writing raw and genuine stories. And I'm always trying to push my comfort zones."
Strife likes the rumble of her project car's 350-ci V8. She enjoys the rush of snowboarding and riding ATVs on the dunes. But nothing brings her more solace than camping in the mountains where the stars are their brightest.
Strife enjoys connecting with readers and welcomes all feedback and questions.