This is a science fiction story I wrote for fun in 2002 and I didn't have a working spell-checker at the time, so please forgive the grammer and errors. The story is pretty long (about equal to 82 pages of a paperback novel) and is set around 1,400 years in the future. Originally I posted this on a seperate blog, but having upgraded JRC-1138 I have now moved it here
“Contact“ the computer said.
The lieutenant looked across the cabin as the ensign opened up the field array. The system graphics rolled through reality as his sens lifted the uplink into his mind.
“Number three?” the captain’s voice whispered, ghost like. He licked his lips, concentrating on the input, closing his eyes to get a better look.
A bright red triangle, trailing data had appeared over the second planet, some ninety AU´s from the ship.
“Unidentified track“ he reported, “in orbit around the second planet.
“Emission is in the green“ the ensign said softly.
The lieutenant opened his eyes to look at his screens.
“my plates are all green“ he confirmed.
For several minutes no one spoke, as the data flowed through their minds and the ship waited.
On her bridge, the captain hung motionless, watching the stars. To one side, two civilians, scientists, waited nervously, whispering to each other.
The pilot twisted her head.
“Follow the prescribed course, all hands! Prepare for evasive action. Com! Relay the data to Cabot“
Her secondary engines ignited and the Imperial Star Ship Livia Drusilla began to accelerate. Slowly at first then with ever increasing speed, she began to leave the influence of the fourteenth planet in the system and forty thousand kilometres behind her, her companion, the Cabot began to recall her probes and robotmen.
As she moved, the Livia Drusilla opened her flanks and four smaller drone ships dropped away to take up defensive positions around her.
The Livia Drusilla was an Apollo class cruiser, carrying fifty humans from the Sol system. Its mission was simple, to escort the Imperial science ship Cabot to the Parker system.
Two jump probes had already been sent to this system, the first arriving in 3292, and the second in 3312. Neither was heard from again.
When the first probe failed to return, the assumption was that it had met with an accident. This happened to about one in every fifty missions, as uncharted systems could be difficult to enter, with all manner of debris surrounding them, and an AI controlled jump probe was vulnerable to a virgin system. Indeed all ships were, which was why the first probes sent to explore new star systems were always unmanned.
When the second probe also disappeared after relaying back its initial transponder broadcast, questions began to be asked. Jump probes were only ever cheap when some one else was paying for them, and the Imperial Science Institute was not the richest of Imperial organs. The committee charged with the investigations of unexplored systems, therefore recommended a military expedition to investigate. This left the problem with the armed forces, who were the only ones equipped to deal with such matters anyway, and passed on the costs of an initial exploration as well.
The committee which ran the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence programme got very excited and demanded representation which the navy board disliked, but passed on to the chiefs of staff to decide.
The joint chiefs, non the wiser after having read the ISI's report, as well as the single secret intelligence report, the SETI recommendations and the Navy's own Science Committee's advice, debated amongst themselves at their annual State Of The Empire conference. The problem came to rest on a single point. They had to go, the Presidium ordered it, as well as the fact that the ISI had made it impossible to avoid going by quoting the Imperial Constitution, which clearly stated that extra terrestrial intelligence was interesting and should always be looked into.
The admirals sitting around the table nursing their budgets, were supremely indifferent to extra terrestrial intelligence, especially when the cost of investigation was to be deducted from their own fleet’s resources. The Grand Admiral simply shook her head and passed the matter to open debate. Second Sol pointed out that he was stretched across thirty two light years, and had no personnel to spare. Third Sol was out of the question as he was on the far side of the Paya system, over a thousand light years away, and not even present at the meeting. Every one knew that only first Sol had enough ships to comfortably take on the mission, but the Grand Admiral was their direct superior, so no one cared to mention this fact.Instead the buck was passed to the first Martian fleet, he scowled and looked at second Mars, but she was looking back with a raised eyebrow. They both knew she hadn't any available ships as he had already over burdened her this year. Her fleet was fully engaged.
First Mars sighed and accepted the order. Small smiles broke out around the table at his discomfort, and the agenda moved on to lunch. Later, as he chewed his lasagne in the dining hall, first Mars looked over his status chart. His mind rested on the name Captain Fatima Robinson. Commander of the Livia Drusilla. He had a general dislike for Arabs and a particular dislike for this Arab, so it was with a tight smile he posted her new orders.
There was always a silver lining if you just looked hard enough.
“D4 reports a metallic mass at seventeen MK“
Captain Robinson turned to glance at her board as the data popped up. Metallic mass. No emissions. Cold.
Another appeared, then another. Soon there were close to a thousand tracks, strung out in a long line, twelve million kilometres from end to end.
“Wreck?” she asked the lieutenant.
“I think your right Ma am, it could be one of the jump probes. The dispersion pattern is about right“.
“Let D4 take a closer look “
Her commander’s insistence on terming her as an Arab was infuriating. She had nothing what so ever against Arabs, but captain Fatima Robinson's family were ethnically British Indian. She had lived her life before joining the Imperial Navy in a sheltered community on Earth and it had never occurred to her that there would be such discrimination, but when she graduated to find her self the only ethnic British Indian officer in the entire fleet, she began to notice all the small differences the world kept putting in her way. Like this mission. It was exactly the sort of thing she had joined the navy for. Travelling far beyond the boundaries of human space to explore new systems. Yet she knew that most of the other captains would have regarded such a mission as an insult. She felt alive out here on the edge.
“D4 confirms“ the lieutenant’s voice interrupted the quiet chatter of the civilians behind her.
The drones report came up on a secondary screen before her. The wreckage was that of the second jump probe. And it appeared to have been lasered. Optics confirmed this, showing several heat blisters on the tumbling wreck.
The Livia Drusilla was still accelerating, and still seventy-two AU from the second planet. Even so the captain felt it was probably a good idea to go to alert status. She relayed the command to the ships primary AI and the lighting toned into a bright amber.
“Captain?“ the older of the two civilians spoke. She turned her command module to keep them in the corner of her eye.
“Yes Mr. Tanner?”
“What is happening now?” he leaned forward to speak quietly, “ are we going into battle?”.
The other scientist, a woman in late middle age, stared at her as if she had threatened them with violence. Fatima Robinson kept her face as neutral as possible. She had already had a run in with this woman on the nature of any possible contact.
“No sir, we are merely taking precautions so we don’t end up like that lasered wreck back there “
“but..“ began the woman.
“we have no evidence to suggest we are dealing with aliens here, this could have been the work of humans“ Captain Robinson added.
“Out here?“ Tanner smiled politely.
“There are many human settlements outside the core systems. Many people wish to start up for themselves and given the possibility, do so“ she replied,“ all it takes is a fair sized ship with jump capability“
“Why would they destroy two jump probes then?” he asked.
She broke away to examine a screen, pondering just that. Why indeed? They must understand that this would bring more attention to them than if they had simply just been discovered. Perhaps there were aliens here, and she would be the captain who found them. She smiled to her self, but some how the knot of tension that was sitting in her stomach refused to be persuaded.
The two civilians looked as if they shared her doubts. Tanner was watching her, whilst his companion Dr Holland, was darting her eyes from one screen to another. The watch was due to change over, so she sensed number two and asked her to take over. Sliding from her command module, after it had opened up like a banana, she stretched in the low gravity, and motioned to the hatch.
“It will take us about twelve hours to get within decent sensor range, so we have plenty of time. Would you like to join me for some lunch?”
Tanner smiled, his face opening like a light.
“I’d be delighted“ he turned to Dr Holland, “Drue?”“Yes that would be very nice “ she toned, still fixing her attention on the wall screens.
When the Livia Drusilla was only four AU´s from the second planet, fourteen hours later, the first long range bioscans began to pick up detailed information on the second planet. It was an e world. A planet with an equally wet and dry atmosphere, with a tolerable atmosphere for the human biology. When this information became common knowledge, it turned the quiet military atmosphere on board into something close to a party. Even the captain began to smile and laugh for no apparant reason the two scientists could understand. Tanner thought about this for a while then remembered that the crew of a space ship that discovered an e world, had the rights of discovery, they almost oened it, but not quite. This meant that they were allowed to sell the rights on behalf of man kind, either to the imperial administration, for a set fee, or if the empire was not interested in the planet, to the commercial sector. A planet in the Parker system was far beyond the boundry of human space and would not fetch the billions other such planets had, but the crew were in for a large bonus after they returned to Mars. It was with a start that he realised; he and Drue were also entitled to a share, as they were assigned to the ship. In an undertone he questioned the captain on this and she nodded happily.
“Four years ago, another ship discovered an e world even further out than this one and they sold the rights to colony administrator for ninety million credits!“
“Ninety million credits“ he gasped. Drue turned sharply to stare at him.
He quickly told her, and she stared in shock at him.
“Do you mean to tell me that we are rich ?” she demanded. He nodded enthusiastically.
“Unless we all get lasered like that wreck“ she heard the pilot mutter.
The smug smile on the captains face vanished, and she opened her mouth to say something, then turned sharply to her screens, her eyes glazing over.
The two forward drone ships were almost a full AU ahead of the Livia Drusilla. As they sped through the cold void, they scanned all around them in constantly changing patterns and frequencies, chattering to each other in close hyper wave emissions as they went. Suddenly D1 detected a new radio source close to their target area. Radiation spectoscope analysis was onto it at once and it hailed the Livia Drusilla, with its findings.
D2 brought all its sensors to bear and found nothing. It muttered this to D1 who passed back a recording of the brief emission, and together they worried the strange broadcast, into millions of bytes of data. No patttern. Not even a noise signature. D2 thought of a possibile and asked the Livia Drusilla.
“What kind of power source ?” asked the distant star ship.
The captain turned back to the two scientists, and motioned to a flat screen where numbers were dropping into place.
“Radio ?“ the lieutenant said to himself. “Heat, or reflected solar radiation“
“were getting he figures now“ replied the com.
“It looks human “ said Dr Holland, her voice betraying her disapointment.
The captin shook her head. No human ship could hide from the Livia Drusilla at this range.
“D2 is picking up a new signal“ said the lieutenant.
D2 focused on this new, second track, leaving D1 to find the original again. The signature was easily recognisable as identical to the first. It trilled in suprise, moving its mind into a higher thought routine for extra speed. D1 turned its hyper wave back at it and agreed. D2 pointed out the new comer to the Livia Drusilla, who was silent for once.
D1 reached across the millions of kilometers between them with a hyper wave caress, then began to deploy its submunitions, into a tactical pattern.
Aboard the star ship, the human and AI crew watched silently as D1 followed its robotman pack on an intercept course. The captain chewing her lip, glanced at the ready board and seeing the green light for the marines, gave the command for her two Centurion class assault craft to deploy. The Livia Drusilla vibrated slightly as they dropped away from her bay, each racing to their designated positions.
Nothing happened. The minutes passed slowly and soon the whispering voices became murmurs. After twenty minutes had passed. Dr Holland turned to the captain.
Fatima Robinson ignored her. She was pleased to note that neither the com or the pilot spoke.
“We just passed four AU´s “ said the lieutenant in her mind, “ D1 is at less than two point two“
The com turned to glare at her. “ Listen to this “
A distant roar of hissing static filled the room. Below the violent noise, she could make out some kind of squealing, high pitched pattern.
“ what is that ?” she asked.
The com shrugged, and turned away. She looked at the two scientists. Tanner shook his head, “alien voices ?” he suggested.
She held his eyes for a second before the com spoke again.
“I´m getting a visual”
All eyes turned to the main screen as an abstract shape, in various grey and white tones appeared.
“Thats a ship” said the pilot. No one disagreed.
“Looks a bit like a Hyadian science ship “ said Dr Holland.
The captain frowned. “why is it here then ?”
“I think its a wreck “ said the pilot, “its tumbling, do you see ?”.
“The first jump probe ?” wondered the com. Both the pilot and Dr Holland spoke at once.
“No way its far to big.”
“No thats a much larger ship“
“Why is it here ?” the captain repeated herself.
“How can we know that ?” returned Dr Holland. Tanner nodded, he opened his mouth, but the computer spoke first.
“Contact” agreed the com.
“Where ?” the captain snapped. The system filled her head instantly, “ range and bear…”
Even as she spoke she saw D1´s stats disolve into red damage figures.
“Fire control !” she shouted.
“Wait you can´t . . . ” Dr Holland cried.
She heard the panic in the pilots voice, and her chest thumped with andrenalin.
“D1 is gone !” fire control´s voice cut through the chatter, “we have range”
“Fire at will” the captains voice cracked with emotion. Fear lurched through the cabin. Even Dr Holland was silenced.
“D2 reports multiple targets emerging from the atmosphere”
“Hit !” shouted fire control. The captain closed her eyes to get a good view of the battle. Her cruiser was firing with both batteries at the distant red triangles. D1 and 2 were both gone, she could´nt see either of them, although she could see the orb-guns D2 had left in its wake.
She sent orders to her two remaining drones to give her covering fire, and was turning her attention to the distant Centurions when..
A new icon had suddenly sprung into existance, some five million kilometers, directly in front of the Livia Drusilla.
“How ?” she gasped, D3 winked out of existance, and the Livia Drusilla´s batteries opened fire on an automatic self defense over-ride.
The ship lurched, throwing her against her straps. The lights flickered and behind her she heard Dr Holland cry out in pain as she was flung to the deck.
She opened her sens to fire control, when the ship lurched again, slamming her face into her flat screen. She felt the sickeng crunch of a broken nose, and blinked away the tears that sprung from her eyes.“Fire control...“ she began.
The Barbarigos dropped across the face of the planet. Some where behind her, the last of D2´s orb guns were being silenced one after the other, as the mysterious weapon swept towards them. The pilot watched as the last of them evaporated, sweat running into her lips.
“ Faster !” hissed the captain behind her.
She pressed harder against the bar, knowing it was futile, the Centurion was already at maximum velocity, and they were passing through the thermosphere, the hull was still holding but it was a suicidal planet fall. A part of her mind watched the environ figures clinically; Oxygen, Nitrogen, Argon, Carbon Dioxide, Helium, Neon.
Suddenly the engine temperature flared, and her boards rippled from mostly green to a confusing patch work, the Centurion shuddered, power dropped.
“ Are we hit ?” screamed the captain.
The pilot glanced at the damage stats, the numbers were dropping drastically, she felt sick.
“ Well ?”
“ Yes sir “
Engine number two was gone, hull integrity was failing, her entire right flank was maimed.
“ No sign of pursuit “ said Navigation, his voice calm.
She fought to regain control, the reactor was till intact! The remaining engine was still green, altitude was forty seven kilometers now. The stratosphere.
“ Crew ?” the marine captains voice cut through her concentration.
“ What ?!” shouted the captain.
“ How are we ?”
For a few seconds no one spoke. Forty two kilometers.
“ We´re going down “ said Navigation.
At twenty five kilometers she killed the engine. Three of the four anti-gravs were operational, the fourth was slag.
“ The marines should bail out “ Navigation spoke over his shoulder. The captain, bracing himself, his eyes glazed, almost hypnotised by the altimeter in his brain, muttered incoherently. The gunner met navigations eyes and nodded.
“ Squad “ he sensed to all.
“ Yeah ?”
“ You might as well deploy now, we . . we might not make it “
“ We´ll make it ! “ the pilot snarled to herself.
Nine thousand meters.
Eight thousand meters and the belly hatch spun away amid a shower of debri, three marines scattered into the wind.
Seven thousand meters, and suddenly the Centurion was bucked by turbulence.
Six thousand meters. The two remaining marines dropped away into the wind.
Five thousand meters and she brought the tree anti-gravs up to speed. Number four´s stats began to ripple into amber. The Barbarigo was shaking violently, she brought the nose down, and the number four anti-grav stated showing reds. She disengaged it, and brought environ up to visual with her sens. Below them wa a vast blue ocean, dotted with tropical islands.
“ Shit it looks just like home !” she gasped.
Two thousand meters.
The cripppled ship levelled out and dropped,, almot smoothly towards the nearest island. Already they were below the summit of its central volcano. She looked for a good LZ, but the island was packed with dense vegatation.
“ You land on that beach on the far side of the bay “ said Navigation.
It was the only option. At four hundred meters, she knew they were approaching to fast, but number one anti-grav was beging to show amber readings.
“ Brace yourselves ” she cried.
The asssault craft slid across the open bay, her tail heavy and slipping with the wind. She reached the farther shore and doing almost two hundred kilometers per hour, ploughed into the rocky surf. Water, sand and splinters of volcanic rock were thrown in all directions as she hit, buckling up her nose, before bouncing side ways and almost tipping over as she slid along the sand. Her for wings both crumpled up and the port wing spun away into the trees. Several side panels cracked up and were pushed in as her port flank dented then fractured. She slid to a stop within thirty meters, coming to rest in the open sand. The sand and water cascaded away and silence descended. A thin trail of steam rose from her rear but apart from that, and the surf, nothing moved. After a while her tranponder began to broadcast an automatic mayday.
Hardwicke droppped through the tree tops, all sensors wide open, his rifle up and ready, Photon and Spectrum deployed to his left and right. He hit he ground quite hard, but smoothly rolled into a ready position and waited. After ten minutes had passed and nothing had moved, he began to move through the undergrowth, slowly and cautiously.
“ King ?” he sensed. There was no response.
“ Photon “ the drone crept through the bushes to hover beside his knee.
“ Yes “ it senswhispered.
“ Scout around and see if you can find any of the others “ It paused for a second then darted away. Hardwicke waited patiently, ignoring the worry that was building up in the back of his mind. Keeping the tactical overlay in vision he examied the jungle around him. It was suprisingly earth like, although the greens were a bit to yellow, and some of the insects were enormous. He saw an animal. It looked like a bird, but it had no beak. Instead it appeared to have two glossy black mandibles. It was black, with a long bright red tail, and when it spread wings and flew he saw it had feathers, although the wings looked stumpy and deformed.
“ I´m at the Barbarigos “ sensed Photon. “ It came down on the beach “
“ How far away is it ?”
“ About five hundred and forty two meters “
“ Can you get any contact ?”
“ No, it scans empty “ Empty ?
“ Hold still, we´ll be there in a few minutes “ he said, The he turned and beckoned to Spectrum.
From the trees, he assault ship looked like a monstrous giant beelte that some one had swatted. Its port side was crushed in and several of the panels had been pushed up, which enhanced the beetle image. He ran his target over it but it was still hot inside. The cockpit hatch was still in place, although the skin around it was buckled. He waited looking up and down the deserted beach, then scanned the sky with all his sensors. Nothing. Audio enhanced and filtered the back ground sounds but there was nothing, except the ships transponder beeping slowly on the emergency frequency, and the static hiss fromm the reactor.
After half an hour he stepped out into the open and walked over the ship.
He relaxed when nothing happened. Calmly he climbed onto the hull of the Barbarigos, his armoured suit relaying its temperature back to him. Still hot from its re-entry but not to bad. Certainly not enough to have killed the crew.
The cockpit hatch was a large and T shaped. It was self powered but when he tugged at the manual release it refused to move. He stepped back and pulled the emergency release instead. Several of the explosive bolts detonated with muffled thuds rupturing the hatch frame and bending up one end, but the buckled hull held the hatch tight and cursing he clambered over and brought his rifle to bear. It took forty minutes for his laser to cut through the damaged hull, until finally he was able to wrench the hatch open. The ship was dark inside, but the bright tropical light fell on the four figures sitting below him. They were all dead. He knelt beside the hatch peering down at them trying to guess what had killed them. Their suits were still intact, and despite the cruel landing, the cockpit was still in good condition. He could´nt make it out. He stood up and looked around. Where were the others ? even if they had come down on another island, his sens should be able to reach them. Even without a satelite his com had a range of seven hundred kilometers, but there was no answer, not even a location pulse. He looked back down at the crew, sitting staring ahead, as if they did´nt understand that they had died. The Livia Drusilla was gone, all the drone ships and the other Centurion had also been destroyed, and now all his companions were dead or had simply disapeared. Hardwicke sat in his wasp coloured armour suit on the hull. Photon and Spectrum hovered beside him, worried that he was sitting out in the open. He was the only survivor. The realisation was instant, but it took him hours before he could accept it. And it was weeks before he began to accept that he was the only human being on the planet.
Hardwicke spent the first day burying the crew. At first it was slow because of his armour, which he was reluctant to shed, but after he had the pilot up from the dim cockpit, he finally accepted that who ever had killed her had done so through a 40g armoured hull. He discarded the wasp suit, then crawled through the access hatch into the hold retrieving everything he could salvage. The best of this was the small sapper, which he set to cut a hole through the hull, then dig four graves beyond the first trees in a small glade.
Whilst it was busy on the hull, he examined the pilot. He had known her for several months, since her assignment to the Livia Drusilla, knew that she had been popular amongst the male crew, being attractive and single, and knew that she had been in training for an advanced pilots license.
Kneeling beside her small body, he felt a dizzy emptiness that confused him. He looked down at her still face, eyes shut tight, face still clenched against sudden pain. There were burn marks on her finger tips, and when he unsealed and pulled off a boot, he found similar marks on her toes.
Photon hovering beside him, picking up his emotion.
“Was she a friend ?” it asked with its soft sens voice.
He knelt back on his heels and looked at the discus shaped drone. Although it had no face, its sens presence gave it all the personality of a dog, although it was considerably more intelligent.
“Where is Spectrum ?” he changed the subject.
“Inspecting the forest to the north as you ordered” it replied. He nodded and returned his attention to the dead pilot. He recorded his findings in his memory log.
Photon was hovering over the dead pilots head.
“Well ?” he asked.
“She has been electrocuted ?” it asked.
“Yeah I think so, can you see any internal damage”
“Yes several of her organs have ruptured and her brain looks damaged, but I think the electrocution happened after she was already dead”
He flinched slightly, shaking his head wearily.
“The ships memory core is intact, but the AI´s and the computers are destroyed.”
“Can you access the memory ?” he asked.
“What killed them ?”
“There is no entry in the memory of their deaths. The record merely ends seconds before the crash”
Later after the bodies had been lowered into their graves he had stood over them in silence for several minutes. Then he donned the wasp suit, returned to the crashed ship and began to carry the salvaged equipment to the nearby bay. The Sapper, standing by silently observed this, and began to help.
He built a small platform up a plant he mistook for several trees, on closer inspection though he found that they all connected among the brances and were in fact one large organism. He found several of these odd trees after he realised this.
He built a small hut among the trunks where he could store his supplies, then set about building a roof for the platform. On Earth or Mars he would have used palm leaves, but this tropical island did not have them. Perhaps there were none at all on this planet. The closest equivalent were the giant ferns that were littered all over, but when he tried to cut some of these down, he found they leaked an acidic sap that never congealed, but was extremely unleasant to touch. He gave up on the ferns, and searching further found another plant that grew like reeds or young bamboo. He cut several of them down carefully, and found they were harmless. Then sitting on the beach watching the sun go down, he wove them into panels, telling Photon and Spectrum about Robinson Crusoe.
After several days he had finished the shelter. He donned his armour again and checked his weapons and together they flew across the island exploring it for anything that might turn out to be usefull.
The island was roughly seven kilometers wide and about twenty kilometers long. He had not really examined it during the planet fall, but it seemed much larger than he had thought. The vegatation was quite varied, but the giant ferns were every where. The pillar trees too were quite abundant, and some of them were truly gigantic. They found one that must have been seventy meters high at least. Hardwicke was not sure wether terrestrial trees could grow this big, but he knew that martian trees never did. They also glimpsed several large creatures swmming in the sea, but these never came close to the surface, so remained tantalising abstract shapes in his minds eye. They saw no large land animals from the air, but one day beside a river full of rocks Hardwicke found several three toed footprints, made by some thing about the size of a small horse, but the animal itself was not to be found. Even with his invisibility field active, up a tree, with Photon and Spectrum deployed to either side, he remained ignorant of this creature´s form.
He remained ever cautious of the sky, but there was no sign of the mysterious aliens. Day followed day, and he became more and more familiar with the unusual island.
It was on his tenth day he found a statue. Several small rivers ran from the higher ground into the bay, and one of these ran about twelve meters from his shelter. He had explored along it for two kilometers, where he had found a small pool. Here he found several varieties of aquatic animals, that, although they esembled fish, were clearly amhibians. He named them Silver frogs, and using a net, he caught a couple and examined them with his biome. They contained no evident poisons, so he built a small fire and set up a spit. He sat on the sand, with his back to a fallen log, and watched them turn copper brown. The evening was warm, but as always he wore his armour. He was all to aware of the numerous alien insects that swarmed where ever one looked, and the thought of bigger animals kept his eyes darting about the clearing.
There were more practical reasons to. With out his armour he was grounded, and virtually blind, and the need for sudden combat, however remote the possibilty might be, made him ever paranoid.
The Silver frogs tasted awful. In disgust he threw their remains into the forest and as he turned he saw the statue.
It was almost hidden by the plants that had grown over it, but half a face was visible. It had four eyes, two on either side, and as he cleared away the moss and vines he found himself looking at a squat heavy humanoid figure with a face from a nightmare.
“It looks like a crab” Photon said.
“Or a Spider “ Spectrum added.
Hardwicke looked about at the other rocks around him and saw another further up the stream that was the remaining lower half of the statue. He pointed it out to the two drones. Spectrum moved quickly upstream to find any others but returned disapointed.
With the help of the Sapper, Hardwicke moved the two halves of the statue to the clearing by the pool and reassembled them. The Sapper bound them together with a molecular bonding agent and gave them a polish.
The four of them moved back and examined the creature.
If it was a portrait then Hardwicke did not look forward to meeting the model. The alien was clearly some form of crustacean, with an over lapping carapice, crab claw hands and a short stubby tail. It had four legs, two arms and two short antenae. It stood in an attitude of somber contemplation which to Hardwickes eyes displayed the sorrow of loss.
Four days later, Hardwicke moved his camp to the clearing by the pool and the statue became a sentinal. He had the sapper move it again so it was not clearly visible from the sky.
Each day passed slowly from that point and Hardwicke spent most of his time building his hut during the evenings when the sun was cooler. Each night he sat by his fire and swapped stories with Photon and Spectrum. The Sapper stood silently and listened, its black lenses reflecting the fire light. It had no stories in its memory so it stored each new tale with satisfaction.
A month passed. Then another. The weather grew hotter and hotter until each mid day Photon recorded temperatures in excess of forty seven degrees. Hardwicke found he was running out of food packs, and estimated that he had enough to last four more weeks. He had to find some food, but the heat was unbearable. He spent hours each day in the pool which had shrunk to half its size.
One day the sky changed colour. Hardwicke was building a larger fishing net in anticipation of his first attempt at fishing the sea´s for food. He sat and hummed whilst he worked beneath the shade of the ferns on the beech, and at the sudden chill that swept the land, he looked up and saw a dull grey nothing.
“Rain is coming!” Spectrum announced as it sped by.
Hardwicke stood to see better and within seconds he was drenched as the sky opened. He gasped in surprise at the suddeness of it, but then realised that he was witnessing the beginning of a rain season. In his mind he saw the pool and the clearing and he realised he had built his hut to close to the stream. In frustration he remembered all his remaining food packs were in the hut. He began to run, cursing himself for leaving his armour back at the camp.
The Sapper had already removed the food packs by the time he reached the clearing, and it was busy dismantling the hut.
“Well done!” he shouted above the sound of the down pour. The Sapper hearing his voice turned and watched him rush to his armour which was laid on a canvas cloth under a large fern. It waited a few seconds in case the man had anything else to add, then went back to dismantling the hut.
Photon arrived and came to hover besides Hardwicke. “There are creatures moving in the surf”
Hardwicke looked up. “What do you mean? On the beach?”
It took five minutes for Hardwicke to don his wasp suit, then another five minutes to find where the Sapper had placed his rifle. In that time the stream had become a rushing torrent, and the ground was becoming a muddy quagmire. Hardwicke jumped into the air and climbed to forty meters. Photon and Spectrum followed him and took up their combat positions.
The surf was crowded with brownish red creatures and Hardwicke realised that the statue was indeed a life sized portrait. He hovered above the vegetation, keeping his invisibility field active, and watched them as they made their way back and forth. After a while one or two began to waddle onto the beach, and when the others saw it was safe, they surged after them in their hundreds.
“How many do you count Photon” he sensed.
“Seven hundred and fifty four… six” the drone replied, “There are more in the deeper water ”
“There appears to be several predators in the water further out” Spectrum added.
Hardwicke noticed that a group of the crab like aliens had appeared on the ridge of sand and coral that seperated the beach with the bay where the remains of the Barbarigos lay and were waving their arms and hooting in a deep voiced chorus.
“They´re intelligent” he noted.
“It looks like it” Photon replied.
“Lets go and see what they make of the wreck”.
They drifted slowly over the giant ferns to where the remains of their original hut had stood. From there they could see the hundreds of aliens that had gathered around the crashed ship. Several had climbed onto the hull and were examining the cockpit.
“Photon” Hardwicke sensed, “go and check they have not discovered the graves”
“Okay” The drone rushed away.
“That one is carrying a weapon” Spectrum reported. In his vision Hardwicke saw one of the aliens flash red. He zoomed in on it and saw it was indeed carrying a large serrated blade of some kind.
“With hands like those, what do they need weapns for ?” he asked.
Spectrum giggled static.
“The graves are undetected” Photon reported.
“Good” he replied. “Maintain your position”.
The aliens were making a murming noise interupted by the constant staccato of their hands pening and closing. One alien in particular seemed to be making a louder noise than the rest and Hardwicke located this one as one of the group that stood upon the Barbarigos. He wondered if perhaps that was the leader.
“Look behind us” Spectrum sensed. He glanced back and saw the beach behind them was rapidly filling up with new arrivals and although some where rushing to see the downed ship, most were pre occupied with each other.
The rain fell steadily.
A large number of the aliens had begun to make their way up the stream.
“Spectrum, go and warn the Sapper that it is about to have company. Let me know if it needs help“
Spectrum zipped away.
Hardwicke found a branch and sat on it. Several of the aliens around the ship ahd begun to pull at one of the rupture side panels. Hardwicke smiled as they failed to move it. It was after all an armoured war ship.
The speaker on top of the ship began to wave its arms. And Hardwicke wondered if he was seeing a crowd of mixed gender. There seemed no obvious difference between any of them, in fact, he found the more he compared them the fewer differences there were. They were all almost identical.
A huge crowd had now gathered, and still more were pouring up from the sea. Hardwicke let himself hover a few meters above the tree and zoomed his vision to the hazy half distant island on the horison. Sure enough, the beach was a dark teeming blur.
A new noise attracted his attention and he looked down to see several hundreds of the aliens pulling at cables they had attached to the ship, whilst others crowded behind and pushed. Only the leader still stood on top of the ship, and his voice was raised in a strange undulating warble that must have been a chanted command. The aliens were trying to move the ship!
Hardwicke shook his head in surprise.
“Are they trying to move it ?” Photon sensed.
“It looks that way”
“But why would they do that ?”
“I don´t have a clue” he answered, “Perhaps they can only remain out of the sea for a short period of time and they want to examine the ship”
“You think they are here for mating purposes ?”
“Oh yeah, the other island over there is exactly the same”
“They must number in their millions”
“Its weird that they are able to communicate with each other and yet they have such a primitive breeding pattern” Hardwicke mused.
Photon giggled, “I could say the same thing about you!”
“The Sapper is finished” Spectrum sensed. “What should it do about the statue ?”
“Damn it!” Hardwicke spun in the air and started towards the pool. “No wait…” he stopped.
“Leave it where it is. Tell the Sapper to hide well away, and you keep an eye on the statue, tell me what the aliens do when they see it”
Below him the aliens began to warble loudly. They had moved the back end of the ship by a few meters. The nose had been partly dug free of the sand and coral rubble that held it.
Other aliens from the surrounding coasts were coming to investigate. The beach was now packed with a mass of brown claws and waving stubby antenae.
“I see at least four more aliens carrying weapons” Photon informed.
“And I see the first of the aliens coming up the stream” Spectrum replied.
“Have they seen the statue ?” Hardwicke dropped back onto his branch.
“They will in about two minutes time” came the answer.
“JTLK XMM Y?” an unkown voice sensed. Hardwicke jumped ten meters into the air, his rifle going online and selecting the maser setting.
“Identify please” Photon replied.
“This is 182 4 1308 1343 Cuga”
“Cuga!” Photons voice smiled in Hardwickes mind. Cuga was one of Captain Hariq´s drones.
“Cuga, report your status “ Hardwicke sensed.
“I am roughly fourty kilometers north east of your position sir. Approaching at two hundred meters. I should be with you in about ten minutes”
“Where is Captain Hariq?”
“The Captain is dead, his body landed in the sea about seventy kilometers from your island, and is currently lying on the sea bed under twenty seven meters of..”
“So your alone? Wheres Puma?”
“Puma disapeared after we bailed out”
“Sir, the first of the aliens has seen the statue” Spectrum interupted.
“In a minute Spectrum” Hardwicke tried to dislodge the image of Captain Hariq lying on the sea bed. “So you´re alone ?”
“Yes sir. I have been searching for any signs of survivors ever since”
“What took you so long to find us ?”
“I saw King come down on an island about ninety kilometers from yours, and I went there first to find her, but although I eventually found Zed and Zero, they were both inactive and there was no sign of Private King”
“You say you saw her come down?”
“Yes sir, she was still alive the last I saw of her”
Hardwicke felt the despair from his first night returning. He had managed so far to forget he was stranded by keeping busy but now, in the middel of all the fussa round him, it returned with strength. He felt drained and let himslef slump down onto the branch again. His rifle forgotten.
“So why are you first returning to the ship now?” Photon replied.
“The ship was transmitting its transponder signal after it crashed” Cuga explained, “But was it was silenced shortly afterwards and I was nervous that it was easily visiable from orbit. I did not think any one would be here since it was such an obvious target”
The alien atop the ship issued a sharp cry and the ship shifted another few meters. There were now six cables attached and another two were being brought forward. Hardwicke idely wondered what they were made of.
“Sir ?” Spectrum sensed softly.
“Whats happening over there ?” he answered.
“The aliens got quite excited at first and a few stopped to examine the statue for a few minutes, but now they are all ignoring it and they are wading up the river regardless. I think these must be females going to lay eggs.”
“That make sense “ he agreed. “Where is the Sapper ?”
“It is about forty meters from the pool, but most of your equipment is really just a few meters from the statue. If they come in numbers to investigate, they will find it.”
“I see. Well, we´d best move it as quick as possible “ He put aside his sadness and flew quickly up to Spectrum was waiting. Sure enough, the stream was now a raging torrent and the aliens were struggling up against it.“Seems an odd time to go lay your eggs” Spectrum commented.
Cuga was in bad shape.
Several hours later, sitting under the overhang which had become his new camp, Hardwicke turned the drone over in hs hands and examined it. The Sapper stood heavily beside him, the rain causing it to steam slightly.
Most of Cuga´s mind systems had been spared but its sensors were all but blinded, and its blades would not deploy. Its tiny power plant was fine and it still had its AG in working order, but its shell was scarred by a burn that had wrinkled its skin and turned its camonodes into useless goose flesh.
“Whats the vedict ?” Hardwicke asked the Sapper.
“I can replace the primary sensors”
“That’s good enough!” Cuga replied.
“That is all” the Sapper said.
“Very well” he released the drone which floated into the delicate fingers of the Sappers secondary arms.
“The first of the aliens has returned from upstream” Spectrum sensed.
“Has it stopped at the statue then?”
“How is it reacting ?”
“It seems to be waiting for others”.
“Do they seem to have any problems seeing in the dark?”
Hardwicke pondered his situaton for a while. He was tempted to contact the aliens, he did not think they were responsible for the destruction of the Livia Drusilla. Their evident surprise at finding the Barbarigos had convinced him of that. He smiled at the memory of all those aliens dragging the ship into the sea. They had not given up until the damaged wreck had disapeared into the surf. Photon had tracked their course into the deeps and now the ship had come to rest under sixteen meters of sea water. Here it had become lodged by large rocks and the aliens had ceased their efforts. Now they were examining it at their leisure.
He gazed up into the darkness and the rain ran down his visor.
The Sapper released Cuga, and the damaged drone moved to a rock and settled itself.
Hardwicke closed his eyes and let his thoughts wander.
He was awake instantly. “What is it?” The Sapper was standing beside him, its lenses regarding him. The rain was still steady, it was the middle of the night.
“I am detecting static in the hyper field Sir”
Photon hovered into view. “What is the pattern?” it sensed.
“Irregular” replied the Sapper.
“Then it must be tight communications. There must be some one communicting some where in this system”
The Sapper held out its arms and moved sideways.
“What are you doing?” Asked Photon.
“Aligning myself within the planets gravity field” The Sapper explained. “Some times it helps”
“Is it working?” Cuga asked from its resting spot.
“I´m going back to sleep.” Hardwicke decided. “If youu hear anything usefull, then wake me up”
“Yes sir” replied the Sapper.
The steady drumming of the rain on his helmet finally brought Hardwicke out of his dream. As always his mind snapped into reality with crystal clarity.“Report”.
“There was nothing of any interest” said the Sapper. “The hyperfield was silent again, twenty seven minutes after I awoke you”.
“Do you think it could have been our side?” he asked. The Sapper moved its arms in a pretend shrug.
“There is insufficent data” It stated.
“It means it does´nt know” said Cuga.
Hardwicke regarded the drone. “And whats your status?”
“Ready for orders sir”
“Are you fully charged?”
“Yes sir”. The drone lifted into the air.
“Good. I want you to go back and continue to search for Jessica King.”
The drone lifted higher. “Yes sir!” it sensed.
“That’s all” Hardwicke added. The drone accelerated into the sky and was gone in seconds.
“Sir?” They chorused.
“What are you up to?”
Immedietly Photon appeared before him.
“I am still observing the stream sir” replied Spectrum.
“And I am here on watch sir” Photon added.
“Okay. Has there been any activity over there Spec?”
“Not for the last nine hours and seventeen minutes sir”
Hardwicke stood and stretched his back. The Sapper watched him, examining the way he moved.
“Are you hurt sir?” It inquired.
“Just a bit stiff from sleeping in my armour” he told it. It nodded.
“Humans stiffen up when they recharge” Photon told the Sapper.
“Knock it off Photon” he smiled, “Pay no attention to Photon, he´s just trying to be funny”
“Yes” said the Sapper. “He is making a joke”
Hardwicke took a second look at the Sapper. It was still examining him, its lenses running up and down his leg.
He checked his suit sensors and saw that the Sapper was also running a diagnostic scan over him and its info beam was focused on his knee.
“You seem a bit concerned Sapper, whats wrong?”
“Then why the scan?”
“I am collecting data sir.”
“For future reference sir”
“what?” he glanced at Photon.
“The Sapper was never activated before sir.” The drone explained.
“Only when it was test run, and in the regular diagnostics sir”
“So this is your first time in the field Sapper?” he asked it. It stopped scanning and turned its lenses to to his face.
“well” he pulled a face, which the Sapper saw and recorded, despite the dark visor of the marines helmet, then Hardwicke turned his attention to the food packs. “Time for breakfast”.
“You must eat a lot” said Photon, “You did not eat at all after twelve hundred and thirty two hours yesterday, and your body is showing signs of weakness”
“Hence the stiffness eh?” he grinned.
The two robots remained silent and impassive. They had no faces.
As he ate, he removed his helmet, and was watched constantly by the Sapper. He thought about the aliens.
Did they shoot down the ship? It seemed impossible that those crab like creatures, only able to move the Barbarigos with cables and muscle power would have the weaponry he had experienced. There had to be some one else around this system, some one hidden and dangerous. Some one who did not like visitors and who had strange unknown weapons. He realised there was only two possible candidates that he knew of.
”Deploy the swarm” the Admiral said.
Behind him, floating in her command module, the gunner relayed the order.
In the aerofield, the forward ships Noailles and Negus suddenly blossomed into silent orange explosions.
“Swarm is initiated. Status is one hundred percent active” the computer said.
The Admirals chin jutted forward in silent defiance as he contemplated the distant star and its inner planets.
From his couch the civilian coughed.
“Yes Mr Trent, what is it?” the Admiral turned to face the long slim man in the two tone blue.
“Ah.. I just wondered if any one might care to inform me what is happening” he said.
“The ship will tell you if you ask it sir” replied the Admiral in a steady low tone.
“Ah, yes, well the ship refuses to speak to me”
“Mr Trent does not have clearence Sir” the ship explained.
“He does now” the Admiral answered and returned to contemplating the aerofield.
Leonard Trent smiled at the Admirals back and closed his eyes. He opened his sens to the ship and requested the information he sought. This time his mind was filled with the data and explanations as to what the fleet was doing.
Admiral Van der Gees´s flagship, the carrier Paris was central to the main display as it filled his mind. Around it, the First Martian Fleet was deployed in a staggered formation several million kilometers across. The two forward ships could be seen as two orange dots in the distance. As he zoomed closer to observe them, he saw they were in fact two groups of glyphs, each containing a red ship glyph in their midst.
“Is this the swarm? What am I looking at?” he sensed.
“The forward units are deploying a swarm of probes that will flood the system.”
“But why? Won´t that alert them to our presence ?”
“They must already know we are here.”
“But, what? “ he opened his eyes briefly and glanced around the bridge, “Then why have they not already attacked us?”
“There can be several reasons but most likely is that we are not violating their territory yet”
“And the other reasons?”
“We may be beyond the effective range of their weapons, or they may be waiting to see our next move”
As the computer spoke Trent changed the display to see a tactical over view of the star and its system. Littered about the display were the glyphs indicating the wreckage of the previous mission.
Cold and dead and moving on a slow eliptical orbit, the Livia Drusilla tumbled slowly trailing a mass of tiny metallic fragments. Clinically the scan data revealed frozen organic matter amongst the trail of litter that followed her. Trent swallowed. He had known Tanner and Holland, and seeing their doom like this brought home the risk he had when he taken when he accepted this missiion.
The Cabot was ninety million kilometers further out than her escort. At first it seemed to be intact, and the illusion was maintained by the fact that she was hardly tumbling, but the Cabot had been destroyed without physical damage. Her systems had been fried and the humans on board killed instantly. Their cold bodies still sat in crash couches or hung in frozen stasis chambers.
The long range scan indicated she had been moving towards the Livia Drusilla when she had been hit, and the attached file reported the conclusion that she had been trying to reach the damaged cruiser to evacuate possible survivors. Two of her escape pods had been ejected at the edge of the system, but the occupants had been killed in both pods by apparent systems failures that had crippled their reactors. Without energy the stasis fluid had frozen around the sleeping occupants killing them slowly.
Trent opened his eyes and let his gaze take in the warmth of human activity on the bridge. His eyes met the gunners and she smiled in sympathy.
“What do we know about the attackers?” he sensed.
“Very little” replied the ship. “They have used weapons we do not undertsand. It appears that they have killed the Livia Drusilla with some form of impact weapon, but there is no evidence to demonstrate how this weapon functioned. The ship has simply been impacted by something that has left no apparent trace signiture.
The Cabot is different, its crew were all killed instantly, and yet there is no sign of explosive decompression. The hull remains intact.”
“What about the ships memory?” he asked.
“Since the ship is completely without power, we will have to physically remove the memory core”
“How will we do that?”
“That will be decided when the swarm has met with any resistence”
“By observing the reaction to the swarm we can determine how the enemies weapon functions”
In the display in his mind, the forward ships were now retreating from the swarm which was moving quickly insystem and expanding slowly as it went. Another two ships were movng forward to take up the positions vacated.
“What is the swarm?” He asked.
An image of sphere trailing a cable appeared. “each probe is about forty centimeters in diameter” the ship explained, “trailing a two kilometer strand of hylene fibre, and containing a simple proximity sensor. They broadcast a constant hyperwave signiture emission, each on its own frequency and if anything should happen to one, we will see it in real time”
“I see, so no light lag?”
“What is the purpose of the tail?”
“That is the proximity sensor. Should it encounter any unregistered mass within its vicinity its reaction to that mass will be noted and broadcast back to us.”
“So the hylene reacts to mass?”
“As does all matter”
“Then why hylene?”
“It is hyper wave sensitive, even if the probe is damaged and cannot relay its warning, we can see the effects once the light has reached us.”
“But that might take hours!”
“Of course, but we anticiapte the probes will warn us by their destruction by any hositle action”
“Contact” the computer said. Trent opened his eyes. The bridge sprang into life.
“Two ships are emerging from jump points sir” The Navigation officer announced.
“They are Imperial ships sir” the Gunner added.
“Oh?” Admiral Van der Gees looked back over his shoulder at Trent.
Trent shook his head.
“Identification?” the Admiral asked. There was a long pregnant silence before the computer replied.
“ISS Pheonix. Atlas class super carrier of the Grand Imperial Fleet. Commanding officer, Captain Jayna Yarra.”
Two ships appeared in the aerofield.
“ISS Copenhagen, Seneschal class support ship of the First Auxillary fleet. Commanding officer, Captain Anid Yassat.”
Around the bridge, the crew exchanged glances and Trent felt his eye brows raising in surprise. A Terran ship from the Grand Fleet meant the mission had been given a far higher priority since they had departed the Sol system.
“Dr Trent?” a friendly voiced sensed.
He closed his eyes again and the ship established a visual link to newly arrived carrier. A man wearing the two toned blue of the Institute sat before him. Strangely he had his eyes closed as if in another senslink. Trent realised this was Webster.
“Dr Trent. How happy I am to see you” Trent smiled and the blind man seeing this smiled in response. “I only wish it were under better circumstances”.
“Indeed” Trent nodded, “but I must say that I am happy to see you here anyway. I know almost nothing about who or what we face”
“Have they told you anything?”
“The Navy? Nothing. I was only granted access to the external sensor data five minutes before you arrived.“
“Then you really have no idea what we are up against?”
“Of course,“ he scratched his cheek, “I have the obvious candidates in mind”
“Its not as if we know of so many other species with this level of technology” Trent sighed.
“Alas not” Webster agreed, “and certainly not with such aggressive tendencies”
The two men shook their heads almost as if in synchronisation.
“Had you heard about Lamens theory before you left?” Webster lifted his head.
“No” Trent smiled, his dark lips revealing his almost perfect teeth.
“Lamen went before the council and argued that this system may be protected by the Zinn”
“He didn't!” Trent gaped.
“Oh yes he did” the older man grinned “He even had some old documents and some maps he had drawn to prove that this entire incident had been ordained by the Chinese”.
They both laughed easily, secure in the esteem of each other.
On the bridge, Admiral Van der Gees stood above the reclined form of the smiling African and contemplated the broad smile. Laugh whilst you may Earthman he thought.
Captain Yarra had not brought good news. Her voice still echoed in his mind saying the one word he had not wanted to hear.
Their conversation had been brief.
“The Admiralty has had further word from the Institute of Extra Terrestrial Studies and they have decided amongst their many experts and scholars that we face either an Eedrach system or another race with the same aggressive attitude” she had sensed.
“And this is why they have sent you?” he had responded.
“So you do not carry new orders?”
“No sir. However, I have the institutes leading expert on matters pertaining to the Eedrach on board”
He had opened his eyes to see the idiot smile on Leonard Trents face.
“I see. I was under the impression that I already had their best man”
He could feel her smiling through the mindlink. “I have no idea sir, this one is blind can you believe it!”
“Blind ?” The Admiral felt his skin crawl at the thought.
“Totally.” Her humour faded. “Sir. What are your orders?”
“What is Copenhagen carrying?”
“Eighteen drones and four heavy drones” she sensed the data straight into his memory. The four heavy drones carried extra shielding as well as enough fire power to destroy every planet in the system. He felt his mouth go dry remembering their stats. He had never deployed such a weapon before and his lack of experience made him nervous.
“Swarm is at seventy AU´s” the computer announced.
“Captain Yassat?” he sensed.
“Deploy your cargo, oh and Captain..”
“Do you have no escorts?“
“Sir, they are underway, they should be here within the hour”
“I see. Carry on.”
Captain Yigal Arrat sat in his command pod and watched the new comers arriving.
“Chevalier and Castelnau” the gunner muttered.
The bridge was quiet with only a single aerofield active. All hands were at battle stations and the ship was poised for action.
Lt Ivanov turned her chilling yellow eyes on Arrat. “I am registering an unusual gravity point”
A blue spark appeared in the aerofield. And the stats maifested themselves in the minds of all the bridge crew. A slight flutter in the solar gravity field, four million five hundred and seventy seven kilometers from the ship.
“Not this one, no metallic signiture at all sir”
Arrat frowned and chewed his lip. “Admiral?” he sensed on the priority wave.
“We have a gravity anamoly sir, just under half a million kilometers off the ship”
“How close is your nearest drone?”
“Ah.. two hundred and sixty thousand kilometers sir”
“Let it investigate”
“Yes sir” Arrat spun his capsule to face the gunner. The ship brought a new aerofield online.
“Send P6 to investigate”
In the aerofield, the closest watcher powered up and immedietly the gravity signiture changed.
“Alarm!” The gunner cried.
“Contact” the ships computer stated calmly.
“All hands ready for combat” the Captain growled.
The Napier powered up her gravity shield and instantly the entire fleet went to red. Four hundred and sixteen drones appeared in the aerofield as the entire drone pack came out of hiding.
“Stat?” the Captain called.
“No change” replied Sensors.
“Captain?” Admiral Van der Gees sensed.
“We have a response to the watch drone powering up sir” he replied. Before him in the aerofield the gravity signiture turned red.
“Electromagnetic emissions detected” the computer said.
“Sir?” the gunner asked.
“Fire” Arrat replied automatically.
On board the flag ship the lights had dimmed to red and Trent found his sens link severed. The Admiral was already in his command capsule and the atmosphere on the bridge had turned into heavy anticipation.
“Computer?” he sensed.
“May I ask what is happening?”
“You may sir. We have encountered an unknown gravity anomly”
“Contact” the computer spoke aloud shattering the silence.
Trent opened his eyes and severed the sens link to the computer. He could feel the excitement in the room expanding to envelope him.
“Launch all our Centurions” the Admiral replied.
Their was no audible reply but seconds later Trent felt the heavy but distant vibrations as the assault craft disengaged and sped out into space. In the aerofield he could see them speeding away from the carrier. They seemed to be heading in the wrong direction.
“Whats going on computer?” he asked in his mind.
“The fleet is spreading into a defensive position to avoid being hit all at once” the computer explained.
“What are we fighting against?” he asked, trying to make sense of the crowded aerofield.
“The Napier is firing” the Gunner gasped. Trent saw the Admiral open his eyes briefly to frown at the gunner.
“It’s a hit!” the Pilot said in a tight voice.
“Yeah, “ the Gunner replied, “Sir, I have conflicting scan data”
“Define!” the Admiral barked.
“I am seeing an explosion in all sensors but not in the hyper field”
“What? You mean there is no echo”
“Exactly sir, the hyper field is quiet”
“Strange” the Admiral mused.
“I have static” the gunner replied.
“We just lost a drone,” the Computer said. “Number P6”
Trent looked about himself, utterly confused. To his right, the communications officer had his eyes tightly shut and was mouthing words to himself and beyond him the pilot sat sealed in his capsule.
To his left, Trent had the gunner and the four crew members monitering the sensors. None of them had spoken a word but the Gunner, who was now muttering to himself and staring at the aerofield with a dazed look on his face.
The Admiral sat silent in his capsule directly in front of Trent, half hidden by the now expanded aerofield.
“Contact. Unkown track at one hundred and six AU´s counter orbit.” The computer said.
“Where?” the Admiral demanded.
The Gunner twisted to stare blindly at the ceiling. Trent saw nothing until he remembered to shut his eyes.
Another gravity anomoly had appeared a mere fourty thousand kilometers from the cruiser Nuri-es-Said. Immedietly the cruiser and seven drones opened fire.
“Anomaly destroyed” said an unkown voice over the hyper field.
“Captain Annersen?” Van der Gees called.
“Sir ?” relied the Nuri-es-Said´s commanding officer.
“Check your hyper wave scans, did your explosion register?”
There was a tense four seconds before the answer came back, “No sir, we registered nothng in the hyper wave”
“How the hell are they moving so close” Trent heard the Gunner growl.
“Status?” The Admiral asked.
The aerofield rippled, and changed colours slightly.
“Two encounters with unkown grav signitures, one drone lost to unidentified energy weapon.”
The crew began to smile and grin at each other. “No sign of debris” the computer added. The smiles faded slightly.
“Contact” the computer repeated.
“Unknown track at seventy six AU´s counter orbit. Mark seven eighteen” the Navigater said.
SS5 scanned busily.
Its designated sector was far from the two hot spots so far identified but its weapons were ready and it had already gone into kill mode. Its partner SS6 was forty thousand kilometers ahead, with its systems all shut down, hiding in the dark. And one of the heavy war drones was about ninety thousand kilometers down orbit. SS5 knew the heavy was there but it could not see it. It had also gone into hiding. Its metallic mass hidden by billions of tiny metallic particles which were now spreading all over the fleet, and the now constant flow of feed back emissions in the hyper field.
It was becoming extremely difficult to see what was going on.
The hyper field crackled mysteriously and SS5 ran quick diagnostic. Some thing was causing a strange sound wave pattern, but SS5 could not identify it. It stored the sound in its memeory.
“Did you hear that?” it asked its mothership, the Nuri-es-Said.
“Hear what? We heard nothing” the ship replied.
SS5 relayed the broadcast.
“Contact” the Heavy barked. Instantly SS5 lost all sensor input. Blindly it ignited its primary engine and moved away at full speed. As it powered away from the sudden hell fire of radiation and electro magnetic static it heard SS6 in the hyper field chatter and die in the sudden squeal of its obliterating reactor. SS5 tried to launch its orb guns but they remained inactive. Seventeen seconds after losing its sensors SS5 found itself caught in a gravity flux. Something had materialised some where close by, but its burnt out sensor nodes were still numbed. It had a dim signiture of a ship and then the gravity flux was gone and SS5 found itself half a million kilometers from the fleet, venting plasma from a burning orb gun and unable to communicate.
“What was that?” the Admiral shouted.
“Another drone has been destroyed.” The ship spoke simultaeneously. “Heavy drone FK3 fired an EM pulse and apparently destroyed an unidentifed ship”.
“Confirmed. The wreck is visible.”
“We have a hit?” The Admiral asked, the relief in his voice reflected in every face on the brifge.
“Unknown enemy ship has been severely damaged. The Nuri-es-Said is sending Sappers to collect it. “
“Sir?” The Captain of the Nuri-es-Said sensed.
“What is it Captain ?” the Admiral replied around a grin.
“Sir one of our drones has intercepted an broadcast in the hyper field”
“A broadcast from whom?” the Admiral stopped grinning in surprise.
“Whats the status of the swarm?”
The aerofield changed abruptly. “Swarm still at one hundred percent. All drones are still in an expanding formation. They should reach the inner planets in seventy nine hours”.
“hmm. Keep the fleet at full alert” The Admiral frowned, “And tell the Sappers, I want to know what that wreck is within the hour”
“Yes sir” the computer replied.
”Another emission” the Sapper said.
“It has to be combat” Hardwicke replied. “It has to be” He was standing in his armour on the edge of the sea staring straight up into the night sky. Beside him the Sapper was padding about the sand examining the surf. Photon hovered twenty meters up the beach and Spectrum was gaurding the camp.
Except for the thousands of stars the sky was empty.
“Two more” the Sapper noted.
Hardwicke shifted his rifle from one shoulder to the other. For the past two hours the Sapper had been picking up faint cracks and hisses in the hyper field. Almost inaudible due to the ever present static of the local stars, these sounds were the characteristic signiture of space combat. Since the sky was empty of any signs of it though Hardwicke was forced to two conclusions. Either the fighting was happening on the far side of the planet, or the light signiture had yet to reach them. This last option meant that the battle had already happened hours ago and at the edge of the system.
The last twenty four hours had been long and frustrating. Nothing had happened. Although the beach still bore the signs of the crowds of aliens that had dragged the assault craft into the sea, there was no other sign to suggest that the Barbarigos had ever been there.
Of course the Sapper might be mistaken and we are listening to some black hole fifty lights away he thought to himself. Better get some sleep.
“Come on Sapper, lets go back to the camp” he yawned.
“Look at this dead creature” the Sapper said, “It looks like an Ibacus peronii”
“Really” Hardwicke mumbled without turning to see.
The Sapper registered his indifference and watched him walk up towards the vegetation. It checked its old data memory against its newly aquired experiences. Sleep deprivation with low blood suger and a poor oxygen flow? It wondered.
It dropped the dead animal and followed the marine.
The next morning, Hardwicke was again woken by the rain. He opened his visor and looked at the leaden sky.
“Good morning sir” the Sapper said. “What a miserable weather”.
Hardwicke looked down at the squat drone and smiled. “That’s an unusual observation for an engineer”.
“Thank you sir” it replied.
“Yes.. ” he turned to the frame work of his new hut and realised he did not feel like repeating the day before. Damn this rain he thought to himself.
Photon appeared and wobbled in a silent greeting. He nodded and began picking his way through the diminished pile of food supplies.
There was only five breakfast sticks left.
“I think today we´ll go up stream and see what those aliens were doing up there” he said.
“What about the shelter?” Photon asked.
“without any food it will not matter will it?” he replied.
“No” the drone replied.
“The Sapper can continue working on it while we go and take a look”. He picked up his rifle and jumped into the air. Photon followed him.
The rain had turned the entire island into a wet muddy mess, and the plants all had the hang dog expression that had begun to cloud his mind. Last night had been the only break since the rain began, and at the time he had felt relieved, but he had not realised how depressing the constant rain had been making him. This morning, the truth had been hammered home and now, as he flew over the rain battered vegetation he felt like death warmed up.
The stream had turned into a torrent, and where the pool had been was now a small lake which completely covered his old camp site. The statue was all but gone, up to its neck in the fast water.
Moving higher up he could make out the distant beach, hazy in the rain, but the enourmous run off which was colouring the sea brown was still easily visible.
He scanned around him in all directions, but for the rain on the plant life, nothing moved.
“That is where the aliens congregated” Photon sensed.
In his vision Hardwicke saw red cross hairs pointing to another pool further up stream.
“Right. Lets go take a closer look”
“Hello boss” Spectrum sensed.
“Hello Spec, where are you ?” he replied.
Another cross hair pointed to the far side of the pool. “There are still nine aliens here, deep in the pool and not moving”
“I think they are gaurding their young”
“I see”. He activated his invisibility field and set down on the gravel shore.
The Pool was about forty meters wide and seventy meters long. His sensors told him it was almost nine meter deep its entore length, but towards the middle was a pot hole which seemed to go much further down.
“Is that a cave down there?” he asked.
“We think so” Photon replied.
“You want to go and have a look?” he asked.
“Very well, go ahead”. He opened a full senslink and closed his eyes to watch.
Photon activated its camonodes and slipped into the water. In the infra red the sentinals were easily visible. They seemed to be asleep or in hibernation. Photon slid softly along the lake bed, carefull not to disturb the eggs in the mud that was being moved by the current. None of the adult aliens reacted to its presence so the drone slipped easily into the dark pit and using is anti grav descended slowly down into the dark.
“This tunnel appears to be artificial” Spectrum sensed.
“Yeah” Hardwicke agreed.
Photon listened to them but remained silent as it dropped. In its mind it kept a count. Twenty meters, thirty meters. At forty seven meters it came to the bottom of the pit where there was a sealed metal hatch.
“Whats that? A door?” Hardwicke gasped.
“It would appear so” Photon replied.
“Can you open it?”
“No, it uses a manual release mechanism”
“Right, are there any detectors or sensors down there?”
“Nothing that I can see”
“It does not make sense to hide a door in a lake and then not have any sensors” Spectrum interjected.
“Maybe the sensors are inside…” Hardwicke felt the ground tremble slightly and looked up.
“What was that!” he cried.
Suddenly the ground heaved and he was flung helplessly aside as something rose up out of the gravel beneath him.’
Spectrum hopped spinning into the air and its blades sprang into place. But the sight of the creature that had arisen from the ground arrested the tiny drone. Hardwicke was already rolling into a firing position, his rifle online and targetting the bulk of the creature that had materialised as if from no where.
A huge, segmented worm like creature had risen up from the shore and was busy pulling itself out of the ground with two huge clawed forelimbs.
“What the.…?” Hardwickes finger tightened on the trigger but he held his fire since the creature was taking no notice of him.
“The aliens in the pool have stirred” Photon sensed.
Hardwicke began to slowly move backwards into the undergrowth, watching the massive creature pull itself free of the ground.
Now its full length was revealed, and Hardwicke swallowed, his eyes wide, at the brutal design of the organism before him.
It was roughly eight meters long, with eight, segmented limbs, two of which appeared to be adapted for manipulation. Its head was a blunt apparently blind dome with what appeared to be curved serrated horns on either side. Its mouth was a vertical slit filled with white gossamer like hairs. As Hardwicke watched it lurched from the wet hole within which it had lain hidden and with a great splash of water it crashed into the lake. Immedietly the nine infra red signitures in Hardwickes mind moved to attack it, and Hardwicke moved closer to the edge of the pool to watch.
Blood welled in a dark red cloud up from the deep as he stood there. The water of the lake rushing by, the hole in the shore filling with muddy water.
“The parents are killing the intruder” Photon sensed.
“They must be tough as old boots” Hardwicke wondered. “That thing must have weighed two tons”
“Its not going well for them either” Spectrum replied. “Three of them are now venting bodily fluids into the lake, but they are all still fighting.”
The strange battle continued for almost five minutes before the huge creature turned and began to flee.
Instantly Hardwicke moved back into the undergrowth and set the rifle at maximum burn.
“Here it comes” Spectrum called in his mind.
The water bubbled and splashed away as the heavy creature tried to scrambled onto the shore. Hardwicke saw that at least four of the sentinals were following it, their claw like hands attacking the ruined legs of the creature. It began bellowing in a monotone scream, but this only seemed to infuriate the defenders and they increased their efforts. One of the gaurdians side stepped and waddled around the dying animal to its head. Hardwicke smiled at the determination in its walk. These aliens were intelligent, there was no doubt, and the way this one moved reminded him of his old Staff Sergeant back on Phobos.
With a well timed stab into the white haired mouth, the small alien killed the larger, driving its claw up into where Hartdwicke presumed the brain must be. Instantly the huge creature spasmed and died.
“All blood and guts that one” Hardwicke sensed.
“A warrior” Spectrum agreed.
“Photon can you get out from where you are without being noticed?”
“I think so. At least four of the aliens down here are dead or dying. Only one seems to be on guard.” The drone replied.
“Good, get out of there before the others return”. Hardwicke gentle lowered his rifle but despite his caution the alien turned and scanned the bushes and its four eyes seemed to be looking for him. The human froze and watched it. Invisibility fields were not a hundred percent, and they did not operate in all wave lengths.
One of the other aliens waddled to the killer and chortled at it. It returned the conversation but its moved back and forth restlessly. The new comer turned to see what it was looking at and this one seemed to see Hardwicke because it pointed right at him. Hardwicke felt himself tense.
“Spec, I think they see me” he sensed.
“Shall I create a diversion?”
The two aliens immedietly turned to the sounds of the small drone moving in the undergrowth across the lake. The other two aliens, still standing in the water disapeared at once below the surface.
Hardwicke breathed a sigh of relief as the remaining two moved away from him but seconds later he frowned in astonishment when one of the two aliens that had dived below the surface returned with an object that looked suspiciously like a rifle.
“Whats tha.. ?” he muttered. The monster slayer it seemed was a leader because this alien now began to indicate to the others where they should deploy.
“I am picking up movement to the south” Spectrum sensed. Data began to flood Hardwickes mind. He erased it. Several new creatures were approaching in a delta formation through the forest. They were about fifty meters away.
“This place is getting to crowded for my liking” he sensed. “Withdraw to me. Photon, whats your status ?”
“I am on the lake bottom about nineteen meters from you” the drone replied.
“These new creatures are different from the two we have already seen here” Spectrum said.
Hardwicke hopped lightly into the air and floated away from the aliens. As he did he heard a distant hooting, a sound like a hunting horn came eerily through the rain.
At once all three aliens disapeared into the water.
Hardwicke moved quickly to a position thirty meters away. Photon and Spectrum joined him.
A few minutes later several creatures entered the clearing and made for the carcass. They appeared to be hunter scavengers of some kind, and Hardwicke marvelled that he had not encountered them sooner. They were the size of large dogs or wild boar, and he counted nine of them. As they approached their new meal they hooted and barked at each other.
One appeared to lead the pack and this one approached the dead creature and sniffed it. Almost at once the pack fell to devouring the body, but the leader ate warily, stopping every so often to smell the air.
After a few minutes it wondered over to where Hardwicke had hidden in the bushes and examined the area. Clearly agitated it rooted about for a while then urinated heavily. Its fellows ignored it.
“enough excitement” Hardwicke announced, “Lets get back to the camp”
The next day Hardwicke and the drones returned to the pool. This time the Sapper went with them. This slowed them down slightly since the Sapper could only fly slowly, but the rain had eased off a bit and Hardwicke was able to appreciate the strange flowers which had blossomed through out the forest.
The monster was gone. In its place was a gnawed skeleton scattered along the lake shore.
“Okay, you all know the plan” Hardwicke sensed.
Photon dived into the pool and raced past the remaining five gaurds. At once they sprang into action chasing the drone up towards the far side of the pool. The Sapper dropped into the water and made its way towards the pit, with Spectrum following it.
“One of them has remined” Spectrum sensed.
The sole gaurdian had seen the Sapper even before it entered the water and it came at the engineer with its claws wide. It grappled the drone but found to its dismay this new threat was far stronger and in desperation it began a low booming distress call. Instantly, the Sapper sent an electrical charge into the alien which left it stunned.
“Whats happening?” Hardwicke sensed.
“I am no longer being pursued” Photon announced.
“The others are returning” Spectrum sensed.
“Come on, get on with it!” Hardwicke ordered.
The Sapper released the alien which sank, stunned, to the lake bottom, and let itself descend into the pit. Above it the aliens returned to find their comrade drowning, and proceeded to drag it to the lake shore.
“Spectrum?” Hardwicke watched the aliens as they emerged from the water dragging their friend.
“We are at the hatch now and the Sapper is about to manipulate the opening mechanism”
Hardwicke was floating above the trees by the lake side. Below him the aliens were fussing over heir friend, and Photon was approaching through the forest. In his mind he opened a direct link to Spectrum and let it run in the back of his mind.
The Sapper had taken a hold of the large handle and had begun to move it counter clock wise. It gave slowly, then spun easily. At once several small lights appeared on the door and the sens link went dead.
“Spectrum?” He called out loud.
On the lake shore, the aliens as one, turned to stare at the trees below him.
“..tered the tunnel. It appears I am be…” Spectrum sensed.
“What is it Spec?” he asked.
“I have no link with Spectrum” Photon said.
“My sens cut out.” He replied, “You stay here, I´m going in” He dived down into the lake and sped towards the pit. “The aliens are following you” Photon told him.
The bottom of the pit was flooded with light. Hardwicke looked back over his shoulder but in the dim water he could not see the aliens. He made his way down into the pit keeping to the sides hoping to avoid being silhouted.
As he dropped down he had an uncomfortable feeling of claustrophobia, which made him think of the pit as some monstrous alien birth canal. Below him the light grew stronger.
The door was wide open, and the light was coming from within. As he approached he caught sight of the Sapper still holding the door but standing in its shadow.
“Spectrum?” he sensed.
There was no reply.
As he drew nearer and the angle changed he began to get a view of what was beyond the door. It was an airlock with a second door about five meters inside a short corridor. Coming to the bottom of the pit he could see Spectrum lying on the ground at the other door. Cautiously he scanned. There were various electrical nodes in the walls of the chamber and also some unusual heat patterns. Wiring in the rock? He wondered. There did not seem to be anything that might be a weapon. The Sapper was deactivated. Its systems apparently burnt out. An electromag pulse he decided. He turned his scanner on Spectrum and found the same.
“I am in the pit. Spectrum and the Sapper have been burned out.”
“I see” Photon replied. “Can they be repaired?”
“I don´t know. Spectrum is inside a chamber. It looks like an air lock”
“It was a trap”
“Or an automatic defence” Hardwicke felt his heart quicken. It was time to make a move. He let his eyes move over the white walls of the tube like chamber. Slowly he bent to pick up a pebble from the ground and tossed it beyond the entrance. It landed almost silently in the thick pressure. Nothing happened. He edged closer.
“I´m going in” he sensed and stepped across the threshold.
Still nothing happened. His sensors showed no activity in the walls.
“Can you hear me?” he sensed.
There was no answer.
“Photon?” He moved closer to where Spectrum lay and slowly picked up the tiny warrior.
The inner door had no manuel release, but a large copper coloured button was placed in the middle of it.
Abrupty the light faded and died. Now what? He thought to himself. Well, I guess I have two options, leave or press the button.
Hanging Spectrum on his belt, he reached over and pressed the button.
The outer door slid closed and moments later the water began draining out of the chamber. Hardwicke stepped back from the inner door and brought his rifle to bear as the liquid drained from around his ankles. Seconds later it opened and he found himself staring at the opposite wall of a dimly lt corridor. On the floor was a dead alien similar to the ones in the lake. He listened for a second then poked his head quickly round the door. Nothing, the corridor was empty. In the distance was the muted drone of heavy machinary.
He stepped over the corpse and crouched waiting to see if anything would happen.
Beside the dead alien was a rifle, and this was nothing like the wood and steel affair of the aliens in the lake. This was a sleek black weapon with a mounted battle computer, and it was still active.
So what ever had killed the alien had not burned out its weapon. He picked it up and noticed how the unusal the grip was made to fit the claws of the alien.
Spectrum must have killed this one with an x ray blast he thought. I can´t see what else might have killed it.
He moved away down the passage, rifle at the ready. After twenty meters he came to another doorway. This one opened out onto a huge cavern filled with machinery. Seven large tanks filled the cavity, with myriad pipes and feed lines leading from them and disapearing through the walls. There was a high amount of humidity, and the air was filled with steam. Hardwicke checked his rifle´s scanner and found the atmosphere in the room was filled with biologicals.
He ran a quick analysis and found the microbes living in the air were radically different to the ones on the surface, but did not seem to constitute a health threat. Even so, he decided to keep his helmet sealed.
He ran the info beam from the rifle over the room and its dimensions filled his mind. Seventy seven meters by nineteen. The tanks contained a water based organic soup with a few exotic trace elements and they seemed to be giving off a vague static electric charge. Hardwicke moved his gaze over the pipes and pumps keeping his sens open trying to identify what he was looking at. His memory brought back no comparisons, and neither did his rifle.
He noticed there was no inscriptions any where in the room. He filtered his optics but it made no difference. There was no writing, and no markings any where.
There were four other exits from the room. Two of these were standing open. Hardwicke made his way to the closer and the volume of ambient sound increased. From some where nearby came the distinct sound of running water.
He stopped. A voice was speaking loudly. He scanned around him searching for the speaker and caught sight of a second passage way about fifteen meters down the one he had chosen. His proximity sensors began to flash. Two marks, about forty meters away down the passage were coming towards him. Immedietly he hopped onto the ceiling and hid behind a fat pipe and waited.
A few seconds later two aliens waddled into the chamber and made their way towards the airlock. Each carried a rifle.
Hardwicke found a metal strut and settled down to wait.
The tiny phyiscal timer reached one hundred minutes and the Sapper came back online. Immedietly it ran a systems diagnostic and found all its major systems intact. Then it scanned its surroundings. It was still in the pit but the door was closed. There was no sign of Spectrum. It powered up its Antigrav and began to ascend. Above, it sensed the aliens were awake and milling around, so it activated its back up battery and when it emerged from the pit it sent an intense electrical shock into the first alien that approached. The others fled and the Sapper left the lake unmolested.
“You are active!” Photon said.
“Spectrum was hit by an EM pulse, but I shut down before it was turned on me”
“You played deactive?”
“Yes” The Sapper checked its scan. “Where is the Marine?”
“He went down into the pit”
“Then he must have gone inside. The door was an airlock and it was closed.”
“Yes. I lost contact with him when he entered”
“So we do not know if he is still alive”.
“We have no information”.
“What are our orders?”
“My orders are to stand guard”
“I do not have any orders?”
“You are in command then. What do you command?”
“I command you to finish the hut”
“And then what?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I would like to examine the sea life along the beach”
Photon examined the Sapper. “Why ?”
“I have a theory the aliens are not native”
“You have a theory?”
“Very well. When you have finished the hut, you may indulge your curiousity”
“Just beware you are not observed”
“Curiousity is not becoming in an engineer drone”
Leonard Trent watched silently as the system was brought into being in the silent atmosphere of the bridge. The swarm was nearing the orbital path of the fourth planet of the system.
This planet, a dusty desert world, hung displayed in the aerofield dominating the bridge, as the fleet examined it for any signs of activity as the swarm passed by. The minutes dragged by and no one spoke. Slowly the dull brown hologram planet revolved against the back drop of chattering computers and the Admirals heay breathing.
“Nothing?” The great man asked.
“No Sir, nothing”
The Admiral turned and caught Trents eye. He frowned, hesitated then moved across to stand by the Earthling. “What are your thoughts sir? “ he said, lowering his voice.
“Admiral, I am at a loss” Trent confessed, “I cannot be of any help until we have made some form of contact. As you know, the Eedrach have never allowed any human vessells to enter their systems, but they have always warned us first, and the warning has always been heeded.”
“So you think perhaps we are dealing with some thing new?” the Admiral interupted.
“Well, I am not sure” Trent rubbed his chin, “we could be dealing with Eedrach of a different mindset entirely. A different way of thinking”
“An altogether unpleasant way of thinking of you ask me” The Admiral sniffed. His lips worked in silent indignation for a few seconds, before he turned his attention to the Gunner. “Mr Collins, deploy two standards drones, and one of the heavy´s, let them try and sneak into the system as far as that fourth planet”.
“Yessir!” the Gunner nodded, his eyes already closed.
“Will you try to provoke a response?” Trent asked.
“Eh?” the Admiral turned, “Yes. Lets see who they are once and forall. Lets flush em out and have it over with.”
There was a general nodding and murmer of satisfaction at this statement, as the crew, confident by their recent victory, looked to another more gloriious encounter. Trent sighed, worried some what by their apparent enthusiasm, and closed his eyes to regard the reports still coming from the ruined alien hull.
Mytra was almost already a full AU ahead of the fleet when it received the order to penetrate insystem as far as the fourth planet. It listened to the chatter of the fleet for a while as it contemplated its orders in lower thought, before turning the mover to its fox mind. Two other drones would also be penetrating the system, S9 and F3. Neither related to the other, and like itself, ordered to move as quietly as possible.
It removed its loyalty to these two, and plotted a new course of action.
The alien ship was long, sleek and resembled a squid or cuttle fish. Its oddly organic form, reminded Trent of the bright blue waters off Jamaica and his time at Oceanic Training, and the resemblence was reinforced by the long savage gash which ran along the entire starboard flank of the ship. This awful ruptured wound had been caused by the heavy drone which had fired upon the alien even as it materialised. The Imperial had fired its primary maser at sixteen percent and this weapon was so powerful that even though it missed the target by a good ten meters, the strangely unarmoured vessel had been immedietly incapacitated, its flank blistering and burning open, in a disturbingly organic fashion.
Now it hung in space along side the Copenhagen, its hull caressed and examined by countless engineer drones and probes. Already the report was extensive, but trent skippe the technical details and went straight to the summary. The alien craft it seemed had no propulsion unit. Just exactly how it travelled was not obvious, but it was thought that some how it was ferried into position by means of a jump and fired once it had materialised, immedietly being recalled. The seven long pylons at the bow end, which gave the craft its squid like appearance, were thought to be a weapon system, although the means by which this weapon worked was as yet obscure.
One thing was certainly fact. The ship was no drone. Four corpses, badly burned and mutilated, had been discovered an hour ago and were under way to the Paris for autopsy by Dr Webster and his Xenobiologists even as Trent read. He contemplated sensing Webster, but decided to wait until after the autopsy was finished. Instead he let the flagship patch him through to the operating room where the autopsy would be performed.
“Wake me up when they begin” he told the computer.
“As you wish”.
Mytra shadowed the unsuspecting S9. It had intended to follow F3, but that drone had slipped away to fast, so it had exchanged a quiet exchange of astrometrics with S9 to fix its original position, and then once the drone had slipped quietly into the system. Mytra had waited a few hours before following.
Now, it watched the void ahead for the slight disturbances in the solar wind that betrayed the silent drone as it dropped in towards the distant star. Mytra was seventy percent surprised at the velocity of insertion the done had chosen, since one of the doctines of solar orbital stealth involved making as little impression as possible, and the faster a body moved within the gravity of a soalr system, the easier it was to detect. S9 However was travelling at quite a rate. Powered down with its reactor cooled, it ghosted through the silent night, with only passive sensors active, watching the system intently for the slightest sign of the enemy, and listening to the hyper field, trying to find any clues in the clicks and hisses of the back ground static.
Plotting ahead, Mytra realised what the drone was up to. It had laid a very cunning course that would bring it into the influence of the seventh planet. A noisy gas giant, whose EM eruptions and general radio static would be an excellent place for aerobraking. In irritation it realised that its own course, three hours beyond S9 would have it crashing into the planet. Since it was already deep into the system already it did not dare to ignite its engines or reactor, so it would have to rely on stored energy to use its anti gravs, but this in turn was next to impossible this far from the planet, and it would have to wait until it came closer.
Unlike the two drones it was following, Mytra was a heavy drone, with a far greater level of thought autonomy, and a much simpler primary directive. It was a weapon, built to kill planets, and it approached the problem with singular attention and ruthlessness. Within seconds it had reached its decision, and slowly it began to send mines and orbguns into its own path travelling ahead, each mine ten minutes apart.
Dr Webster, sitting to one side, watched Dr Abé step back from the table. The short Japanese xenobiologist pulled the ossomer gloves from his fingers and turned to the blind man.
“Well Doctor?“ Webster asked. He had watched the whole proceedings through the ships sensors, using its increased spectrum to catch the few details Abé had missed along the way.
“A genetically enhanced super crustacean” Abé announced.
“Enhanced?” Websters smiled broadened, “To what degree”
“To a considerable degree,” Abé sat down heavily besides Webster and stretched his back. “This is an animal, geneered into a sapient slave by some one who did not care about the reproductive systems”
“So this is a drone?” Webster asked, in a tone of voice that implied he knew full what what the creature was, “perhaps this is all the evidence we need to identify our aliens”
“Perhaps” nodded Abé, “or perhaps we are seeing another race at work entirely”
“But we know the Eedrach manipulate the inahbiatnts of the worlds they invade. The planets of the Hykon system show this full well.!”
“Yes,” said Abé annoyed by Websters conclusive tone, “I know full well the implications of Hykon Two, and I have made a full study of the specimens brought back from that planet. But there are differences here. Real differences in method.”
For once Webster seemed prepared to listen, so after a brief sip from his water flask, Abé continued.
“All the creatures found to have been manipulated by the Eedrach on Hykon Two had beeen redesigned with specific purposes in mind. Of all the samples we found, and they stand at eighty seven seprate species, and to my recallection, not one of them was as clumsy as this” He waved at the burnt and now mangled corpse on the slab.
“So you are suggesting another race is resonsible?”
No. Not all” Abé shook his head fervently, “What I am saying is that this specimen only draws two conclusions. It is from the third planet of this system since that is the only planet with any sea´s where this creature might live.”
“And originally, this creature was a mere sea bed denizen which has been clumsily manufactured by another race entirely.
“Doctor Abé?” Trents voice interupted Websters reply.
“Yes Doctor Trent?”
“I have the Admiral here. Can I quote you about the third planet?”“Indeed you may Doctor Trent. But please remember that just because this creature originated on that world. Does not mean that it is based there, and nor does it mean that the alien intelligence that created this alien is present on that world”
“Very well” Trent broke the Sens and opened his eyes to the Admiral.
“The third planet” he said.
“Excellent!” The Admirals face broke out into a huge grin. “Now we shall wait and see what reaction our scouts have, and since we have almost forty minutes before the swarm reaches the third planet, do you care to join me for some dinner?”
Trent realised he was in fact extremely hungry and he accepted with pleasure, and followed the Admiral to the galley.
The count down ended and Mytra fired its main engine in a sharp sudden point six second blast, almost like an explosion. It waited one second before detonating the mines in sequence, each exploding a second apart. It veered silently away on a new heading, it brought its primary weapon to bear and watched the mines creating a string of explosions that lead straight to S9. S9 had of course immedietly detected the initial engine burn, and it had accelerated away from the mines within forty miliseconds, This meant however that it had become visible to any one who happened to be monitering the seventh planet, and Mytra waited patiently to see if anything would take the bait. The last of the mines detonated and still S9 fled, its engines burning brightly as it fled into the upper reaches of the gas giant.
For seventy seconds nothing happened, then suddenly a gravity anomly appeared on the far side of the planet. Mytra ignored it since it was out of sight, the planets vastness blocking its shot, and sure enough eighteen seconds alter another anomly appeared and another beyond it, this time much closer, and in direct line of fire.
The heavy drone reconsidered its plan for almost half a second, but this was just natural prudence, and it found no reason not to engage the enemy. With all the power in its belly, it fired its Maser at sixty percent.
“ALARM!” the ships lighting went amber at once and the Admiral dropped his fork and sprang to his feet.
“Hellfire!” he roared and dashed from the room.Trent swallowed a last mouthfull of salad and followed as best he could, his heart pounding in his chest. The bridge suddenly seemed a vast distance away, and despite running as fast as they could, the two men seemed to take an age to reach its airlock.
Once they had enetered the bridge, the airlock sealed behind them and Trent flopped into his couch, wiping away a spat of salad dressing which had stained his shirt.
“Status? Report!” the Admiral barked dropping into his command module, which instantly sealed around him.
“A massive energy weapon disharge registered in the hyperfield sir” the Gunner reported.
“The heavy drone?” Van der Gees demanded.
”We don´t know sir, and we have no visual sighting either”.
“No relay either” Com announced.
“The fleet? What about the fleet, is everyone okay?”
“Everyone is green sir, and the swarm is unaffected. It should reach the next orbital track in twelve minutes.”
Trent had closed his couch when he saw the Admiral disapeared behind his muted aplex sphere, and now he lay listening to the tense questions confused.
“Computer” he sensed, “are we under attack?”
“No sir. The computer replied. “We have registered a weapon of great magnitude being fired in the hyper field.”
“Inside the system?”
“Was it the aliens?”
“We do not think so. The weapon bears the characteristics of the primary weapon carried by the heavy drone we dispatched earlier. But the power indicated by the hyperwave signiture is so immense that we are unsure as to what has happened”
The Gunner cut across Trents attention. “Sir”, he addressed the Admiral. “I have a status report from the drone S9.”
“Go on” Admiral Van der Gees said, turning his capsule.
“It reports registering several explosions in its wake as it planet fell onto the seventh planet”
“The seventh planet already!” The Admiral exclaimed.
“The seventh planet sir” The Gunner nodded, “About a minute afterwards it registered the heavy drone firing its weapon at a very high burn at an unseen target. It registers the opinion that the heavy drone used it as bait sir”
“As bait?” the Admiral stared. Around the bridge there were mutterings and raised eyebrows.
“Yes sir. And one more thing”
“It seems the Maser beam hit the inner moon of the seventh planet and has destroyed a good proportion of the upper hemisphere.”
“My God!” The Admiral muttered. He turned to the Aerofield which shifted to display the seventh planet with its nine moons. The innermost moon was not big, a mere 170 kilometers in diameter, orbiting its parent at one hundred and eighty thousand four hundred and sixty three kilometers.
The computer ran a simulation depicting the effects of an estimated fifty percent heavy drone maser burn, and the bridge fell silent as the holographic sphere was all but sliced in two, and the smaller upper half disintergrated into billions of tiny fragments.
“What will happen to the…. “ Trents voice began, but he fell silent as the areofield suddenly shifted to a full system view.
“Joan d´ Arc is detecting a flux in the magnetosphere of the nineth planet” The computer announced.
“A knock on effect from the gravitational disruption” the Admiral said in the general hush.
The aerofield shifted through several varations of a theme which although he found pretty, meant nothing to Trent. Large eliptical blobs a coloured lines that shifted back and forth as the Admiral examined various aspects of the events unfolding in the star system.He shut his eyes and waited.
On board the Napier, Captain Arrat sat silently and watched the same hologram in the bridge aerofield. The moon shattered under the hammer blow of the awesome weapon and its fragments, speeded up, scattered into decaying orbital debris. At least four or five large parts of the moons ejecta were calculated to leave the influence of the mother planet, and Arrat wondered if any of these would one day hammer down onto the native life of the third planet.
He had been pondering the stats of the third planet for almost an hour before the fleet had gone back onto alert, and he had come to the conclusion that it was not home to who ever controlled this system. All the data on the third planet showed a veritable paradise, with no effects of heavy industry, and no orbital installations.
He turned his attention to the fourth planet. The icy cold desert world, its surface scarred by countless rifts and cracks, its atmosphere a thin sodium, potassium and Magnesium cloud that stretched out behind the planet as it moved along its orbital path. Its current day time temperature was a feeble minus forty degrees.
“What would have been the fourth planets position when the Livia Drusilla entered this system?”
The Aerofield flickered to display the system with a glyph depicting the Livia Drusilla´s supposed insertion track. The Fourth planet was on the further side of the system, the third planet much closer was then only four AU´s from the human vessel.
“Admiral” he sensed.
“I have a theory”
“Yes, do you have time to hear it?”
“I believe the third planet may be a lure”
“A lure? You mean, like bait in a trap?”
“Indeed. It has all the living conditions for Humans, Octodarians and Eedrach, yet it is apparently devoid of any settlements.”
“Go on” The Admiral replied.
“Well, sir. When Fatima Robinson entered this system, the Third planet was much closer to her assumed position, and the fourth planet was much further off.”
The Admiral felt a guilty stab at the mention of Captain Robinsons name, but he let it slide and replied, “So you think she was heading for the third planet when she was attacked?”
“Yes. And I think the fourth planet is more likely to hold the strong point”
There was a short silence as the Captain brought up his own areofield display.
“Apart from the outer moons it’s the only other place warm enough for a base.”
“Yes, I thought so to” the Admiral replied, “but whose to say the enemy needs the same temperature requirements that we do?”
“Well, theres that I suppose, but sir, in all truth, I have a feeling about that fourth planet”
“Well, I shall bear that in mind”
“Sir. Might the Napier not be considered first in any eventual attack?” Arrat paused slightly. “Robinson was my friend”
“Very well Captain Arrat. I will bear that in mind” The Admiral said, and broke the connection.
Arrat frowned and reclined into his command capsule, its soft pads moving to adjust themselves to his body form.
“Mr Tei Li” he turned to the Gunner. “Would you be so good as to survey the fouth planets surface and prepare us a detailed tactical map.”
“Aye sir!” his face broke into a broad smile, “And will you be needing any specific features?”
“Yes. Possible locations of subterrainean installations. Unatural gas venting or heat build ups. Any thing that might indicate a deviation in the planets crust”
“That’s a deep crust” The Gunner replied. “It may take some time sir.”
“We may be a while yet at this rate,” the Captain frowned. “Just start with the basics, and look for the most likely candidates. I want possible hard targets for Marine insertion”
“Hard targets it is sir” The Gunner replied.
Mytra watched clinically as the moon´s remaining southern hemisphere tumbled, its sudden shift in gravity causing the entire bulk to literally separate into smaller frgments. Seconds later it felt the shock wave in the planets gravity field.Already the increased turbulence in the magnetosphere had revealed seven more alien gun pods as they emerged from their strange dimensional jump. It had destroyed each of them with a careful two percent burn, and all seven were now tumbling dead in slow orbital trajectories.
The last had been ten minutes since so it seemed the aliens had decided it was to dangerous to deploy more weapons. Mytra drifted slowly watching for any further anomlies in the gravity field whilst observing the final death agony of the moon. Satisfied there was nothing further to kill, it ignited its engines and powered itself into an escape vector which bring it into the wake of the fourth planet in seventeen hours time.
As the heavy drone accelrated it was watched by S9. Still hidden in the seething hydrogen atmosphere of the gas giant, it had watched with eighty nine percent surprise as the destruction of the moon was used to create ripples in the planets gravity field and magnetosphere allowing the heavy drone to pick off the survivors as easy as killing wounded target drones.
Even now, seven wrecks were left tumbling in the heavy drones wake, and S9 realised they had been left for it to report back to the fleet via the hyper field. Once again it was being put at risk to allow the heavy drone to carry out its orders. Its thought matrices struggled with the concept of isolating loyalties, but it failed, and immedietly broadcast its report for all the system to hear.
“Seven kills in orbit around the Seventh planet.” It broadcast as quickly as it could before falling silent to hide for as long as it deemed safe.
Almost nine AU from S9, F3 drifted silently on. It had registered the hyperwave emission of a tremendous energy weapon discharge, but as yet it had no sensor data to explain what had happened. Like S9 it had opted for a high speed approaach, but unlike S9 it had not used a planet as cover. Instead it had accelrated to maximum insystem velocity along an eliptical course that would eventually bring it into the centre of the system. It had deliberatly avoided the planets, but its course would take it to within forty seven million kilometers of the fourth.As it dropped in towards the star it kep its moniters on the swarm. They were about to pass by the third planet and it wanted very much to see their reaction. A lot would depend on it.
The Second Biotechnical Assistant turned to Mulk and indicated her screens. “Its waking up” she said in a mortified whisper….
Waking up was a matter of some minutes. Gradually she became aware that she was dreaming, but with the realisation came a growing sensory awareness that confused her.
Where was she? Her skin told her that she was naked and floating in warm liquid but something like tubes and cables were wrapped loosely around her body. Her mouth and nose were being held open and something was tickling the back of her throat.
Was that music?
She tried to open her eyes but they were crusty and refused to open properly. Bright light made her wince in pain and the slight movement made her aware of more insertions into her body. Her vagina and anus were also penetrated.
She tried to move her arm to feel what was on her mouth but the movement revealed she was being held by tiny points of pain on her finger tips. She could´nt move, she could´nt see, she could hear nothing but a thick muffled rythmic throbbing, and deep in her belly, she felt sick.
Jessica King was a marine so the idea of panic never entered her mind. She squeezed her eyes tight then tried to open them again. Despite the terrible light and the warm liquid on her eye balls she could make out her hands hanging in front of her. Each was a dark grey in the strange milky liquid. Tubes and cables were everywhere, and small neon wires were attached to her finger tips. She closed her eyes again. It was amazingly uncomfortable to keep them open, but even as she did, the image of what lay beyond her hands was imprinted into her mind.
Several fat red skinned aliens were watching her from beyond the tank in which she was being held.
An hour or so passed as she floated suspended, and she tried to remember what had happened to her. Her last memory was the planet fall. Captain Hariq turning to her and pointing at the hatch and waving her aside. It disapeared and they were bailing out. Hardwicke was the first through the open space, and she grabbed the hand bar and flung herself after him…
Then what? She seemed to have a recollection of the bright blue sky, of falling, but nothing else.
“Hello?” she sensed, but there was no reply.
The Livia Drusilla had been destroyed! The memory came suddenly and sharp. The observors saw her flinch, and the machines recorded the quickening heartbeat and responding surge of bllood.
The Drusilla and everyone aboard her. Her friends Hervey and Raquella. Anger flooded her mind and she bit into the tube that was invading her mouth.
Biopsychologist Mulk turned to the Deputy Director and informed him that it was impossible to keep the alien in the tank any longer. Now that it had regained its mind, it would be subjected to a large amount of tension. It had to be released.
The Deputy Director raised his head. “As you wish” he replied, ”But you will be needed to take care of it. It is the responsibility of you.”
Mulk turned to her Second Biotechnical Assistant and nodded.
In the tank the alien began to squirm as the various body attachments released it. Sliding from its body with slick ease. Blood began to pool about the alien.
“The reproductive system is bleeding again” one of the Bio Assistants noted. “This is the third time since it was taken to capture”
“Yes” Mulk said, “I think its flushing out waste breeding material”
Kamk, the Head of Bioengineering and Retrobiomanipulation, entered the chamber and exchanged greetings with the Deputy Director.
“What happens here?” she asked, although it was fairly obvious what was happening.
“I am releasing it” Mulk replied.
“I thought we were agreed about waiting until the threat assessment was completed?” Kamk looked to the deputy Director who remained silent, watching.
“The alien awoke without that we intervened” Mulk explained, she turned to the technicians. “Lower the fluid level so it might breath”
“But you could have kept it in hibernation if you that had injected some more sleeper fluid!” Kamk accused.
“I am well understood of that”. Mulk nodded. “But I am worried for the side effects of the sleeper on its mind. It has been having violent dreams, and they have been getting worse.”
“And so what?” Kamk sneered.
“So it is a sentient being in my care” Mulk snapped, “I shall not be having responsibility for its suffering, and you may leave if it displeases you much”
“No no, dear Mulk” Kamk replied, opening her eyes wider in pleasure at Mulks unease, “This I want to see, very much indeed.”
The Deputy Director moved his eyes from Mulk to Kamk and back again, but he remained silent. Mulk stared at Kamk and felt her joints shivering. She closed her outer eyes in dismissal and turn back to the tank. As she did, she caught the horrified looks of the technicians. They also understood what Kamk was saying.
Mulk contemplated the alien which was now almost fully released, it was now standing on the floor of the tank, wide awake, with its head above the sleeper fluid, watching them with its awful pin point eyes.
The sudden release had been quite painfull but the swiftness of extraction had meant it was all over before she had time to really feel the pain. For a few brief moments she had struggled against drowning but the level of fluid had dropped to her shoulders within seconds and now she stood gasping and blinking in the fetid air. Her fingers were still held by the green wires attached to her fingertips, but they seemed to be loosing their bright glow, and already their was no pain when she pulled against them.
Her legs were pitifully weak though, and she felt the threat of cramp hovering some where in the near future, but by tensing and flexing she managed to avoid doubling up in sudden agony before her captors.
The last of the fluid drained away from around her ankles and the finger tip restraints finally withered up and dropped away, and she was standing naked in the tank.
Behind her was a hatch and this now opened with a sigh of cold air. She gave one last glance over her shoulder and climbed unsteadily into a porcelain tiled room. Luke warm water began to flow in a shower cubicle whilst in the far wall whilst in another alcove a bench contained a pile of white institutional towels. With the thought that it all looked a bit to human she stepped into the shower and let the tepid water run the remaining muck from her skin.
She stayed in the shower for a long time. Not because it was pleasant, but because she needed time to think.
The aliens must have been patient because the water kept flowing.
Obviously she was a prisoner, and apparently she had been used for examination. Judging by her weakened state, she had been kept in the tank for quite some time, which did not bode well she reckoned. If they had kept her under so long, it had to be because they needed a lot of information.
For a moment she felt the flush of blood in her cheeks at the thought of being taken prisoner, but it soon passed, and she quietly lowered her self into a squatting position to feel how much strength she had in her legs.
After this, she left the shower, which stopped abruptly, and passed over to the alcove with the towels, noticing as she did the door in the farther wall, and an odd sheet of crystal glass hanging against the wall opposite the alcove.
She had already noted the dull pain in her belly and was relieved to find several small paper like towels on a shelf. She dried herself and pulled on the white tunic that was lain to one side. It did´nt fit very well.
Finally she was finished and she sat on the bench and waited, staring at the crystal sheet of glass.
Mulk gulped nervously. Her exterior spit glands were running so she kept her face averted from the others so they would not see how terrafied she was.
Of course they all knew. The whole department was now online watching the alien in the shower, and behind her she could sense Kamk´s smug satisfaction.
“What now is it doing?” one of the technicians asked.
“It flexes its muscles” another replied.
Mulk quickly wiped her mouth and turned to the Security Officer. “Let me in”.
The door slid aside and she entered the airlock. “Luck and fortune” the guard whispered as she passed. The door slid shut behind her and she walked the short distance to the second door. Several long seconds passed before suddenly the door light shone blue.
King heard the door hum and moved away into the centre of the room, flexing her fingers and arms. As it opened she crouches slightly, but upon sight of the short stubby red alien she straightened up again. There were no gaurds.
The alien stood outside the door and appeared to be waiting for permission to enter, but even when she had motioned with her hand it remaining standing, staring at her with its four black eyes. It appeared to be drooling.
Mulk had never been so scared in her entire life. She had never seen an alien before this one, let alone one of the enemy. And as it straightened up from its crouch, Mulk realised for the first time just how big the alien was. It towered almost twice her height, and its twin gimlet eyes moved with sickening little movements that betrayed its intentions. She could clearly see how it examined her body and limbs, how it rapidly took in the airlock behind her, and how it scanned the room all in a few moments, whilst she herself stood like a hatchling, salivating in open terror.
Abruptly the alien lowered itself in to an impossible posture, folding its legs beneath it. And placing its lower torso to the ground. Apparently it was making a point. It was waiting.
Mulk shuffled into the room, but kept close to the airlock door. She had no idea wether she could escape if the thing tried to attack her, but at least she had an escape route.“How do you feel?” she asked in a nervous bubbling voice.
“Lub lub lub” the alien muttered. King raised her eye brows at the sound, but just as she was shaking her head, a mechanical voice translated from the ceiling. “How-have-you-it”
“What?” she replied.
The mechanical voice said, ”Blup”
Again the alien spoke, “Can-you-understand-me” the ceiling droned.
“Do you mean you read my mind through my sens?”
“I see.” She nodded.
“Fine. Where are my friends?”
“Am I the only survivor?”
“Where am I?”
“Who are you, am I a prisoner?”
“I-am-Mulk” The alien seemed to pause and drooled some more whilst backing closer towards the airlock.
“Why did you shoot at us?”
“Er…” she held up her hand to indicate a flying space ship and stared in surprise as the alien flinched away from her. “Whats the matter”
Mulk, almost fainted when the alien made a sudden movement, and she realised she needed to leave the room at once.
“Leave-me-excuse-I-must-conversation” She darted from the room and the airlock slid shut behind her.
Jessica King rose to her feet and paced back and forth in wonder.
A real alien. She had never seen one before. And it had spoken to her. She smiled with wonder at it, and at the memory of its fear, its almost abject fear, why was it so scared?
They must be watching me now she thought to herself.
Never mind she decided. let them see me, its not like they have´nt already taken their time examining me. She dropped to the floor and began doing press ups. The alien was amusing, but some thing was not right. It was to small, to weak and helpless to be considered an enemy. Surely this race had not destroyed the Drusilla and all her crew, not some thing as pathetic as this, with its three fingered delicate hands, and its clumsy carapace.
Mulk stumbled through the second door into the welcome arms of the Security Officer. Around her, the room was silent, and even Kamk looked at her in awe.
“How was it?” Emergency Medical Technician Yall asked.
“Very scary. It has quite a pungent odour which is a bit unusual, not quite like anything I have ever smelled before. Kind of sour and metallic.
“I think you are very brave” The Second Biotechnical Assistant said. Yall raised his head in agreement, and so did half the room. Kamk, pointed at the big screen, changing the subject.
“Look” She said, “Its flexing its muscles again”
The room filled with chatter as everybody began talking at once, and Mulk sat on a stool, her four legs splayed, and let her glands dry.
After a while she spoke and at once the room fell silent with the new respect.
“I must go back in” She stated firmly.
“Are you sure?” Yallo asked.
“Yes, I am sure. I am needed to do this, to find out the information we need”
“You should wait until warriors have been summoned” Kamk said across the murmuring.
“I cannot wait. I need to know” Mulk replied, then in a quieter tone, “This alien is not like the descriptions I studied. It is different. We need to know before they attack again”
Kamk turned to the Deputy Director. “What must we do?”
He scratched his face and raised hs head. “I agree with Biopsychologist Mulk. We need to know what to tell the Director. We need more information about how the alien thinks”
“Yes” Mulk stood up and waddled back to the airlock. The door opened immedietly.
King stood up and nodded.
“Hello. I´m sorry, but did I startle you just now?”
“I see.” King sat cross legged again,
“I-have-to-ask-you-why-attack-are-you-us” The ceiling droned, and Mulk realised that she was not salivating so bad now. The alien had shown concern, in fact it was remarkably calm. Perhaps the muscle flexing helped it to relax.
“What do you mean?”
King´s heart lifted within her at this question. Reinforcements had arrived, and that was why the aliens were scared. They were under attack and needed answers!”
“I´m sorry.” She shook her head, ”I don´t really know what you are talking about”
“Perhaps-know-you-not.” The alien replied, “Are-you-a-clone-warrior”
“Not.” She shook her head again, an act which seemed to confuse the alien. “I am a soldier. My body has been enhanced, but I am not a clone.”
“Really? What are you?”
“So you are to interogate me?”
“Yes-no-if-that-word-is-same-to-torture-only-with-word-questions-warriors-demand-attention-from-you” she paused to let the translator catch up. “With-looking-to-of-reasons-why-you-attack-us-again-after-so-many-orbits”
“Excuse me, but what do you mean orbits?”
The alien paused for thought then softly pointed to the crystal glass. It suddenly snapped to black and a stylised picture of a star with a revolving planet materialised.
King gaped in sudden horror.
“Oh Stars alive! How many orbits?”
“er… how many orbits since the last attack?”
“In-a-pause” the alien spoke to the ceiling, but now the translator remained silent. After a few seconds an answer came. The alien turned to her again.
“Six-hundred and ten and seven” it replied.
King felt the floor drop away beneath her and she struggled to her feet, ignoring the aliens dismay at her sudden behaviour. She felt light headed and had to lean with both hands against the wall to steady herself.
“Did you have me asleep for six hundred years? For six hundred orbits?” she cried.
Mulk, her back to the airlock, replied in surprise.
“Then what do you mean about an attack six hundred years ago?”
“But we did´nt attack you, you attacked us, and we never attacked any body six hundred years ago!”
“I know, but some thing is not right here. We never attacked you”
Mulk addressed the ceiling again, “Translator deactivate. Kamk, can you see this? I think it is telling the truth, it does´nt know about the earlier attacks.”
“Yes, that I can see. But if its telling the truth, then it only means that it does not know anything about the previous attacks. As a soldier, it may have very little historical knowledge”
“Yes”, Mulk raised her head, “But consider the obvious differences in biology, and the extreme body reactions to emotion…”
“But what?” Kamk´s voice demanded. “It is obviously another breed, but the original species is the same!”
“I am not so sure. I don´t think the genetic similarities bear up. It has some totally different features. Its eyes for example. I´ve not seen such eyes on a sentient being before, they are the eyes of a dangerous predator built for measuring distances, and quite unlike the archived examples of the enemy”
“Perhaps it is an improvement. They have had six centuries to redesign.”
“I am not convinced” Mulk regarded the alien which was watching her with its killing eyes.
“I am sceptical also, “Kamk admitted, “But we must inform the Director at once”
“Perhaps Kamk is correct” The Deputy Director spoke for the first time, “I will contact the Director.”“I am already here” A new voice spoke. The voice of Director Hem. “I have been observing the interview, and I am agreeing with Biopsychologist Mulk. This alien is not of the old enemy. It seems we have a new enemy. I will contact the warriors with your findings. You must all go back to work. Biopsychologist Mulk, you will continue to examine and question the alien.You must try to find a way to understanding it. These aliens are much stronger than the old enemy. Already they have inflicted damage to our warriors”.
Mulk reactivated the translator.
“Yes, a little”
“I am a little hungry”
“Sometimes, but right now I am just confused.”
“Why did you destroy our space ship?”
“But we did´nt attack you, we were a science mission, sent to explore the system”
“Your star system” She pointed to the crystal which still displayed the simple star and planet graphic”
“For protection” King noticed the alien was staring at her hands. It was difficult to see just where the alien was looking since it had no pupils, just four glossy unblinking black orbs, but it had a tendency to incline its head towards things, as if it had very little mobility in its neck. Indeed its neck seem to be little more than a great hinge, which had no lateral motion because of the armour like carapice. She lifted her hand up for it to see and wiggled her fingers, smiling.
Mulk instantly cowered from the menacing gesture, and the sight of the appaling rows of teeth almost made her loose her nerve again. The alien had drawn back the folds of flesh in its face to reveal its teeth fully. Her salivation glands flowing again, Mulk tried to remain the calm scientist she was supposed to be and examined the flat white, sharp teeth.
“Do you like my hand?”
“It-is-a-impossible-fantasy-hand-it-has-four-digits-and-one-is-to-many” Mulk raised her limb in a gesture of aggresion that felt quite at odds with her beating hearts, and spread her fingers.
The alien focused its twitching eyes upon her hand, then at her face, then at her hand again and then at its own, and then at her hand again. Mulk felt queesy watching them.
“Can I touch you?”
“I am curious”
“Don´t be scared, I won´t hurt you”
King had noticed that the drooling seemed to be getting worse, and it suddenly occurred to her the alien was crying.
“I won´t hurt you”
Mulk lifted her head slightly and waited. Softly the Alien touched its fingertips to hers. She felt the slight pressure and held her breath but instead of retracting its arm as she had imagined, the alien reached out its other limb and began to investigate Mulks hand in detail, gently, but with a hideous strength and menace.
“Are you in need of assistence Biopsychologist Mulk?” the ceiling speaker asked.
“No” Mulk answered bravely. “You-have-one-strange-body-smell” she ventured.
“Indeed?” The alien replied
The Alien let go her hand and inhaled with visible movements of its nostrils. “You don´t smell so bad either”
“Your welcome. May I ask, what gender are you?”
“When you say you make eggs, do you mean you lay eggs?”
“You don´t breed?”
“is that because you are a scientist, or is it why you are a scientist”
“So scientists don´t breed in your people?”
“Yes, every one can breed amongst my people”
“Yes, of course”
“Yes, I´m a soldier”
“Because I am made to breed”
“No, I mean that we are all these way, just like all animals”
“No. This is how we all are.”
Mulk shivered at what what she heard. This alien. This warrior female who could mate and carry her young inside herself was a new species, there could be no doubt. The enemy would never bother to make breeding soldiers. It was simply a waste of resources if they became pregnant.
“What do you mean?”
“Do you mean do I choose if I want to have a baby?”
“Yes, that is my choice”
Mulk closed all four eyes in absolute terror and moaned softly.
“I-fear-big-error” the ceiling translated.
Once the aliens had passed on, Hardwicke flew quickly across the room to a dimly lit corridor that descended sharply into the earth. He all but ignored the tiny stairs, using his suitgrav to drop into the depths and guiding himself with one hand lightly skimming the many tubes and pipes that were bracketed to the walls.
Two minutes later and almost half a kilometer into the earth he came into another vast underground chamber, even bigger than the last. Keeping in the shadows of the passage way he peered in to a great room where lines and lines of glass vats were being tended by several aliens. The rifle informed him this chamber was one hundred and sixty meters long, and forty meters wide.There were windows high along the far wall, and dim figures could seen moving about through the grubby glass.
Hardwicke examined the nearest vat, zooming his eyes to examine the lobster like creature being held inside it and quickly decided he was looking at a young alien. This was a giant regeneering facilty, and he had himself once floated in a similar tank after he had joined the Imperial Marines. But nothing he had ever heard of compared to the scale of this, he counted the rows and multiplied, and realised there was seven and a half thousand vats in this room alone. And how many other rooms like this do they have? He wondered.
A distant horn sounded and all the aliens stopped working. Another klaxon, right in the room began to wail and they all began waddling to a door at the furthest end of the room.
Time to leave he thought to himself and turning on his heel, he sped back the stairs to the first chamber. Here he found four more alien gaurds with rifles chattering excitedly amongst themselves. As he landed on his feet they turned, amazed, to stare at him before dropping as he fired a single neural pulse amongst them.
He skipped over to their sprawled bodies and ran the info beam over them. They were all still alive. Good. He jumped back into the air and sped as fast as he could to the air lock door, rifle ready.
The several aliens at the airlock door had no warning since they were all facing away and they dropped just as easily. He quickly dragged them aside and pressed the airlock button.
“Aw come on!” he snarled. Still nothing happened though, and for a second he contemplated melting the door into slag but this would destroy the airlock, and if he burned his way outside he would drown these aliens. He was tempted, but he knew very well, that the aliens would hunt him down if he were known to be on the surface.
His suit sensors, gave a proximity warning. Some one was approaching from the other direction. He peered down the long curving corridor, and sure enough he could hear muffled footsteps, several more aliens were arriving.
Damn it! He rushed back the way he had come and sped back down the stairs. The vat room was still empty, and the windows in the far wall showed no sign of anyone still there. He darted across the room to hover at the glass and peered through. Time was running out he knew!
A control room of some kind, with computers, moniters and wall displays. He tried the window, and sure enough it slid aside, and in seconds he was in the room, and searching for another exit.
The Sapper had finished the hut, and made its way down to the beach where, keeping its sensors alert, it waded among the rock piles examining the small animals it found there. It tried to pick some of these up, but many were crushed to death before it could get a proper grip. Even its delicate precision fingers could not hold the slimy worms and weird blob creatures without doing them damage. Finally it decided to not pick up any more animals. And confined itself to visual examination.
“Sapper” Cuga sensed.
It stopped its work and looked at the distant sky. It did not get many senslinks and this one was unexpected. It analysed its suprise and noted a record ninety six percent.
“Yes?” it replied.
“Where are the others?”
Marine Hardwicke and Spectrum have gone underground, and Photon is up at the entrance keeping watch. There are aliens there, so if you need to talk, I suggest you sens”
“Yes. I need repairs again”
“What is the matter?”
“I was hit by a bullet”
“What is the damage?” The Sapper had never heard of a bullet before, but a quick read up in its reference library uploaded all it needed to know.
“Sensor damage in the visual range” Cuga replied, “Are you sure about Photon, I have no link”
The Sapper felt into the aether, and found Photon.
“What is it?” Photon asked.
“Cuga has returned. He is in senslink with me. I am on the beach”
“Is Cuga with you?”
“When it arrives. Bring it to the river, twenty meters down stream from my position, I will meet you there”
Cuga was in a bad way. Almost blind, it had limped back from across the sea using the planets gravity field to navigate. A most uncommon imprecise way to find ones way.
The Sapper carried it to where Photon met them.
“Report” Photon told Cuga.
“I returned to where I had last seen Private King coming down, and began a new search pattern. At first there was nothing new, but after a few hours I began to see the aliens you have encoutered. They were milling around something in the sea, just a few meters below the surface, and I moved closer to see what it was.
They had Captain Hariqs body and were transporting it along the sea bed. I followed them for an hour or so until they reached a bay where they moved up out of the sea to a stream. Just like you have here. As they did, they must have detected me, because suddely there were several other aliens. Similar to the ones carrying the body, but different and they…”
“How were they different?”
“They were slighter” Cuga transferred a memory of the attackers to Photon and the Sapper. “They shot at me with automatic projectile weapons before I had detected them and I was hit by two separate bullets, and the second damaged my visual sensors. I returned at once.”
“It has taken seventeen hours to return” the Sapper noted. Cuga agreed and fed them map reference points.
“Can you fix Cuga?” Photon asked the Sapper.
They went their separate ways. Photon returning to its vantage point. The Sapper, carrying Cuga, to the camp.
There were three doors in the room. One appeared to lead into another larger control room, one into a rather small corridor and the last into a tiny utilty chamber, that had no ceiling for seventeen meters. This was perfect, and he drifted up ignoring the ladder rungs to where a narrow service corridor, stuffed with pipes and wires allowed him to sit with his feet dangling over the edge.
As he sat there he began to regret his temerity. He had not expected the door to refuse him exit when it had allowed him entry. Grumbling to himself he removed his helmet and began to examine his surroundings. A lot of the wires were compact small bundles, held together by bands every meter or so. It occurred to him that these might be data lines, and quickly adding two and two, he reached over with his arm, activated a worm in his vambrace and left it on one of the cables. Quickly it attached itself and merged with the cable. Instantly the battle computer in his suit began to receive a strange data flow, and as Hardwicke sat listening to the distant sounds of heavy machinery blending melodiously with the bubbling of the pipes that ran over his head, it began downloading a steady stream of alien data.
He woke up when the proximity warning told him that the control room was occupied again. At least eight aliens were moving around down there, though fortunatly none of them came into the utility shaft. Two hours had passed whilst he had slept, and he checked the data clip and found almost forty thousand G´s of data had been downloaded. His suit computer was busy tryng to decode it, but so far it had managed only point seven percent of the data, and this was nothing other than a few meaningless numbers, presumed to be dates.
“Look for security sensor feeds” he told the worm.
Another five minutes passed before suddenly the worm found what it was searching for and managed to decode it. In Hardwickes mind a vista manifested itself. He closed his eyes and watched as a row of robotic arms, sorted through a vast tank of teeming pink creatures. More young he thought to himself.
“Any others?” he asked. The suit computer opened an interface and he began to root through the ever increasing amount of sensor feeds. The next was an empty corridor, and the next was a room that looked like a prison cell where two aliens were sitting on stools, their four legs splayed in four different directions.
Weird creatures he though to himself. And strange to be sitting here, right in the heart of their nest, and watching them through their own security system. He chuckled quietly, but the thought of what he was to do, soon brought the sober thought, that he may be the only living human being within seventy light years.
Should he destroy as much as he could? Or should he wait for the inevitable reinforcements?His present position seemed pretty hopless, but he was resolved not to simply surrender. Grimly he reached around and unclipped the fusion grenade from his belt. It was easily capable of destroying this underground facility, but the thought of killing a baby factory held no appeal to him, and he replaced it without further thought.
The ceiling speaker interupted Mulks deep introspection.
“Biological Factory Seventy Six has gone to alert status. It seems their alien has penetrated their Incubation Plant, and they are unsure where it is” Kamk said.
“I-must-go” she told the alien egg maker.
Mulk shuffled into the airlock, deep in thought. Inside the observation room, Yall sat heavily at a console and indicated for to watch. A hidden visual sensor in an airlock showed a black suited figure, similar to the alien she had studied, standing holding a weapon whilst water drained away from around it. It had several golden yellow markings that gave it a sinister insect look and as the water disapeared, the lights snapped out and revealed the creature in several different frequencies.
“It is carrying a power pack on its back, as well as a small nuclear device” Kamk said from behind them. They turned.
“A bomb?” Yall asked appalled.
“Security seems to think so. They have requested Warriors for to hunt the alien down before it kills some one.”
“Do you think our alien can persuade it to not use its weapon?” Yall asked Mulk.
“I know not, but maybe” She turned her eyes upon Kamk. “they are not enemy”.
“What say you?”
“It says it can breed. Our diagnosis was correct. It is both a breeder and a warrior”
Kamk said nothing. She stared at Mulk with a slightly lowered head.
“You must see this is a different race Kamk!” Mulk cried.
“Maybe” Kamk replied.
The Second Biotechnical Assistant spoke, “I do not understand what you´re talking about”
“The alien” Mulk pointed at the wall screen, “it can breed and incubate its young inside itself.”
“But why?” the assistant asked.
“Because that is what its natural purpose is”
“Natural?” the assistant looked to Kamk.
“Like an animal”
The technicians stood muttering amongst themselves and Mulk pushed her stool back from the repeating image of the alien soldier. Would the Warriors be able to defeat this thing? If the example in the other room was anything to go by, she thought not, and although it might have been an optical illusion brought about by the camera angle, this new alien looked to be even bigger than the first one.
“And they don´t know where it is?” She returned he rgaze to Kamk .
Kamk put down her private communicator and lowered her head. “No. It killed a guard and disapeared”.
“The Guard is dead?”
“What can we do to help?” The Third Biotechnical Assistant spoke for the first time.
Mulk looked at her and nodded. “Fund is right. We must do something”.
“Do what?” Kamk demanded.
Mulk gestured at the airlock. “We must enlist the help of this egg maker before the alien soldier destroys many lives!”
The seventeenth video feed was a shock. It showed Jessica King sitting on the floor of what looked vaguely like a locker room, dressed in a simple white tunic and eating from a bowl of gruel.
“Oh Jack Hazel!” he gasped. “Worm. Concentrate on this feed. Find out where she is being held”
“To do so will be to enter into the alien data stream. My presence might be detected.”
“I don´t care. I can plant other worms else where if you fail.”
He watched as Jessica ate.
It took the worm four minutes to detect the translator program the aliens had created, and with this tool, it translated the alien data in forty seven seconds.
“I am detected” it announced now that it could understand the data it was copying.”And a counter attack is being deployed.”
“Where is she?”
“She is being held in Biological Research Facilty Number Seven. On an island forty seven kilometers due north of our current position.”
Hardwicke received the map co ordinates, and replaced his helmet.
“Begin to disrupt their communications” he commanded and dropped back down the utility shaft.
The aliens in the control room froze in shock as he opened the door and stepped into the room. He shot the first two with neural pulses, and all the others but one rushed for the door. The last, stood its ground, and Hardwicke noted that where as the others had delicate fingers, this one had two huge serrated claws. It also had a rifle slung on its back similar to the dead alien he had first encountered by the air lock.
He kept his rifle trained on this one whilst the others fled, then when it became apparent that this one had no intention of letting him leave. He shot it.
An alarm began to wail.
He jumped across the room to the windows, and exited as he had first arrived. The vast hall of vats was just as it had been before, deserted and noisy, and he flew across the room and shot op the stairs at high speed. At the top he paused. Reinforcments had been called in and the room was filled with heavily armed aliens, all calling out and milling about in some confusion. He set the rifle for a wide beam and sprayed the room with neural beams.
All the aliens but two dropped. The last two wore power armour, and carried long barrelled rifles. Apparently they were sheilded, so he chose the maser option and killed them.
More aliens were at the airlock, and apparently they were repairing the door for it stood open and panels and components littered the floor. The seven gaurds all dropped before they even knew he was coming, and the technicians in the airlock cowered as he filled the inner door way.
He pointed to the outer door, and made an opening motion with his hand, but apart from a nervous chatter, this had no effect. He hefted the rifle and pointed it at the door, and both the aliens began to gibber and wave their hands, apparently staring at the floor in submission.
“Come on then get out of the way!” he indicated they should leave the airlock, which they did, and then he pointed to the inner door and motioned they should close it.
One of them pointed at the parts littering the floor and made some odd burbling noises. He noticed it was drooling.
“Well, you´d better run then” he said and was turning to blast the door, when he remebered the translation program.
“Computer, did you remember the translation program?”
“Good, translate what I say”. He pointed at the outer door. “I´m leaving through that door, but I will destroy this airlock to stop the water from flooding you. Do you understand me?”
The aliens gabbled at him, and in his mind he heard their response. “But what shall you do to these soldiers?”
“You may drag them down into the other room” he said.
The proximity warning alerted him to more aliens approaching from both ends of the corridor.
“Tell your soldiers not to approach this airlock or I will destroy this door at once.”Man! What a mess he thought!
Forty meters above Hardwicke, Photon registered a flying vehicle approaching from the north, then another.It dropped down out of sight, and watched as two armoured personnel carriers dropped onto the lake side. Aliens with mottled green skin began to deploy around the lake, and four red skinned aliens began to erect a device of some kind.
“Cuga are you able to see now?” it sensed.
“Come to my position, but be cautious, I have two squads of alien soldiers here, and I think Private Hardwicke has been discovered”.
Photon, kept its proximity sensors as wide as possible, but none of the alien soldiers bothered to search the surrounding forest.Instead they all focused on the lake. Waiting. Photon began to broadcast a repeated warning.
Once the engineers had dragged away the gaurds, Hardwicke blew out the tunnel in either direction causing the roof to cave in. He was almost buried alive, but managed to dodge into the airlock, where he instantly used the laser to melt a hole through the door. At once the small enclosed area filled with water, and he cut away busily like some monsterous water bug. It took him almost ten minutes to make a hole big enough to crawl through, and as he climbed out he heard Photons sens warning.
“..nty seven aliens are waiting up here with some kind of heavy weapon deloyed. What are your oders?”
“I´m coming up, can you destroy the heavy weapon? “
“Yes. Cuga is here also, it can be used to create a diversion, and I will destroy the heavy weapon. Wait twenty seconds then begin your ascent”
“Right. Go!” He ordered, freeing his leg from the hole.
He wating about fifteen seconds then began slowly to rise. At first nothing happened, but as he neared the top, there came a bright orange glow from above. At once he shot out of the lake, and sped into the sky. Projectile weapons crackled in the air behind him as he quickly turned north and sped across the tree tops.
Five minutes later he was joined by Photon and Cuga. Both intact.
Mulk had brought a stool with her this time, and she sat watching the alien eating. This was not nearly as fearsome as she had imagined and the alien ate rather slowly. Of course, the water like gruel they had prepared was not the most inspiring of meals, but it had flavour and carried all the valuable vitamins and proteins.
“Pretty awful” the alien replied, “and its making my stomach cramp”
“Ah… Jessica. My name is Jessica”
“Yes… and your name was Mulk, right?”
“You mean that’s your name? All that stuff about Biological facility seven?”
“you mean its what you do?”
“You want my help?”
King leant back on her hands, and considered the unblinking alien. “Go on?”
“I mean, how can I help you?”
“Happy-to-comply-I-am-but-sad-to-be-so-scared” Mulk said. “Soldier-has-broken-into-young-ones-incubation-farm-with-large-exlosive-weapon-and-I-am-afraid-for-what-can-happen”
“So you want me to talk to him?” She nodded to herself. “Is that why you woke me up?”
“Why did I wake up then?”
“You woke me up because I was having nightmares?”
“Body-chemical-imbalance-was-being-bad-for-your-mind” Mulk raised her head, “I-was-scared-you-might-be-damaged”
“Oh…” She sniffed, unsure wether to believe this was not just some ploy designed to gain sympathy. ”And what is it you want me to say to my friend?”
“Who are these warriors?”
“Are they here? Are they watching us?”
Abruptly she stood, various possibilities occuring to her. Just how valuble was Mulk? Could she be used as a hostage? What if Mulk was telling the truth?
She regarded the alien, who had started to drool at her sudden movement.
“Can we speak to my friend?”
The ceiling speaker interupted them.
“Mulk. The Alien has escaped out of Biological Factory Seventy Six and is flying here very fast” Kamk said. “It caused some considerable damage whilst breaking free, but spared most of the Warriors who tried to stop it. They are asking wether to kill it or not?”
“Are you asking me Kamk?” Mulk looked at where she knew the secret sensor was.
“I am asking you Mulk” Kamks voice was scared. “The Deputy Director is asking me, and I do not know what to do”
For a brief few seconds Mulk savoured the triumph before she soberly considered the options.
“Tell the Warriors to let the Alien land.” She turned back to the alien soldier. “Your-friend-is-coming-here”
“Yes-how can we-ask-him-to-not-kill-us”.
King stood up and walked over to the alcove. She picked up the towel, and handed it to Mulk.“Wave this at him” she said.
The swarm had now occupied the entire near side of the system and was settling into orbit of the star in a wide, undisturbed spread and yet there had been no reaction. Not from the planets, the many moons or the silent void between them, the long hylene tails of the swarm probes followed the gravity stream of the system with no deviations.
The Admiral cursed.
Trent lay on his couch, his long legs stretched out before him, apparently asleep. For the last ten hours, nothing had happened.
Van der Gees checked his boards. They were all green. He turned his attention to the autopsy report.
“A damn lobster is what it is” he muttered. The Navigator looked up, but seeing his face quickly looked down again.
The report made many references to the Hykon system, but they were mere speculation. Van der Gees wanted more, he wanted hard facts. Some real information, something to work with.
Like the facts he had had to deal with when he had been at Hykon. For unlike the theorising civilians, Admiral Van der Gees had been at Hykon, only then he had been Captain Van der Gees of the First Deep Space Fleet, commanding the ISS Marmont, a Nelson class patrol cruiser.
His memory, looking back at that mission, so similar in many ways to this one, brought his mind to bear on the Ataturk, his first command, and he remembered the day he had first set eyes upon her.
She had been suspended in the vast dry dock at the Ny Kessel yards orbiting high above Paya. And her camonode skin had been a beautiful creamy white. At that point she was already a hundred and ten years old. A third generation vessel, with the old fashioned scaffold like superstructure, and the weapons array on either flank marked with the characteristic yellow and jet chevrons.
“Captain Van der Gees reporting for duty” he had informed the marine at the airlock.
“Sir!” The Marine had scanned his sens and saluted, ”Welcome aboard your ship sir”
“Thank you Kennock” He had replied, the marines name already logged into his mind.
“Greetings Captain” The ship had spoken as soon as he had stepped inside her ”you are two days early”.
“Hello Ataturk” He had found the ship quite cramped after his last commision as first officer aboard the Flagship, Cleopatra, but using the hand rail he made his way to the crew section which was under grav, and here he located the tiny cabin which was his, just aft the bridge.
Van der Gees smiled to himself remembering the cabin. It was twice the size of all the other crews quarters, but it was still cramped. And he had the space to himself. All the other crew shared in a pairs.
Ataturk was still in active service in the Deep space fleet, now almost one hundred a seventy years old, she had undergone countless re fits, new power plants, reactors weapons and shields, and he had last seen her fifteen years ago, when last he had been to Paya.
By the time they had been sent to Hykon, he had commanded her for three years, and the small six man crew, and five marines had become his closest friends. He´d later had three children with his gunner, but that had come much later.
When the fleet had arrived at Hykon, sent to investigate the tremendous radio static which indicated alien life, they had all been eager friends, looking to make first contact, and unaware of the immense social upheaval their mission would bring.
Hykon. His mind dwelt on that mysterious place.
The star itself was a standard yellow dwarf almost two hundred light years from Paya, and since Paya was already twelve hundred light years from Earth, Hykon, at that time was the furthest any human warship had ever travelled from the home world. In order to make this mission possible, a refueling station and a science station were brought along, in order to be used as a base for further exploration. There was a Nebular in the vicinity, long named the Cats Eye by the Payans, but officially without a designated prefix, since another nebula already had the name, and this was found to have some very exotic new elements, or so the rumour went.
When the fleet had arrived in the vicinity of the Hykon system, they had found four other star systems producing various levels of radio static, all within ten light years of Hykon. Hykon its self had been found to be silent, and although later analysis had indeed found intelligent life in the system, it had no space faring technology, and the source of the radio waves first detected on Paya had been another local star; RefIMCat: 013 67723432. Later this star would be known by its native name as Nokk, but in the first days of the mission, at another star; RefIMCat: 013 67726778, the entire fleet had encountered the Eedrach who had told the humans to leave. The warning was unspoken but the lasers targetted on the hull of the Marmonts reactor left the Admiral with no illusions. The aliens did not want company. And no one then knew what they looked like.
A week later however, the Sagth OctoDarians were discovered. They were as radio noisy, and as happy to meet another sentient friendly race as the humans had been, and the later surprise that these aliens lived in symbiosis with a race of sentient water creatures called the Nano OctoDarians had only served to heightened the pleasure.
These two races were still, sixty years later, the only friendly aliens ever yet encountered. The natives of Hykon 2, were found to have been genetically altered by the Eedrach, and the entire planet was populated by these orphan races, abandoned for reasons unknown.
The Empire had declared the planet off limits to every one, except a small Imperial science mission which monitered these races in order to learn more about the mysterious Eedrach and their alien motives.
Van der Gees and his ship had spent almost the entire time as watchdog for the flagship. And when the Ataturks sister ship, the Marmont had been targetted by the first unknown alien, he had been convinced that they were all about to die. Admiral Shah had retreated though and sitting in his command capsule, Van der Gees wondered if perhaps Shah had not been correct.
Was he willing to risk the entire fleet fighting against a superior alien race?
He looked again at the reclining figure of Leonard Trent and asked silently, Who are these aliens? Are we dealing with yet more Eedrach, all the way out here, on the far side of human space?
“Sir?” the computer asked.
“Nothing, just wondering to myself” he replied.
Trent was not asleep. In fact he was thinking about the very same thing as the admiral, and in his doubts, he had pulled up everything he could remember on the Eedrach. Currently he was re reading the original civilian release of Admiral Ranjit Shahs first report.
Mission report. ISS Cleopatra. Nd 0129822
NNOFF. COMSet. 44501 10887. DSat: 223B
First Paya Deep Space Fleet
Condensed for public viewing.
Taken from the Capt´s log. 10/03/3273AD. Admiral Ranjit Shah
In receipt of orders received, report follows concerning the contact made with alien ( Non human ) lifeforms in the Hykon sector.
There are at least two identified species of alien residing in this sector. They have been identified by the difference in their radiowave emissions, the latter´s being somewhat similar to human emissions, unlike the first species, who do not produce very many radiowaves. The first has been identified as having spread to several systems, indicating an advanced civilisation, these will be our first choice for contact. The second race is confined to a single system.
Contact was made with nine ships on approach to the star system RefIMCat: 013 67726778. These ships were very small and our long range scans had a difficult time locating them. All fleet ships went to alert and I gave orders for the ISS Marmont to open a channel for communications. This continued for some two hours, until one of the alien vessels fired a single laser shot hitting the ISS Marmont on its reactor housing. The laser was powered down but the warning was obvious. I gave orders for the fleet to return to the Hykon system and we withdrew.
The nine ships were very small and yet had great speed and power. It is disturbing to note that had they opened fire, we would not have had the ability to return that fire. Our laser weapons have the range but our targetting computers were unable to locate them. I would further add that no human ship of a similar size would be able to sustain so powerful an energy weapon as that deployed by the aliens.
Taken from the Capt´s log. 14/03/3273AD. Admiral Ranjit Shah.
After due consultation with the science teams. I gave the order for the fleet to move to our second target, the star system RefIMCat: 013 67725432. As the fleet dropped into space outside the system, deep scans showed a small ship waiting for us. It opened fire at once, repeating the actions of our previous encounter. We retreated again to the Hykon system. Again the implications of our encounter give rise to some speculation. The alien ship targetted the same vessel, ISS Marmont, on the Reactor housing, in precise the same way as in our first encounter. I can not see much point in continuing these engagements. This alien race is obviously not interested in contact with the Human race.
Taken from the Capt´s log. 22/03/3273AD. Admiral Ranjit Shah.
Our orders are specific. We must make contact if at all possible. However we have decided to try to make contact with the second race, as the first race has repulsed all our efforts at contact.
Taken from the Capt´s log. 23/03/3273AD. Admiral Ranjit Shah.
Contact was made today with a friendly alien species. The fleet dropped into space outsystem of RefIMCat: 013 67723432, and began to tightbeam a friendly message to the populated planet. An answer was received within three hours from a spaceship that was leaving the system towards the fleet. A second similar vessel was spotted half an hour later accelerating from an extensive outer asteroid belt.
These two spaceships were very large. At least five kilometers in length and well over a half kilometer in diameter. They were easily seen on the scan, and were cylindrical in form. They seemed to trail arms and tentacles and gave the appearence of a pair of Squids. The first reached the fleet after seventeen hours of our initial broadcast. It came to a halt two kilometers from the ISS Cumberland. And opened a series of panels in its skin.
The alien ships are a sight to behold. They have the appearence of a small city resting on a great cylindrical hull, with two enourmous arms descending from the base of this hull. Several pylons extend in a ring from the hull and several of these incorporate extremely exotic tentacle like antennae.
A small ship approached from the mother vessel and met an assault craft from the ISS Cleopatra. Suited figures from the ISS Cleopatra entered the small ship and were transported back to the mother vessel. Contact with the away team was maintained at all times, and after half an hour the all clear was declared.
The science team departed at once and several aliens came over to the fleet.
The aliens call themselves the Sagith OctoDarian. They are shorter than Humans but heavier. They have an overall appearence some what similar to kangaroo´s, and they have two limbs and two legs and a short fat tail. Their upper bodies are quite slender, in contrast to their lower bodies which are heavily built and muscular.
They have horrific faces, all flaps that open up to reveal three teeth ridges. Their heads are shaped some what similarly to a terrestrial dog, but open up in three flaps, like a banana. They have eyes on the upper two flaps, and a nose on the lower flap.
Taken from the Capt´s log. 24/03/3273AD. Admiral Ranjit Shah.
The science team has informed me that they have met a second species of alien on board the Sagith OctoDarian mother vessel.
The second mother vessel arrived earlier this day and took up a position some kilometers away on the far side of the fleet. It to sent a team to make contact and we find our science team now split between the two. The new ship is similar in overall design to the first, but has an overall length of some seven kilometers.
The initial report on the second aliens has now been confirmed and it seems the Sagith OctoDarians live in a social symbiosis with a second race, identified as Nano OctoDarian, these are water based, and some three meters in length, with a five point starfish-like appearence. It seems that these creatures are highly intelligent and bring their powerful intellects to the Sagith OctoDarian cause. How these two species interact is still a mystery. Neither appears to control the other, but it is now obvious that the Sagith are not as intelligent as was first assumed. Dr Anderton suggests they are not much different from Humans in their intellectual capacity.
Taken from the Capt´s log. 25/03/3273AD. Admiral Ranjit Shah
Prof Dessiér has compiled a report in which he claims the Nano OctoDarians are almost as mentally powerful as our Artificial Intelligences. If he is correct then it is easy to see how the Sagith OctoDarians have been able to build the immense ships they posses. Prof Marlow has backed Dessiér up by pointing out the fact that the Sagith do not posses any powerful computers on board their ships. From the images I´ve seen, the interior of their vessels look like small towns with streets and even shops. A Third vessel has left the planet Nokk and is heading towards us. It has a smaller design and is more like a human ship than the two monsters we have so far encountered.
Taken from the Capt´s log. 26/03/3273AD. Admiral Ranjit Shah
The third ship has arrived in our vicinity. It carries an ambassador, who has offered to accompany us back to Paya. I have despatched the ISS Marmont back to ISt Prometheus to relay this news and bring back a diplomatic team.
Taken from the Capt´s log. 29/03/3273AD. Admiral Ranjit Shah
The ISS Marmont returned with ISS Aranté and ISS Sarathete at 14.00 hours Ships time. Imperial Ambassador Nesythé immediately took control of the mission and stood us down. Our orders are to wait until further orders, under special order 0678#1.
Captain Smythe came aboard for an update, and shortly there after Ambassador Nesythé sent back orders to allow a Sagith delegation permission to come aboard the ISS Cleopatra to inspect her. A twelve strong team of Sagiths came aboard and Lt Sandsten led them on a tour of our ship. I met them on the bridge and they seemed very unusual. They are quite short next to a human and their squat lower bodies and slender arms give them a very bottom heavy look. Their behaviour though makes humans look very dull by comparison. They seem naturally very curious and spent a long time `observing` the bridge crew. Sg-Mjr Rutherton kept watch the entire time, his hand resting on his fire arm, but nothing untoward happened. The Sagiths spent some twenty minutes on the bridge and hardly looked at the instruments. I was introduced to `First Baron of the Arsenal` Satch, who greeted me with great warmth, stating through the AI that he was very happy to meet us humans, as we were the first aliens he had ever met.
Taken from the Capt´s log. 30/03/3273AD. Admiral Ranjit Shah
Ambassador Nesythé has given orders for us to accompany the Nano OctoDarian ambassadors ship back to the Noctis system. ISS Aranté and ISS Sarathete will remain in orbit around Nokk ( RefIMCat: 013 67723432 ).
Trent stretched and yawned, opening his eyes to meet the Admirals frown.
“I trust you slept well?”
“Admirably well Admiral” he grinned.
Van der Gees sniffed. Civilians always made the same jokes. “I don´t supose you have anything to offer on our unfriendly aliens?”
“Well actually, I´ve been thinking” Trents face lost its grin, “The Eedrach at Hykon”
“They were more obvious about their hostility, they came forward and displayed their intentions.”
“Yes” said Van der Gees, he remembered it well. The tiny ships, with their enormous weapons.
“It occurs to me that we are dealing with something similar perhaps, but an entirely different race altogether in actual fact”
The two men regarded each other, opposites in every way, but agreed on this.
“So who are they?” The Admiral turned to contemplate the aeofield, “and should I stay and punish them for the Livia Drusilla, or should I do as Shah?”
“I don´t know” Trent responded, “but I do know that the authorities on Terra will not be so understanding as they were in Shahs day.”“No” The Admiral said in a low voice. “They won´t.“
It was six years since last Mulk had been up on the surface and her eyes, despite the sun glasses were pained by the bright light. Via a communicator she listened to the fire control center.
“It reaches you in six segments, you should be able to see it soon”
No one had volunteered, and she had not felt able to shame them by asking, so Mulk was alone on the beach, the towel in her delicate hand, and all warriors, breeders and cleaners ordered to remove themselves from the area. As usual the breeders had demanded explanations and had threatened non compliance, but the threat was a mereformality, and there was no one within four thousand lengths of her. If the alien proved hostile she would be defenceless. She clutched the towel to her chest and glanced at it.
“Wave that” The egg maker had said, but what if the alien did ot see it? What if it killed her before it was close enough to see what she was holding. And why would it respect the neutrality of a towel?
Photon, on point, saw the lone alien first. It brought its laser on line and sensed back the visual to Hardwicke.
“What is it holding?” he asked.
“A white flag by the look of it” Photon remarked without surprise.
“It must have been schooled by Jessica” Hardwicke unslung his rifle, slowing down, “Cuga. Both of you take up flanking positions on either side of it. Stay alert. They know we are coming, and they´ll have weapons ready. If I get hit, kill every alien you can find, other wise, don´t fire unless I say so”
“Yes sir” they chorused in his mind.
Mulk saw the approaching alien in the far distance and her exterior spit glands began to run.
“It has deployed the small robots, one on either side of you” Fire Command whispered in her ear.
“Its coming very fast” she replied.
Indeed the alien seemed to suddenly rush out of the sky, growing larger and approaching much faster than she had imagined. It swooped down to hover slightly in the air before her, its weapon, huge and implacable, had three muzzles and she imagined death flashing from one or all of them as she gaped at the sight. It dropped, spraying sand about her, and straightened to stand tall and imposing in its black and yellow armour.
She waved the towel at it.
“Yes” it said mechanically, “I-see-your-flag-and-ask-if-you-mean-peace”
“How-can-you-speak” she asked in amazement.
“Well-I-see” she said.
This alien was much larger than the first. Its armoured suit probably made it seem much bigger than it really was, but even counting this, it towered a full head higher than the egg maker.
“Where-is-Jeh-si-ka-king” the alien spoke.
“Jessica-is-in-our-laboratory” She replied after she realised what the alien had said. “It-is-weak-yet-from-the-active-hibernation”
The alien raised its head. “So-then-you-are-fertilising-eggs-you-are-fertility-injector”
“What-ever” Hardwicke muttered, getting impatient, he was about to demand the alien take him to see King, but suddenly it motioned with a delicate arm and began to wander away.
“Follow-with-me” it sang over its shoulder and in his mind.
“Photon, you come with me” he sensed, “Cuga, you stay here and stay hidden as best you can. If we are not out in two days, start killing!”
The Alien walked up the beach to a small paved path that ran a winding course inland. Hardwicke followed with as much patience as he could muster.
This island was much bigger than his old haunt, and he found himself being distracted by the many bright coloured bird creatures that were swooping about the pillar trees. He snatched his attention back to the undergrowth, but neither his rifle, his suit or Photon detected any other aliens within two hundred meters of them. Up ahead he caught sight of a squat mossy bunker. So overgrown as to be almost invisible.
The alien walked up to a faded door.
It regarded him for a few seconds, then turned and muttered. His suit translated.
The door slid open and the alien stepped inside. Hardwicke let Photon scan the interior first, and the drone sensed back a mental image of a long corridor, with another door at the far end.
Hardwicke stepped inside and followed the alien down the long corridor, his armoured foot steps echoing slightly off the polished granite walls. The décor was vastly different to the previous dark dungeon, and here were lights in abundance and a total absence of the many pipes and conduits he had seen earlier.
“This-is-our-elavator-to-below” the alien said as they neared the dry brushed steel door. It slid silently aside as they approached to reveal a small elavator. Big enough for five of the short aliens, but not tall enough for a human being.
“Sorry-about-space-room” The alien apologised as he crouched beside it. Photon hovered by the door.
“We are ascending” it sensed.
“Yes, I feel it”Hardwicke replied, “What-for-are-we-going-up”
The alien had removed its sun glasses and stared at him with its four black glossy eyes, and a long string of drool which hung from its lipless mouth.
“I-know-it-not” it replied.
“Why are we not going down?” Mulk demanded, forgetting again she was being translated.
“Supreme Command has overridden the previous orders” Fire Control spoke in her ear, a hint of hysteria in the voice.
“No explanation has been given”
“I-have-been-manipulated” She told her reflection in the black visor of the alien soldier. “Sorry-I-should-have-suspect-maybe-this-would-happen-but-I-trusted-to-much-and-please-move-behind-me”
She stood in front of the door. Determined to protect the alien if she could. As the elevator hummed to a stop, she realised she was so upset, that her glands had stopped salivating, and now her inner eyes were narrowed and her outer eyes were fully closed in an expression of extreme aggression.
The door slid aside to reveal the lone figure of the Director. At first she thought it was really him, but then she saw it was a crystal sheet hologramme.
“Please forgive me” the Director spoke seeing her face.
“Director. You have compromised my word and betrayed this aliens trust in me. I hope you will explain this to the alien, or I will be unable to operate in my designated capacity”
“Of course Biopsychologist Mulk” He nodded.
“Be-easy” The alien spoke behind her, “I-understand”.
Mulk stepped into the chamber, which was one she had never seen before, and for a moment her mind was filled with wonder at the beauty of what she saw.
The entire room was a long gallery, cut into the mountain side, and covered with a long series of crystal bubbles. The light was filtered just right, and it shone down on the long pools of green water and exotic vegetation. The entire inner wall was one great aquarium and the light played between these various details to create a vast shimmering space of greens and yellows.
The alien soldier also seemed impressed, as it stood silently, its visored helmet tracking back and forth.
“I-wished-to-address-you” the Director spoke to the alien. “Our-esteemed-scientist-Mulk-has-concluded-you-are-of-an-unknown-species-to-us-and-we-beg-you-to-speak-to-your-others-and-stop-their-attack”
“Interupt” his battle computer sensed.
“you are so much different yet so similar to our enemiy that we mistook you, but we have no orders as to how to deal with you, and we are unsure as to what next to do.”
“Orders? What do you mean orders?” Hardwicke asked.
Both Aliens gaped at him.
“How did you do that?” Mulk asked
“My computer upgraded the translator as we spoke”.
“Is it possible?” The Director asked some one unseen.
Mulk, spoke over him, “We operate from order of the council. The council combines all aspects of our endeavours and controls our fate.”
“Do you mean a government?” Hardwicke asked.
“Yes. I think so. Your word seems different though, out of context”
“A controlling organ?”
“Ah yes. That is how I can describe the Council”
“I am the Director of all sciences” the Director explained, and I take my orders from the council.”
“What about your military? Who controls them?”
“The Director of the Warriors”
“Is it possible to speak with him?”“Oh..I don´t know. Please wait whilst I find out.” The Director stepped out of site, and silence descended.
Jessica King was starting to get rather bored when the door slid aside and four gaurds holding rifles entered her room. “You-must-follow-the-Warriors” the ceiling spoke.
Very well, she thought, standing, I hope something half way decent is about to happen, cause its been a long time since anything good happened around here. As she left the room, she burped and tasted once again the alien muck they had called food.
“Exactly!” she growled to herself!
Another alien, similar to the first, but obviously older stepped into vision in the crystal. “I am the Director of the Warriors” it said, peering at Hardwickes massive form.
The alien Mulk looked up at Hardwicke and made a point of raising her head as if in arrogance. He ignored her.
“Why did you destroy our ship?” he demanded.
“Because you entered this system without using the authorised codes”
“What codes?” he demanded. “We have never been here before!”
“All ships entering the system must broadcast the necessary codes so as to identify that they are not enemy” the alien explained.
“But how are we to know the codes if we have never been here before?”
“If you are not the enemy, why are you here?”
Mulk interupted. “I have already explained this Director. The aliens may very well be a new race we have no knowledge of”
“But if this was so” The Director of Warriors pointed a feeble claw at her, “Then the council would have informed us of them!”
Voices, barely heard, muttered something behind the Director of Warriors and he half turned away, but was brought back by Hardwickes outburst.
“Who is this enemy you keep speaking of?”
“I am not to be giving of the information you ask for, because you may be just another type of soldier sent to…”
“Director!” Mulk cried. She held her breath then, shocked by the anger in her voice. “This is not the enemy!”
“And how can you know that!” The Director flared, angry in turn at being shouted at by a subordinate.
“It breeds” She replied, “As I already stated”
“But that proves nothing!” The Director answered before being cut off by interuptions at his end. He stepped away from sight and a new unfamiliar figure took his place.
“I am Council Member Trull” she said.
“A council member!” Mulk whispered, forgetting her manners in her surprise.
“Yes, and I would see the alien, without its armour.”
“No!” Hardwicke stepped back.
“Why not?” asked the figure, “what have you to lose? We know you carry a fusion device, and we have seen how easily your mind can communicate with your tools. You can just as easily defend yourself without your armour. And I wish to see if you do indeed have another gender than the other member of your species we have captured”
“Please do this” Mulk whispered, “It will convince them of my point that you are not a clone warrior sent by the enemy”
“But how does my gender prove I am not a clone?” he demanded.
“The enemy does not send clones that sophisticated” She explained. “By demonstrating your ability to breed, you demonstrate your superior originality”
“But any clone can be made to breed” he protested.
“Yes. I know, but it is not the enemy way”
“Not the enemy way?”
“Please” The Council Member spoke again, “Do this and we will reunite you with your egg maker friend”
“Photon” he sensed. “If you sense anything out of the ordinary….”
“I am alert” Photon replied, “I find there are only two entrences to this chamber. The elevator, by which we entered and the door at the far end of the room.”
Hardwicke nodded. Casualy, he armed the fusion grenade and linked it to his sens. Then after a brief hesitation, he removed his helmet.
He saw Mulk lift her head at the Counicl member, “Already there are big differences. Its face is filled with hairs that the other does not have” she said.Hardwicke sniffed and gradually, removed his armour. As he did, Mulk kept up a running commentary. Finally he stood in his some what worn and grubby under wear. As he removed it, Mulk stopped briefly in mid sentence.
“See! A semen injector, a classic variation on the standard biological model!”
“Yes. “ The council member agreed, “very well, I am convinced of the biological aspect of your theory.”
“There are two figures approaching along the corridors beyond that further door” Photon warned.
“Your friend is being brought to you now” the Council member said. Hardwicke, grunted, already busy with replacing his armour.
“Does your injector strengthen itself when you engage in…”Mulks question was cut off by the sound of the further door opening and Jessica Kings shout of surprise and joy, echoing in the vast chamber.
“Grant!” she yelled, and rushed across the room, startling Mulk, and Kamk who had accompanied her. “Jessica.” Grant grinned, thankfull he was now wearing the armour that covered him enough to protect him from Mulks prying eyes.
He was even more thankfull when she flung herself into his arms and he felt her supple femine form.
“What are you doing?” Mulk asked incredulously.
King held him at arms length and smiled into Hardwickes face. She noted at once how worn and battered he seemed. His eyes held a jaded look.
“I think the fleet is here” she whispered to him. He nodded so briefly that she was not sure if he had heard, and turned to Mulk.
“We are holding each other tight. It is how we display our happiness at seeing each other”
“They are touching legs” Kamk said from a safe distance.
“I see” Mulk lifted her head.
“And so you are united once more” The Council member said.
Both humans turned to face the crystal sheet with its life sized hologramme.
“Our people are here, in your system are´nt they?”
“Yes” the old alien nodded, “they have flooded the system with probes and are monitering what happens.”
“A probe swarm” King muttered.
“But that is not what concerns us” Trull continued, “one of the moons of the seventh planet has been destroyed by an energy weapon, and our Warriors have analysed the threat to our interior planets as being considerable. If Mulk is correct, and you are telling us a true explanation, then we must ask you to contact your people and tell them not to destroy any further moons or planets.”
“And how can I do that?”
“We know where your ships are, we just don´t know how to speak to them without causing further loss, also, of the communications we have intercepted, all are coded and we just don´t know the encrypting codes. We can provide you with the means to broadcast though, and I assume you can speak to your leaders?”
“Yes. But why should I?”
Trull lifted her head slightly, her outer eyes narrowing. “You must, to prevent further deaths. Already we have lost Seven thousand, four hundred and sixty nine Warriors and Scientists. We cannot accept this level of casualties any longer. If you refuse, we must follow the law and launch a full scale attack on your people, as enemies.”
“Do it” King sensed. “They won´t know what your´re saying anyway, other wise they would´nt really need our help”
“I know” he replied, “I´m just sour ´cause of what they did to us and the Barabrigos!”
To the Council Member, he nodded, “I will speak to my leader, and tell him what you say”.
Van der Gees turned in amazement. “What?” behind him he felt Trent spring to his feet.
“The fleet is receiving a faster than light transmission from the third planet” The computer repeated.
“Lets hear it”
A hiss of static filled the bridge, and then a distant voice spoke; “This is Grant Hardwicke. I am on the third planet with Jessica King. We are guests of the natives of this world, I do not know what they call themselves, but they wish a cease fire. They claim this whole thing is a matter of mistaken identity…. They thought we were some one else…
If you receive this messsage, please call off the attack, and send negotiators to the third planet….” The voice faded, then came back strong, “ Jessica and I are the only survivors of the Livia Drusilla..”
“Survivors!” Trent exclaimed.
“Leonard?” his sens interupted his amazement.
“Inform the Admiral that both Doctor Abé and I will accompany the mission to the third planet”
“What if the Admiral chooses not to send a mission?” Trent observed.
“He will” Webster said, “Don´t worry about the Admiral, he has his orders just as I have mine”
“Very well sir” Trent opened his eyes, closing his sens. The Admiral was standing in the midst of the aerofield barking orders into thin air, his eyes closed. Trent stood patiently, biting his lip. Something was worrying him, something about Dr Webster. There had been no mention of any such orders before. As far as the official mission brief read, the final authority rested with Admiral Van der Gees.
“Mr Trent?” The Admiral broke his line of thought.
“Admiral” Trent flashed his most winning smile. “Doctor Webster and Doctor Abé have requested that they accompany any mission going to the third planet”
“I see” The Admiral said evenly, the smile was lost on him, “Very well then, please inform them that the Napier will be departing in one hours time, so they had best get over on to her as fast as they can!”
“Yes sir” Trent said.
“And Mr Trent?” The Admirals voice took on a new tone, an almost confiding voice, that had an air of concern about it.
“Should you like to go with them?”
“Me sir?” Trent swallowed, “but won´t you need me here if things go wrong?”
The Admiral held his eyes on Trents for several long seconds. “No”.
Trent felt a drop of sweat run from his arm pit down across his ribs.
“I should like to go with them” he said.
“Very well” The Admiral nodded and turned away.“Great stars alive!” Trent whispered to himself as he opened the link to Dr Webster.”What am I getting into?”
”The council is met.” Trull said.
She stood at the head of the table and gazed upon the faces before her. The other elleven members of the council, as well as the Directors of Science, Breeding, Power, the Warriors, the Cleaners, Agriculture, Aquaculture, Engineering, Industry, and Medicine were seated around the great table.
Sitting by herself, to one side of the chamber was the Biopsychologist, Mulk.
“We are met here for to discuss exactly what we must do about these new aliens. They have agreed to send a mission to discuss this situation, and I would like you all to interpret how the law deals with new species. By which I mean species beyond our knowledge”
The Director of Power stood up “But I know nothing of these enemies. This is the first I am informed of them in almost a hundred rev´s. How am I supposed to form an opinion of what I know nothing about?”
Trull nodded, but before she could reply, she was interupted by The Director of Medicine.
“All I know is, we cannot deal with the massive numbers of wounded which will ensue if they destroy any of the inner moons or orbital installations.”
“They have yet to discover any of our orbital defences” The Director of the Warriors assured her, “all our inner system is well gaurded.”
“I would have said the same thing about the moon of Fanyi,” the Director of Industry muttered.
“Please” Trull held up her hands. “We must not fall into incrimination when we need consensus. We must agree on our next course of action!”
“Launch an attack now, whilst we still can” the Director of the Warriors nodded.
“I advocate a meeting” the Director of Aquaculture said.
The Director of Science glanced over at Mulk who was sitting on the edge of her toes. He lifted hs head and spoke. “I fully support Biopsychologist Mulk in her findings. These creatures may resemble the enemy, and they do in fact carry very similar genetic traits. But these creatures are not enemy.
The simple fact that these aliens have the…”
“Why don´t we hear it from her then?” the Director of Industry interupted rudely. The Director of Science closed his outer eyes in irritation, but raised his head all the same. “Very well then.” He indicated to the empty seat besides Trull at the head of the table, and nervously Mulk waddled across the chamber to sit there. All eyes followed her, except the the Director of Science who glared at the Director of Industry in irritation.
“I am sorry.” She began “but I had little time to prepare any visual aids, but we do have a few hologrammes. The lights dimmed and a naked alien floated in a wall screen. The assembled dignitaries shuffled and turned to examine it.
“This is the egg maker, named Jessica.” She spoke almost to herself since the council and the Directors were all muttering to each other. Trull gave her a wink and raised her head, so Mulk pressed on. “As this image is to scale, you can see how big they really are”
The Director of Agriculture swore softly to her self.
Mulk changed the hologramme to Hardwicke in full armour. “This is the other, wearing his armour, and standing even taller than the first.”
There was more urgent whispering to and fro, and she heard the Director of the Warriors snort in indignation.
“And here it is without garments”
“What is that between its walking limbs?” the Director of Power asked.
“A breeding limb” the Director of Medicine replied.
“Yes. Its semen injector” Mulk agreed. “It is what seperates this type of alien from the enemies.
As we have known for many a cycle, perhaps as long as ten thousand orbits. The enemy cannot breed.”
“But how do you know they have not deployed another type of Warrior?” the Director of Aquaculture asked. “What makes you so certain?”
“Everything about them is different” Mulk replied.
“They all look like enemy to me!” the Director of the Warriors said.
“Really?” Mulk, opened all four eyes wide, and brought back the hologramme of Hardwicke in the terrifying black armour. “Have you ever seen any technology like that? Does any of their weaponry, or their vessels resemble any of those of the enemy?
In ten thousand cycles, have you ever heard of the enemy using an active energy beam weapon to destroy an entire moon?”
“That proves nothing!” the Director of the Warriors retorted. “All attack doctrine indicates a renewal of tactics and logistics as part of the natural progression of warfare. This… ” He waved at the hologramme, “…could simply be the newest type of clone!”
“Yeah?” The Director of the Cleaners sneered.
“Not at all” the Director of Science interupted. These new aliens have too many genetic differences to be cloned from the enemy. They are similar yes, but so are we”
“What?” the Director of the Warriors muttered, he looked about the table for support, but the Director of Breeding spoke first.
“If they resemble us, as well as the enemy, how come they can breed without aid, and we cannot?”
“They have not been refined as we have” the Director of Science explained, he lifted his head at Mulk, who caught the hint.
“They say they use a single genetic model for all things, so that a soldier can very easily be a breeder, or a farmer, or even a cleaner. Both of these two specimens are easily capable of operating in zero gravity. They have been regeneered for it as part of their military training”
“What are you saying?” the Director of Power demanded,”That they were created to do all these things, but were then remade as Warriors?”
“No” Mulk narrowed her eyes, “It is far more simple. “They were not made. They were born.”
“They were what?”
“She means” the Director of Breeding leant forwards, “that they are self replicating, intelligent animals, who have evolved to their current level of technology”
“But that’s…” the Director of Agriculture almost stood in indignation.
“Impossible?” Trull asked.
“….Impossible” Agriculture looked from Trull to Mulk and then at the hologramme.
Trull motioned and the lights came back up.
She looked at them all, then turned to Mulk. “What do you recommend Biopsychologist?”
“They can destroy us if they wish” She said softly. “We must talk first, and avert war if we can”
“Thank you” Trull bowed, and Mulk sat mute in her chair.
Now, the silent council members rose as one, and the Directors watched as the law makers filed from the room.
Trull remained long enough to thank them for attending, then followed her brethren from the chamber. Behind her she heard indignation and accusations break out as the door slid shut.
“So what do you think?” she asked the others.
“I think we have met the ultimate test” Hurk said flopping onto a well padded stool.
“I agree” Teska nodded, “how do we deal with aliens who are not described within the law?”
“Perhaps we are mistaken” Uminn suggested, “Perhaps we have been misled by the enemy and even now their Warriors are coming to destroy us”
“Do you really think so?” Hurk asked surprised.
“Well I don´t know”
Hurk looked at Trull, “I was very convinced by that Biopsychologist, she had facts, where as the others had questions.”
Teska growled, “The Directors never agree on anything. It is a waste of time asking them”
Trull raised her head thoughfully, “What do you think Jept?”
Old Jept regarded the room. “We have always known there was a possibility that the day might come when the ultimate test was delivered. I think this is it”
“But I never thought it would happen in my life time” Ashk sighed. There was a general murmer of agreement. One did not expect religious happenings of this magnitude to interupt with ones daily life. It was unheard of.
“Let is not be to hasty to reach a decision lest we make the wrong decision” Mank said. “This may be a test, but I doubt it is that which was ordained.”
“Why don´t we just ask the Interpretor?” Teska suggested.
They all stared at her except Jept who lowered her ancient head. “No one has spoken with the Interpretor since the last war. I have often thought to do so, but I have never had the courage”
“No one?” Teska asked, “Not even in six hundred and nineteen orbits?!”
“Not to my knowledge, no…” Jept answered.
“Its as I imagined then Tanyk spoke for the first time. “We should have gone to see the Interpretor many orbits ago. Long before this happened!”
Trull sighed and raised her head. Yes, it was true, these aliens had illustrated just how archaic the council and its traditions had become. The problem was, the Interpretor, was even worse. Unlike the others she had more experience with the sacred island and she had at least a passing familiarity with the Interpretor through his official correspondence. She had never met him in person, but his reports and requests were written in a very strange old fashioned manner. Many of his phrases were even rude with their lack of consideration for her rank.
“Let us decide” she said. “I shall go to the meeting with the aliens, and Hurk, Lama and Teska will come with me. Jept and the rest of you will go to the sacred island and see the interpretor.
We must know how what the law says about this, and if the law says nothing then the Interpretor must grant us autonomy to make a new law.”
No one disagreed, so the decision was made, and despite a few worried faces, not least old Jepts, the council scattered.
Mulk was soon summoned to the airport where Councillor Trull was waiting, flanked by four huge Warriors.
“Greetings again, Biopsychologist Mulk” the older female blinked.
“I am honoured at your request Councillor Trull” she repsonded truthfully.
“Nonsense!” Trull snorted as they boarded the helicopter, “if the truth be known, you are the only one among us that really understands these aliens and what they mean. I am confident that you are equal to the task ahead of us, and I am glad to have you along! May I call you Mulk?”
“Yes..” Mulk stammered in surprise, “Please do”“And you shall call me Trull. We shall be good friends in this time of trial” The council member wheezed in humouous appreciation.
The Sapper was only forty two percent surprised to hear Photon again. It had not expected it to return so soon though, and not alone.
“Is the Marine still active?” it asked.
“He is” Photon replied as it swept across the sea towards the island. “Prepare for departure. You are to break camp, and bring the final food supplies.”
“Yes, at once” The Sapper dropped its sea weed collection and made its steady way back to the camp.
Still many kilometers out to sea, but travelling fast, Photon remembered the Sappers previous preoccupation with the native marine life. “What did you deduce from your examinations?”
“The sentient life forms are crudely but efficiently geneered. They bear many of the characteristics of the marine life here, but also they carry genetic material that is not of this star system”
“How did you reach that conclusion?”
The Sapper reached the camp and began packing its tools together. “The medical computer from the Barbarigos autodoc helped me. I fed it the raw material and it did a DNA analysis.”
“You did not have permission to use the Autodoc” Photon pointed out.
“My orders are ambiguous, neither do they state I am not to use the Autodoc”
“What do you mean by ‘not of this star system’?”
“Some of the DNA material which came from an egg I took in the lake resembles human DNA, and some is unclassified”
“It is Human DNA, or it just resembles it?”
“It resembles it. There are minute variations, a common stem may be indicated.”
“We may be returning to the fleet soon” Photon replied. “Contact has been re established and the Napier is en route”
“Yes, I heard the hyper wave broadcast signiture”
“The Napier is bringing a science team. They will solve this mystery. Store it in your memory for now. We have much work to be done.”
Whilst the Sapper was busy sorting through the few battered boxes of supplies, Hardwicke and King sat on the beach, beneath the giant pillar trees. The Napier was due in ten hours and they had nothing to do but wait. Hardwicke had already told her about the crash and how he had found himself alone but for his two drones and the Sapper.
King had been reunited with Cuga, who now sat idly in the sunshine, and they had done some light exersizes, wrestling and callisthenics. Two hundred meters along the beach, a squat helicopter and four alien gaurds kept a discreet but ever watchfull eye on them.
Jessica King had had her armour and rifle returned to her, though not her fusion grenade. They lay discarded with Hardwickes things, watched over by Cuga.
“What do you think?” She asked.
“About the aliens?”
“I think they are for real”
“That it was an accident?”
He considered for a moment “Yeah.”
She shook her head. “They kept me hibernation for at least three months”.
He said nothing but from under his shading hand he watched her eyes. She glanced at him, then returned to stare out to sea.
Far out on the horison, the vast dark blue sky was dotted with fluffy white clouds. The whole thing looked like an impossible dream.
“Have you ever seen anything as beautiful as this?”
“I thought you were from Jamiaca?” he teased.
“Well, yeah. Jamiaca is nice, but this… this is so pure”
“Huh” Hardwicke grunted, “Two days ago, it was pouring with rain. In fact, its been raining for weeks, and I doubt this good patch will last much longer”.
“Perhaps.” She rested her chin on her knees. “Why did they not wake me up and just ask me?”
“Why should they if they thought you were this enemy of theirs?”
“An enemy who has´nt attacked them in over six hundred years?” she scoffed. “Don´t you think they´d have been curious for some interogation?”
Hardwicke flopped onto his back. “Ive already thought of that. You´re accounted for now, and Cuga saw Captain Hariq´s body. The crew of the Barbarigos all died in the crash and I buried them, but that still leaves Dixon and Chi”
“Have you asked them?”
“Not yet. I want to see inside the Napier before I bring it up”
“Oh, nothing. Just that it´ll be good to get back amongst humans again”.
“Until next time” he nudged her leg, and she looked down at him, her face in shadow. “why does it bother you so much?”
“Being in hibernation”
She said nothing, thinking. The she looked away and he saw her shoulders shaking. For a few moments he let her cry, then carefully he put his arms around her.”Behind them Cuga noted the gaurds watching with a camera.
“Do you have any idea what the aliens will demand?” Trull asked after they had eaten.
“No.” Mulk replied, “Why should they demand anything. They said they came here as a science mission.”
“And in the light of the two unarmed probes they sent before them, I am inclined to believe them” Trull accepted two glasses of cooled tea from the stewardess, “Unfortunatly there is the matter of a broken moon to be discussed.”
“Is it important?”
“Oh yes indeed. The implications of the shift in gravity will mean the region is disturbed for many orbits to come. Our mines and outer system defenses will be hampered for at least ten orbits”
“But why should they make demands of us, when it was they who destroyed our moon?” Mulk asked.
Trull contemplated the small wide eyed scientist. “You said it yourself Mulk. They are all the same. One type”
“What does..? I mean…”
“If these two we have already seen are any indication we can go by, then they are a race of Warriors. Predators who wear fully armoured suits and carry weapons far greater than they need to”
“I do not believe they pose a threat to us?” Mulk insisted.
“And perhaps you are correct, after all you are an eminent psychologist, but with all due respect, have you had access to their history? Or the motioves of their leaders? They say they were a science mission, well fair enough, and perhaps they were, but what is science to a race that carries weapons into a new system?”
“But it was us that attacked them” Mulk pointed out.
“Yes, but if we accept and admit our mistake now, what will it cost us? I must consider these things”
“The law is the law Mulk. You know that”
Mulk gulped, “But you said the law had nothing to say about new aliens”
“It does´nt. I checked. But I have sent the rest of the council to the sacred island to consult the Interpretor, and he may have a different view altogether”.
“So the Interpretor really exists?!”
“Oh… I thought he was just a myth”
“Oh no. He is real, although no one has spoken to him for six hundred orbits”
“Does he live for ever?”
“I don´t know, but he seems to have been around for longer than any one of us”
Mulk could´nt think of what to say to this information, which seemed incredible and she lapsed into silence. Trull also seemed be contemplating this apparent enigma so Mulk looked away so as not to appear rude.
It was hard though, not to look at Trull. Up until the events of the last few days she had never seen a council member, in fact she had never even seen the Director except as a hologramme, and now here she was sitting in the lounge of Trulls personal helicopter, racing across the sea to meet aliens from another world. She had nothing but her training to fall back on, so she began to analyse her emotions as they flew rapidly across the deep blue sea.
She realised she was happy.
“What is that?”
Hardwicke turned to look at where King was pointing. Far out in the surf was a great shiny grey dome, rising slightly as it moved swiftly through the waves.
“I dunno” he shrugged.
“Cuga, go and take a look at that and tell us what it is”
The little drone hopped into the air and sped out to take a closer look. King closed her eyes, but Hardwicke walked back up the beach to where his armour lay. It was hot to the touch, so he shifted its colour to a light cream hoping it would cool off.
“Its a predator. A big one!” King shouted of the sound of the surf. “Its chasing some of the aliens!”
“Our aliens?” he sensed back.
“Yeah, and its making a mess of them”
He looked over to where the gaurds were standing. They were all gazing at the sea, and he wondered if they knew what was going on. He picked up his rifle and began jogging towards them. This caused a stir, but when he pointed out to sea, they relaxed a little. One of the waddled forward to meet him.
“Do you know some of your people are being attacked?”
“Yes,” The guard said, amazed at being understood. “Do not be concerned. They are only breeders”
“Only breeders?... right.” Hardwicke frowned for a moment, a long drawn out moment, then shrugged and walked back to where Jessica King was standing.
“What did it say?” she asked.
“He did´nt care. He said they were only breeders”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I don´t know. Maybe we should ask Mulk, maybe he knows”
“Yeah. Mulk is a girl”
“Ah...” He smiled absently watching the distant surf where the reefs were, and the big animal was busy killing sentient beings whilst their own kind stood by indifferently.
Over head the sky had turned lighter, and the small puffs of bright white cloud had been replaced by long grey strips high in the atmosphere.
The final leg of the voyage was by gondolier, and Jept held her hand firmly to the oarlock by her side. She may have been female, but she was no breeder! If she fell in, in her ancient state, she would drown in seconds.
Beside her, Tanyk sat moping. He had not expected to be asked to accompany her to the island itself, but Jept felt that beneath that glum exterior there was an extremely intelligent young male just waiting to become a dominant force on the council.
They had all flown down to the Warriors island aerodrome where they had stood in the hard sun light and argued about who should go with Jept and speak to the Interpretor, and who should stay behind.The idea being that the interpretor might not take kindly to so many council members intruding all at once. Jept had been unimpressed by the sudden cowardice of her fellows and had simply chosen Tanyk because as usual he had kept silent through out.
Very intelligent was Tanyk, but Jept was older, wiser and much smarter. She knew for example what was going on in Tanyks mind as they sat there, or at least she though she had a pretty good idea of what he was thinking.
Ahead of them the island loomed, its cliffs steadily growing larger and blocking out more and more of the sky.
Right in their course was a cave, and the gondoliers were both heading straight for it. Both of them, mute and indifferent to Jepts curiousity and Tanyks silence.
As far back as the records went, and Jept had been extremely suprised to see just exactly how far back they went, this island had been off limits to the common people. Its name had always been the same, Sacred island and its function had always been the same. For seventeen thousand years this island had housed the interpretor. The physical manifestation of the creators will and commands.
Jept looked up at the imposing cliffs and considered. The bio engineers and cloning scientists had told her that longevity was possible, but only before a person was made, but that the current gene pool was getting worse and worse with each passing generation and the ability had passed beyond their grasp. Could it be possible that once people had lived for ever, and these original people lived hidden away on this island?
Tanyk glanced at her out of the corners of his eyes.
“Has it occurred to you” he murmured, “That no one expected the alien arrival, even though the last four recorded attacks were all forseen by the Interpretor.”
“Were they?” Jept turned to stare in surprise”
“How do you know this?”
“Before I was chosen for the council I worked in the central Warriors administration. I´ve read most every report about the last attacks. They were called the final stage assaults by the Warriors council of the time”.
“Really?” This was news to Jept, “I had no idea”
“Few do” Tanyk replied.
They sat in silence as the cave approached, and the waves began to echo oddly in the confined space. Far ahead, in the darkness, they could see the light of another entrance, this time within the island.
“Do you know what this island is named on the oldest Warrior maps?” Tanyk muttered, his voice thin and metallic.
“No” Jept answered.
“Not sacred island?”
“No that came later”
“And what is a citadel exactly?”
“A fortress within another fortress”
Jept nodded. They were coming out into the open air again, and here was a lagoon enclosed all round by steep cliffs. Across the shallow water was a black sand beach.
“So this is an old volcano” She said. Tanyk looked at her and clicked his mouth.
“What?” She chattered, amused, “I´m not allowed to show off?”
“We are expected” he changed the subject. Two figures were standing on a long jetty.
“This is as far as we go go” one of the gondoliers said. “Usually we bring the requested supplies here, and leave them on the beach. We rarely see any one here.”
“How often do you come?” Jept asked over her shoulder.
“Every six or seven days”
“Considering the size of this boat, that’s quite a lot of supplies for just one person.”
“Oh there are many more people here than we can supply” The other Gondolier added. “I have once seen a whole crowd here in this place, all laughing and carrying on. No one paying us the slightest mind at all”
“How many?” Tanyk asked.
“I did´nt count them, but maybe as many or more than as at the airbase, and they all look funny.”
One of the two figures on the jetty cried out as they approached, and Jept turned to see.
“Council member Jept I presume?”
“Yes” Jept waved as the Gondola drew alongside the jetty, “And this is my fellow member of the council Tanyk”
“Indeed?” The figure bowed.
Tanyk fairly sprang up onto the jetty, but Jept had to be helped by the two gondoliers. She was so old that she could hardly lift her self up, let alone climb onto the ancient wooden platform rearing twice her height above the water. Eventually, with much grunting, and Tanyk pulling from above, she managed it, and puffing from the exertion she found herself staring at two pale female dwarfs.
“I am Notross” The smaller spoke, “and this is my body custodian Kenek”.
“Body custodian?” Jept asked.
“Yes. She looks after me.”
“I see” Jept lifted her head although she had no idea wether Kenek was a groomer, a warrior or a breeder. She looked to be none of these with her delicate fingers and pale pink skin.
“Why are you so small?” Tanyk asked.
“We are all smaller than you, and lighter in skin tone. We live in close proximity to the divine one, and we are clad thus for its pleasure”
“You mean the Interpretor?” Jept prompted.
“No.” Notross said. “Follow me and you will meet the interpretor and she can explain all you ask”
“She?” Jept muttered to Tanyk as the two pink dwarves waddled away.
The two counsil members followed their guides up a long winding stair that was soon swallowed up by the ever present cliffs. Soon they found themselves in a vast underground plaza, where hundreds of people similar to Notross and Kenek went about their business. Many stopped to stare, and for the first time in her life, Jept found herself feeling big and clumsy.
“What is all this?” She asked Notross.
“This is just the upper level, where we live.”
“What do you all do?” Jept saw long glass walls with lines of Scientists working at moniters and crystal screens.
“Here we moniter the outside world, and all our information is gathered and condensed and sent down to the Interpretor”
“Ah, I see.”
“What is that?” Tanyk pointed to a pit in the floor.
“That is the main vent to the lower levels”, Notross diverted them closer. And they gazed down into a dizzying pit that dropped into the depths.
“How far down does it go?” Jept gasped.
“No one knows” Notross replied, “We have asked the computers but the information was not forth coming, and all attempts at measuring the drop with falling items has been unsuccessfull”
“Because everything we drop just falls out of all sight.”
“There is quite a lot of heat coming up” Tanyk observed.
“Yes, it is surplus from the lower levels”
“What´s down there?”
“Again, we don´t know.”
“Does the Interpretor?” Jept asked.
“The Interpretor may know, I do not”
“Well, let us go and see the Interpretor.”
They moved on along tiled pristine white corridors, and past window after window showing thousands of Scientists, all small and all pink.
“Just how many people are living here?” Jept asked when they finally stopped at two large bronze doors.
“About ten thousand” Notross replied. She motioned to the doors. “Now you must descend into the lower levels, beyond my care. Another will meet you below.”
The doors slid aside silently to reveal a large elevator, its walls made of glass.
“Thank you.” Jept touched her forehead in reverence and they entered the elavator.
“State destination please” a stale voice said from the ceiling.
“We wish to see the Interpretor” Jept replied.
The floor dropped and the they both clutched each otherconvulsivly as the elevator car dropped in to a vast cavern.
“Whats holding this thing in place?” Jept cried as they apparently fell through the empty air of a vast cavern.
“I don´t know” Tanyk replied, calmer, but still with an edge of hysteria in his voice, “Look over there!”
Jept turned just in time to see another elavator, similar to their own flashing up into the darkness above. Below them they sense light.
“Just how fast are we dropping?” Jept wondered.
“Any faster and we´d be floating without gravity” Tanyk replied.
“I think we are standing in a nulling field” Jept answered. “We would be floating if it were´nt so. We are dropping faster than gravity.”
Tanyk felt the pressure popping in his nostril cavity and lifted his head. “I think you are correct” he said.
“Ooh” Jept pressed a finger against her own bony old nose plate.
Outside a light flashed by so fast they had no time to see what it was, but even as Jept asked what it was, another flashed by and then two more, and they realised they were seeing windows in a vast rocky wall.
They started to feel heavier.
More windows moved by and now they could see other details. Tall pylons holding wires, strange robots clawing at the underground cliffs, and at least four jump guns berthed at moorings jutting out from the distant cliffs.
Suddenly they were in a shaft again and moments later they slid to a stop.
The doors slid apart and standing there was another alien, this one even smaller and creamy white in colour. They glanced at each other as it spoke.
“Greetings, I am Hopien 41 of the Rotunda Interpretor brood.”
“I am Jept and this is Tanyk. We are sent by the....”
“Yes, we know,” Hopien 41 interupted, “we have been informed by the upper level. If you follow me I shall take you to see the Interpretor”.
“Very well” Jept said, and as they began to walk along the dimly lit corridor, “Forgive me but are you male or female?”
“I am both” Hopien 41 replied, “Brood assistant mother to Yima 62, and father to the next Rotunda brood but three”
“Both?” Tanyk asked from behind “How is that possible?”
“Our gene pool is so much smaller than yours that we are made to be capable of establishing new genetic varients with each new generation”
Tanyk lowered his head secretly at Jep who caught the gesture and blinked in equal incomprehension.
They had arrived at a long wide cause way whose one wall was dominated by a vast window which looked out into darkness, more pale white midgets moved back and forth. In the centre of this chamber was a lone pink figure.
Hopien 41 lead them to this person and introduced them to Interpretor Tenk.
“Greetings councillors” She touched her forehead and they both replied in kind.
“Are you from the upper levels then?” Jept asked.
“Yes” Tenk answered.
Around them were banks of technicians and rows of screens, and this apeared to be some form of command center, though Jept was unsure why it was situated in the middle of the much larger chamber.
Tanyk also seemed to be wondering this because he wandered over to where several technicians were fidgiting with a faulty screen.
“We were sent by the counsil to ask you about a point of law.” Jept dragged herself back to their mission.
“Yes” Tenk lifted her head, “You need to ask wether or not the Aliens constitute an enemy and if not, what is the law on such unkown entities”
“Yes.” Jept was hoping for a quick answer since she knew that Trull would soon be meeting the aliens and diplomacy would be sorely amiss if they turned out to be enemy after all.
“Well, I have already consulted the previous rulings and there was never made any command that dealt with aliens at all”
“But what of the enemy?”
“They are only refered to as enemy”
“So what does that mean?”
“For us today, I do not know. Our only recourse is to ask the divinity”
“The Divine One”
Tanyk turned abruptly, but Jept ignored him.
“You say this as if it should mean something to me, but I am unfamiliar with the title. I thought you administered the law?”
“Who is the Divine One?” Tanyk asked.
“The Divine One is the law!”
“Do you mean the law speaks?” Jept asked incredulously.
“The law is an intelligent computer is´nt it?” “Tanyk demanded, I knew it!”
Tenk seemed taken back by their expressions of amazement. In particular by Tanyks sudden excitement.
“The Divine One is he that makes the law. He is not a machine!”
“He?” Jept prompted. She looked about the vast chamber dominated by the vast window.
“The Divinity resides within his sanctum” Tenk pointed behind them where a small passage way lead deep into solid rock. A single unarmed guard stood before it. “but no one has disturbed him for a great many orbits.”
“Why not?” Tanyk asked, apparently unconcerned that his computer theory had denied.
“There has been no need. Neither I nor my predesessor had any reason to disturb him”
“Well then how do you know if he´s still alive?”
“Because he is. You see the Divinity is immortal. He has ruled us for tens of thousands of orbits”
“Ruled?” Tanyk lowered his head.
“Immortal?” Jept gasped. “How can that be? All our best Biologists have emphatically stated that immortality is impossible”
“Nothing is impossible” Tenk assured her, “Not for the Divine One”. Several of the technicians raised their heads at this statement, and Jept felt the room spinning slightly.
“Is there any where I could sit down please, my legs are not what they once were”
“Of course” Tenk motioned and a stool was brought.
“So you are telling us, that the council has been ruling on behalf of this ‘Divinity’ for the last. How many years?”
“That is correct.”
“But, we´ve never heard of this person, how could we be ruling on his behalf?”
“You rule by the letter of the law do you not?”
“And you are here to consult that same law are you not?”
“That is what the Divinity decreed”
“So who is the Divinty?” Tanyk asked again.
“As to who he is, that I do not know” Tenk looked to the corridor, “I have never met him, and according to the records, not one Interpretor has met him in almost five hundred orbits”
“But why not?” Jept asked.
“There has been no need. We kept within the boundries of the law, and nothing untoward happened”
“Yes, until now” Tenk seemed to swell slightly, raising herself to her full height. “And now I shall be the first Interpretor to have seen the Divine One with my own eyes in twenty seven generations of Interpretor”“So you propose to ask this Divine One what to do?”
“The law demands it” Tenk nodded.
“Can we come with you?” Tanyk asked.
“Of course. You must inform him of your opinion as to what threat these aliens present”
Tenk turned to her technicians. Request access to the Divine One for an interview.
Jept realised that the darkness outside the vast window was in fact the sea as a school of fish swam briefly into the glare of the lights. She turned to Tanyk but he had moved closer to the technician who had turned to face Tenk with wide eyes.
“There is no access”
Tenk snapped her jaw shut. ”What do you mean no access?”
“Invalid systems entry request.” Tanyk read aloud.
“What does that mean?” Tenk demanded.
“It means there is no such system”
“The Divinity. He cannot be accessed via the computer, because he is not part of its system.”
Tenk closed her eyes, then open them again. “But how can that be, we send him status reports every day”
The technicians had all stopped working but for the one who typed furiously at Tenks command.
“Let me see your memory log” Tanyk motioned. The technician looked at Tenk who nodded.
“Yes, lets see what we can see here” Tanyk reached across the technician and began typing.
A long slow moment passed when no body spoke.
“What is it Tanyk?” Jept finally asked from her stool. She had seen the stiffening of his body. He turned slightly to see her.
“The status reports go into a sub memory from where they are accessed by some one on an access port outside the system”
“When was this last used?”
“Then there you have it.”Jept nodded. The Divinity is not logged into your computers at all. We must go and see him physically if we wish to see him.”
“It does not seem right” Tenk muttered, there are all kind of address protocols that are described in detail in my files. We can´t just go knocking on his door!”
“It is irreverent”
“But we need to ask him about the law!” Jept pointed out. And as if to emphasise this, one of the technicians turned to them, “The aliens have touched down at Aerodrome Fifty One.”
Jept jumped to her feet.
“We must see the Divinity at once!” Tanyk agreed and began striding towards the corridor. The guard held his ground, but Tenk, stumbling along with Jept, in Tanyks wake, waved him aside and the three of them rushed down the dimly lit corridor.
It continued for quite some distance but already after a few moments they had to stop.
“There are no lights.” Jept observed stupidly.
“No. and without them we cannot continue” Tanyk spoke from the darkness ahead. “Interpretor Tenk. Would you please consider returning to your control station and arranging for some lights please?”
“Yes.. yes of course” Tenk replied and presently the two councillors were left standing alone in the musty darkness.
“So what do you think?” Jept whispered.
“I´ve always suspected the law was created by our ancestors to ensure survival of the race in the face of enemy attack, but although I knew the system was constructed with an emphasis on central control, I never realised it was being actively controlled from within”
“Is´nt that what we´ve always been doing?”
“Well yes, but I am curious about who this Divinity character is. I can´t believe we have been simply carrying out the will of some immortal being!”
“Why not?” Jept grunted, “You were ready enough to believe in a thinking computer”
“Of course, such things can exist, have you not noticed how the aliens small robots are capable of independent thought?”
“Not I” Jept answered truthfully, “I hardly noticed them, I was so impressed with actually seeing a being from another world”
“I know” Tanyk vented air, “I´ve always wanted to see such a creature myself, I can hardly believe I´ve finally managed to see one”
“So would you have faced it?”
“You mean like that Biopsychologist?”
“Perhaps” He mused, “But perhaps not”
Jept could hear the wonder in his voice and she lifted her head, thinking about her own sense of wonder at the magnificent aliens. The Biopsychologist had been brave indeed though, Jept would never have exposed herself to danger like that. Not for any reason.
“I wonder if the Divine one is our common ancestor?” Tanyk suddenly said.
“Or wether or not we are going to find some tiny little people with pale transparent bodies” Jept chuckled.
Watched by numerous heavy weapons and nervous gunners, the two human ships settled onto the designated area, their feet unfolding smoothly and quickly beneath them.
Standing on the field at a safe distance, Hardwicke and King stood beside Mulk and Trull.
No body spoke and since the ships had descended on anti grav alone, the very air was thick with silent anticipation.
The two ships were both Centurion class assault craft, and seeing their familiar lines brought the Barbarigos back to mind for both Marines, and Hardwicke felt Kings sadness in his sens.
“Hardwicke and King.” A voice sensed in their heads. “This is Major Umbekala of the ISS Napier.”
“Sir.” They replied as one.
“Is everything well with you?”
“Aye sir” King replied. Hardwicke, as was his habit let others do the talking.
“What is the situation down here?”
“The situation is under control. I believe we have been lead into a conflict by way of a misunderstanding. These creatures though we were some old enemy returned and they basically fired with out bothering to find out just exactly who we were.”
“I see” Umbekala broke the link for a few seconds then returned. “And you two are the only survivors from the Livia Drusilla?”
In the command tower, the fire control crew watched the two craft settle on to the tarmac with the Director of the Warriors breathing noisily behind them.
“Just like the one that came down over Biological Factory Seventy Six” the Fire Control Commander said. “a composite armoured hull made of various minerals compacted under enourmous pressures to make a shell, twenty times denser than steel.”
“Let me see,” The Director pushed past to see the schematics on Commanders screen.
“Belly hatches are opening on both craft” A voice spoke. Everyone looked through the slitted window at the distant ships.
A figure appeared, magnified on several screens and tracked by unwavering crosshairs.
Hardwicke and King both snapped to rigid attention as Major Umbekala appeared in the hatch way.
“As you were” he sensed, “I just want to get a look round before we do this”
“Apologise for me Jessica King” Trull spoke, “and I would ask if this is one of your leaders?”
“No, this is a Warrior sent to survey us first” she replied.
“Very well” Trull raised her head. Obviously this was going to take some time.
Mulk said nothing, but she had already noted the size of this new alien, it was even bigger than the Hardwicke male. It seemed to be communcating with the two aliens who stood completely still, even after they had relaxed the sudden stiff posture the appearance of this alien had provoked.
Three more aliens appeared in the hatchway, and from the further ship appeared four more. Hardwicke and King abruptly walked closer and Mulk suddenly felt very lonely. Jessica King turned and waved and then disapeared into one of the ships whilst the Hardwicke male lead three of the aliens closer.
“Council Member Trull, please may I be allowed to introduce Captain Arrat. Commander of the Imperial Starship Napier.”
Trull opened her arms wide in welcome.
“And this is Major Umbekala, of our Warriors, also of the Napier. And this is…?”
“Doctor Leonard Trent”
Trull, raised her arms high and said, “Welcome to our planet”
Mulk, standing quietly to one side, politely repeated the gesture, noting that it made little impression on the aliens.
“Gentlemen” Hardwicke continued, “This is Councillor Trull. Head of the ruling council of this planet, and Biopsychologist Mulk, the Scientist who realised the error of their initial attack”
Trull and Mulk stiffened slightly at the broken taboo, but both were supple enough to carry on regardless.
“Please to extend our most humble apology for the sad happening of our destroying your Science mission” Trull spoke slowly, hoping the aliens understood diplomatic etiquette.
I must remember to think of them as Humans! Mulk thought. She had spoken to Jessica about this, and several important details in preperation for this meeting.
“What will your people expect in the way of making peace between our two races?” She had asked.
The Human female had been cleaning her weapon, since returned to her by the Warriors, and she had tilted her head to one side as she considered. A particularly alien gesture to Mulk who had almost no neck to speak of.
“I would imagine, a formal apology from your leaders would be the first thing, and maybe an official explanation…”
King slipped out the head lock and base slide, “…and possibly compensation for the families of the dead”
“Families of the dead?”
“You know, children, parents, partners”
“No. Your words are without social meaning, they have no real context to the word compensation”
“You don´t have families do you? You just breed your next generation in farms…”
“Yes” Mulk nodded, “That is how we make young. The breeders lay the eggs and we harvest them for regeneering. Some become Warriors and others like myself become Scientists.”
Jessica King nodded “And that’s why some of the Warriors still have claws like the breeders where as you have fingers like me?”
“Why?” Mulk blinked, “That is how we make the next generation, without new generations, our race would end.”
“No, you misunderstand me, Why don´t you have children individually?”
“Oh you mean like you do?”
“Well, yes… I mean no. How did your race get to this stage?”
“You mean why do we breed in this fashion and not as animals do?”
“Well yeah, but that’s also how we breed.”
“True.” Mulk gazed at the dusty floor. “I don´t know why we are like this, its just the way it always was”
Just the way it always was.
The words came back to Mulk as she considered the three Humans. All three of them had much darker skin than either Hardwicke or Jessica King, and two them were very dark indeed.
Mulk considered them critically. The biggest was the Warrior officer. It had the darkest skin, and it was by far the biggest specimen she had yet encountered. Comparing it to Trull she estimated it weighed perhaps as much as five times as much. It wore the same armoured suit that Hardwicke wore, only in dark blue. It had… she corrected herself, ‘he’ had close croppped hair on top of his head and unlike Hardwicke ‘his’ face was smooth like Jessica Kings, so a hairy face was apparently not a gender difference after all.
The Captain was obviously the leader since the other two defered to it… ‘him’ always, and the massive Warrior officer was almost submissive in comparisson. The Captain wore a sort of close fitting dark grey environment suit which flowed over his figure and gave him a gracefull appearance, much more elgant then the third figure who apparently was some sort of Scientist. The Captain resembled Hardwicke, but his hair was black and long and his skin was darker,
The Scientist wore a blue garment in two tones, a light and a dark, and although he remained silent whilst the other two spoke, he retained a certain dignity and freedom of expression in his body language which they lacked. He also had a habit of glancing at Mulk in an obvious appraising examination.Jessica King had spoken about the difference between their Warriors, the ‘Military’ she had called it, and their Scientists. She had explained that the Scientists might seem powerless but they were more influential than they seemed, and although a Warrior officer called an ‘Admiral’ was in usually in command, the scientists usually had the final say in all matters of first contact.
“Biopsychologist Mulk” Her head set chirped.
“Mulk?” Said an unknown voice.
“This is Council Member Jept. You don´t remember me because we were not introduced but I sat at the meeting where you introduced the aliens to us”
“Ah yes, how can I assist you Counsillor?”
“I understand Trull is speaking to the aliens now?” Jept spoke quickly.
“Tell her we have been unable to find anything in the law which prevents her from making peace, but that we have run into some unexpected eventualities”.
“Thank you Mulk. I will call again soon”
Jept turned off the communicator, and handed it back to the technician. Tenk had returned with two technicians and torches, and they now stood waiting.
“Let us continue” Tanyk said impatiently. He set of down the passage way, and Jept looked at Tenk who lifted her head.
“Very well then, follow us” she told the technicians.
The passage was narrow but tall, and it was cut from the rock without the evidence of tools any where. As they followed Tanyks light, Jept examined the floor, the walls and the ceiling and came to the conclusion that the passage had been burned or melted away, a technology she had never heard of.
Down they went, along the long narrow passage, and at several points they found the corridor jack-knifing upon its self, but always going down.
“Its getting hotter”Tenk muttered.
“And harder to breath” one of the technicians replied.
Jept silently agreed and was wondering if perhaps they should´nt turn back when up ahead she heard Tanyks exclamation of surprise. The passage had ended.
They gathered in front of the tall golden door and gazed in incomprehension at the unusual scribbles that were etched into its surface.
“Any one?” Jept looked at Tenk, but Tenk lowered her head.
“This must be ancient” Tanyk muttered, “but its in wonderfull condition”
“Its gold” one of the technicians said, “it does´nt corrode.”
“So is there any way of dating it?” Tanyk looked down at him.
The technician lifted his head, “Yes, but not with the equipment we have here”
“More to the point” Jept interupted, “is there any way of opening it?”
The other technician stepped forward and examined the door. Tanyk moving aside to allow her room.
“It does´nt look easy” Tenk muttered, and indeed the door seemed to be a solid block of metal, firmly lodged in the rock.
“No it won´t be” the technician replied, her face pressed against a small hole in the door. “The lock has been fused from within”
“Fused?” Tenk looked about the group.
“Melted.. or welded” the other technician explained.
The greetings appeared to be at an end as Trull was now asking the Captain and his subordinates to where refreshments had been set up beneath a long golden red awning. The Human wobbled his head and accepted the invite and another blue clad scientist emerged from one of the ships and Mulk soon found herself sitting on a stool between these two aliens answering all manner of questions.
“My name is Trent.” The dark skinned alien told her.
“Yes” she replied. She remembered his name from the introduction. “Leonard Trent”
He flashed his awful white teeth at her, and his beady little eyes wavered across her four, uncertain as to how to meet her gaze.
“and this is Doctor Abé” He added, motioning to the new comer who bowed from the waist.
“I am interested to meet you both.”
We have a question we must ask. A rather important question I am afraid.”
Mulk remained silenlty, listening, but her attention was slightly diverted by Doctor Abé´s eyes. The flesh seemed to fold over them slightly, giving him a much more devious look than Leonard Trent.
“We´d like to know who this enemy is” Trent said.
“The enemy?” Mulk brought her attention back to the tall dark skinned Human. “What do you wish to know about them?”
“Well, who are they? And where do they come from?”
“I can´t answer either question, because we simply don´t know” Mulk told him. “They have been attacking us for all of recorded history, and yet they have never once spoken to us”
“What, never?” Trent sat up straighter, and Mulk noticed Doctor Abé lean slightly forward towards her. It made him seem hungry.
“When you say all of recorded history, does that included pre space flight history?”
“Pre what?” Mulk blinked.
“How did you defend yourselves from this enemy if you had no space craft?”
“Ah, I see. No, unfortunatly our history does not extend back tha tfar. Apparently our ancestors were not interested in keeping records”
“No. Our history is older than the records show, obviously, but the records themselves only begin with the foundation of the law.”
“And how far back is that?”
“About seventeen thousand orbits of our star”
“Seventeen thousand years!” Trent exclaimed. “You mean to say you´ve been under attack for seventeen thousand years!”
“but that’s incredible”
Doctor Abé nodded, then made a horrifying noise as he cleard his throat, “And this enemy never once attempted any form of communication with your people in all that time?”
Mulk lowered her head “That is what the records say”
One of the catering personnel interupted with glasses of flavoured water and fruit, all approved for human consumption by Hardwicke and Jessica King, and much appreciated in the midday sun.
“So,” Doctor Abé spoke between bites, “you have no idea who these aliens are or what they look like?”
“Oh we know what they look like” Mulk replied. We´ve killed thousands of them over time, so we have had many specimens. I can show you images quite easily.”
This seemed to go down well, and Mulk turned to one of the silent gaurds. “Could you bring me a linked computer?”
The guard raised her head and hurried away.
“There is something I must make clear though” Mulk added. “The enemy did not attack us constantly over the entire period of seventeen thousand orbits, but rather attacked without warning every five or six hundred orbits or so”
“How fo?” Trent said, his mouth full of fruit.
“How?, usually by means of a stealthy raid but sometimes with open and outright malice”
“This is delicious, what is it called?” Trent held up the half eaten fruit.
“That is Kita seed” Mulk replied, then pointing to the one which Doctor Abé had picked up, “and that one is an Ubwa. We usually use that for making dyes and inks, but Jessica King told us it tasted like Razberra”
“Raspberries eh?” Doctor Abé took an experimental bite and a trickle of pale green slime ran down his chin. “Mmm yes, its delicious, much better than Raspberry”
“So why do you think they were are attacking?” Trent wiped his face with a paper napkin.
“The assumption is they wanted our planet, but the strange thing is they never brought along enough Warriors for an invasion. This has lead to all manner of speculation, but the most widely held belief is that they intend to use weapons of mass destruction to wipe us out if ever they get close enough to deploy them.”
“Just how close would they have to be?” Doctor Abé munched.“Pretty close I think” Trent replied, “it depends on the type of weapon.”
“They have never managed to do this, but we have taken heed of their tactics and nearly all our installations are below ground.” Mulk pointed to the distant control tower, “Only a few buildings rise above the surface and these are well armoured.”
“I see” Trent nodded. The Marines had already pointed out how strong the entire planet was as the Napier had approached it. From orbit even the surface structures were difficult to see, and they had been unable to form an impression of the planets probable population.
“Do you have cities?”
Mulk considered the question, “You mean areas of high population density?”
“No, not really. They make easy targets.”
At this point Mulk was called over to explain a point of biology to Captain Arras, and as she waddled back to the two Scientists, both now drinking copious amounts of water to counteract the fiery hot Houi fruit, the Warrior guard handed her a portable computer.
“Hot?” she asked the pale faced Trent.
“Mmm” he managed, gulping down water.
“Let me just find what I mean to show you” She said.
“Miss Kings initial report tells us that you kept her in suspended hibernation for at least three months” Doctor Abé asked, “Why?”
Mulk stopped typing.
“Well, when the Warriors had destroyed their ship, both Hardwicke and King were spared for observation. Jessica King was rendered insensible and Hardwicke was left on the island. Jessica King was turned over to us for physical examination and Hardwicke was observed from orbit for environmental studies”
“Ah, you wanted to see how he behaved?”
“Oh yes, we knew they were different from the other aliens, simply by the way they entered the system, but you do have certain physical similarities, so the notion that you were not enemy never occurred to any body, and certainly not the Warriors.Hardwickes intelligence took us all by surprise. We never imagined the Breeders would lead him to an entrance, or that he´d know how to infiltrate”
“So you kept King in suspended animation so you could examine her?”
“Well orginally, she was given over to another department, but they missed the obvious clue.”
“Her reproductive organs”
Abé glanced at Trent who grinned around the Satma fruit he was now trying. Mulk saw the look but uncertain as to its meaning, she continued. “In fact, it was only when I used an internal probe whilst examining her cloaca that I realised what I was looking at. You must realise that amongst our breeders we have a similar arrangement, but on a much different scale. Where as Jessica King might lay one egg every so often, a breeder female of my race will only lay her eggs once each orbit, and then she will lay from ten to forty or may be more eggs. Some have been known to lay as many as eighty or even in rare instances, a hundred or more.”
Trent who had stopped chewing at the words ‘internal probe’, now sat back ignoring the last of his half eaten fruit.
“So you discovered that in fact you were dealing with something new because it had different sexual organs?”
“No. Because it had sexual organs.”
Mulk pointed at the guard and then herself. “We have the rudimentry remains of sexual organs, but only breeders have a working reproductive capability”
“So what are breeders exactly?” Doctor Abé interupted.
“Breeders are those that are not chosen for specialist purposes like the Warrior and Myself”
“You mean the bulk of your population have only one purpose? To breed?”
“Yes, they constitute about eighty percent of our population. They live in the sea, which is their natural environment, and they have only a rudimentry intelligence.”
“And the remaining twenty percent is raised to be Warriors and Scientists and so on?”
“And this twenty percent cannot breed?”
“It is the law”
Doctor Abé nodded, and Trent sniffed. He gave a frown at Abé and asked, “What was that you were saying just before?”
“Which part of what I was saying?” Mulk asked.
“The bit about Kings suprising genitalia”
“What about it?” Mulk sipped some water.
“Was it suprising because she was a warrior?”
“Well partly that, but mostly because in all recorded history there was never an example of the enemy having any reproductive capability.”
“You mean they are without genitalia?”
Mulk returned her attentions to the computer.
“They were all clones. Almost identical from the first to the last, but sometimes there were variations. Just give me a moment and I´ll show you.”
She typed a few more commands and then spun the computer so they might see the image on the screen.
“No!” Trent jumped to his feet in surprise and Abé fell back in his chair, his mouth wide open. The other humans looked across to see what was amiss.
On the screen was an image of an human like figure with white skin and two totally black eyes.
“It looks like an albino Egyptian” Trent muttered.
”A what?” Mulk asked.
“An Egyptian is a member of an ancient nation from my world. A Human tribe which ceased to exist three thousand years ago.”
“And the other word?”
“An albino is some one who has no skin pigmentation.”
Mulk considered the image of the enemy. She changed it for a full torso image.
“As you can see, it has no genitals.”
Both Humans nodded thoughtfully. Trent stared at the image, almost mesmerised.
“Do you have any bodies left?”
“No. They were preserved until dissection was performed in a sterile environment then they were cremated. We have replica´s for students.”
Trent sensed up to the Napier. “Doctor Webster. I trust you are seeing this?”
“Oh indeed!” the blind man replied.
“Are you thinking what I am?” Trent asked.
“The Sagith OctoDarian description?”
“Yes, your right. This alien fits that description”
“So this could be the first image of an Eedrach we have ever seen”
“Yes” Webster mused, “but I find the sterilty part a bit odd, why are they without sex?”
“I don´t know”. He turned his mind back to the screen.
“I can see why you were mistaken though” Abé was saying, the overall structure is almost identical. The same limbs in the same places, virtually the same face, all the same sensory organs.”
Trent nodded, “It could have been modelled on a Human being”
“Do you know you share certain genetic characteristics?” Mulk asked. They shook their heads, and Mulk chuckled at the sight. “Yes,. And so do we. I suppose somethings are the same where ever you go”
“No. not quite.” Trent said. “We know of four other alien races apart from you. You are the fifth race we have discovered.”
“This I did not know” it was Mulks turn to be amazed.
“Well, we have met two races who live together in symbiosis. They call themselves the Nano Octo Darians and the Sagith OctoDarians and they live in various isolated stars systems, the nearest that we know of is about two thousand light years from here”
Abé excused himself and wondered over to speak with Captain Arras, and Mulk saw the two humans walking back to their ships. Trull looked over at her, but Mulk desperatly wanted to hear what Trent was saying so she discreetly lowered her head to Trull who raised hers slightly in return.
“These two races told us of a third race called the Eedrach, who are said to be extremely advanced but also hostile to other aliens. Although we Humans have never seen an Eedrach, the OctoDarians have and this image fits their description and visual representations almost perfectly.”
Mulk sat back on her stool. “So this” She waved at the screen, “this is an Eedach?”
“Perhaps” Trent´s face split in a wide toothy smile, and despite herself Mulk flinched.
Trull appeared beside her.
“Could I have a word with my Biopsychologist?” she asked Trent.
“Of course your Honour” he said and walked quickly to where the Marine officer Umbekala was sitting alone.
“What did you say to them?” Trull asked as she sat.
“I showed them this image of the enemy” Mulk turned the computer against the sun light.
“A dead enemy?”
“They recognised it. They said it looked like a race they knew of called the E´ dach.”
“Are you sure that’s what they said?” Trulls body all but lifted from the stool.
“That is what they said” Mulk saw Umbekala staring at them, “but they could not be sure, for they have only second hand knowledge of this race.”
“But…” Trull drummed a quick tattoo on the table, “…if they know where the enemy lives, I mean which star system, may be we could strike back!”
“How?”Mulk squinted into the sun, “It is against the law to build faster than light space craft”
Trull raised her head triumphantly. “Yes, but the law says nothing about buying faster than light ships.”
Mulk gazed at Trull uncertain wether this was genius or madness, but Trulls mind was else where.
Jept had called back.
“Its no good,” Jept said in Trulls ear. “The door is sealed shut and it will take a long time before we can open it.”
Trull raised her hand to stall Mulks next question, “Very well Jept. There is nothing more you can do there now. Return to the council chamber, I am going to call another meeting.”
“Another one, so soon?” Jept asked, suprised. “Oh yes!” Trull looked at Mulk who was chuckling again, “We have a few new things to talk about.”
Two weeks passed slowly before Jessica King returned to the surface and met Mulk again. As she stepped off the Centurions ramp she saw the little red lobster like alien standing, indifferent to the rain, on the steaming tarmac. She waved.
Mulk waved back with a studied nonchalance.
“Hello Mulk” she said.
“Hello Jessica King” Mulk replied staring up at her.
“So here I am” the Marine nodded and slapped her thighs in emphasis.
“I´m told you asked to see me again?”
“Shall I explain?” Mulk motioned towards a bunker set back amongst the undergrowth, and they began walking as they talked. The rain was warm, and Jessica breathed deeply in the luxury of the planets atmosphere.
“My official reason is that I wish to complete my biological studies of your body to see what the recent exposure to your resumed Warrior training has done for you.” Mulk began, “That is what I told your commanding Officers.”
“Oh?” Jessica said, her eyebrow twitching. “And what is the unoffical reason?”
“I need your help”
“You need my help?”
“Would you like to explain?”
Mulk stopped and looked about.
“I am no longer a Biopsychologist of Biological Research Facility Seven”
“Why not, Did they dismiss you?
“No. I am now a Member of the Council.”
Jessica blinked twice. “You mean the government?”
“Do I?” Mulk lifted her head. “Yes. I mean the governing council. I have ben promoted to replace a very old member called Jept who is retired.”
They reached the edge of the tarmac and here Jessica found a fallen tower tree log and they sat together in the rain, Mulk using all four legs to balance herself.”
“The Head of the Council is called Trull. You met her briefly.”
“Yes. I remember.”
“It was Trull who proposed me. She has formed a coalition of other members and she rules the Council. I am her ‘alien expert’ you might say.”
“So what is it you wish of me?”
Mulk looked up at Jessica and tried desperatly to read the mind that hid behind the tiny eyes. She motioned helplessly with her hand and shifted nervously on the log.
“I am being used by Trull and another Council member called Tanyk to promote a course of action I do not agree with,” she snorted unhappily, “and I fear Trull and Tanyk are keeping a secret from us all. You Humans as well.”
“A secret?” Jessica frowned.
“Yes. Something that no one else knows.”
Jessica grinned at the little alien and moved by her almost naïve trust, she reached across and touched Mulk on the shoulder. Mulk stiffened, but did not recoil. She had seen how prone to touching each other the aliens were, and although she found it odd and disturbing, she recognised it as a sign of affection, and this pleased her.
“I only realised something was wrong four nights past when I tried to speak to Jept about some small accounting matters.”
“Jept would not speak to me at first, but when I explained why I wished to speak to her, she relented. We went through the accounts, and at one point I asked her why she had left such a mess before she retired, and she told me that she had not retired, but had been forced to leave because of what she had seen”
“And what was that?”
“I don´t know, she would´nt say”
“Oh…” Jessica rubbed her nose, “So you called me down here because Jept said she saw something and Trull and Tanyk are acting suspicious? I may be mistaken, but I think that’s what politics is all about Mulk.”
“There is more” Mulk said with an unblinking stare.
“Trull has decided that the law gives the council the authority to deal with new aliens in a new manner. She is propposing to buy interstellar starships from you Humans and use them to take the war to the enemy.”
“How is she going to do that?”
“Because your Admiral Van der Gees was kind enough to identify the three star systems where the Eedrach are known to exist.”
Jessica whistled silently, “She does realise that those stars are all of two thousand light years away?”
“And the Eedrach are far more technologically advanced that we Humans are?”
“She does not believe this”
“Why not?… oh wait, because you have managed to keep them at bay for the last seventeen thousand years right?”
“Yeah, that’s been puzzling us as well. It does not fit in with what we know of the Eedrach. If they really wished it, they could eliminate all of you in a matter of days.”
“So what do you want me to do?”
“I wish you to request an audience with the Interpretor”
“I beg your pardon?”
According to the law, you can request an audience because you have the right as a released prisoner.”
“But what reason would I have for doing that?”
“Compensation of course”
“Compensation? I did´nt think you people had compensation”
“Yes, well we don´t. But Trull won´t understand that you know that. From her perspective, it would be a logical thing for you to ask”
“And how will she understand what I am talking about?”
“I will explain it”
“Okay…” Jessica watched Mulk from the side of her eyes knowing it made the alien some what uncomfortable, “And what is the real reason?”
“I shall go with you, as your requested guide, and once we have consulted the law, I may be able to discover what it was that Jept saw and what Trull is keeping from the rest of the council”
“But why are you going to these lengths? Why not confront Trull?”
“As you said” Mulk replied. “This is politics, and Trull has been around for many orbits already. She is an old hand in this and I am but a hatchling”
Jessica nodded, then put her head back and opended her mouth to catch the big solid drops of rain.
“Also,“Mulk seemed to be speaking to herself “I fear Trull may bring us all into a war we cannot win.”
“She wants what?” Admiral Van der Gees exclaimed.
Jessica smiled broadly and explained all that Mulk had said, as well as adding a few of her own thoughts.
“Marine, this fleet is leaving this system in seventy two hours, and the only military presence once we are gone will be the Chevalier. You may stay if this Mulk wishes it, but only if the diplomats agree to it.”
“Sir, you know they never will” Jessica replied. Through the sens she could feel the Admiral agree but his mind said, “That’s besides the point. The Empire of Human Worlds cannot afford to make this race an enemy to us. The Imperial directive is clear on this. This system is to become an Imperial ally.”
“Sir. I promise that I will do nothing that could constitute a breach of our diplomatic agenda.”
“Marine. Your meeting with this Mulk character is already risky. What if Council Member Trull takes offence?”
“According to Mulk, she won´t. She says Trull will find it normal seeing as Humans demand compensation.”
The Admiral grunted. “well its not me you have to persuade. If the diplomats approve it, then so will I”
“Thank you sir”
“Don´t thank me. I know we owe this Mulk one. A lot of lives might have been lost if she had not stood up for us.”
Jessica nodded. She had thought the same thing sitting on the tower tree log.
“And she expects us to give her what? Information? Weapons? What?” Trull asked.
Mulk waggled her hands. “Amongst themsleves, the Humans use the money system I told you about.”
“The credit and debit markers?”
“But we do not have any of their credit”
“We have other assets”
“Minerals, exotic creatures, trading rights…”
“And she asked to consult our law?” Trull looked at Tanyk.
“Yes” Tanyk replied.
“How does she know about the law?”
“I told her about it when she was released, and yesterday she asked about it again as I was finishing my biological assesment of her muscles” Mulk explained.
Trull sat silently contemplating Mulk.
“Why don´t we just accept her request and pay her?” Tanyk asked. Trull turned her eyes on him and he fell silent.
“She has not made any demands yet” Mulk replied. “She seems to have some questions to put to the interpretor.”
Trull said nothing.
“She wants me to go with her” Mulk added.
“I know.” Trull said. “Very well. It is highly irregular for an alien to be admitted onto the sacred island, but as you point out, it cannot be denied. The law gives her the right as a freed prisoner.”
“No alien has set foot on the Sacred island, ever!” Tanyk told Mulk.
“I know” Mulk replied.
“I don´t like it”
Trull came to a decision and her body language made it clear that it was final. “Tanyk will accompany you just in case”
Hardwicke came down to the Sacred Island aerodrome with her but since he had no claim to consult the law, he remained with the crew, sitting under their ship playing dice whilst Jessica made her way to the control tower. Several of the ground crew waddled over to examine the assault craft, but soon they were busy learning about gambling.
King had begun to march across the open ground when Mulks helicopter had arrived. She watched as the short alien came down the ramp followed by several others, and noted that one of these others walked beside Mulk as an equal. This second figure radiated an arrogance that even a human could see.
“This is Counil Member Tanyk” Mulk said as they drew near.
“Greetings your Honour” Jessica smiled.
Tanyk, visibly drew back when the tall alien bared its fangs. This was his first real encounter with an alien and he was already damp around the mouth.
“Greetings” he managed.
Mulk examined Jessica´s beige jacket and dark blue ships suit.
“I am informed that I may not bear weapons or armour in the presence of the law.” Jessica explained.
“Of course not” Tanyk muttered, “No one carrying weapons may see the Interpretor.”
“Mulk lifted her head and Tanyk clapped his jaws shut with an audible click
“Lets us be gone” Mulk said.
They took the Gondola and Jessica was forced to take the place of the Gondoliers who all refused to get into the boat with her. Mulk apologised as they sailed across the straits between the two islands, but Jessica assured her it made no difference.
“I might feel the same way if some giant alien came along and wanted to get into our shuttle” she laughed.
Tanyl turned to Mulk, “Why does it speak in that loud and gurgling way?” he whispered.
“She is amused.”
“Oh.” Tanyk caught Mulks disaproval but it never occurred to him that Mulk was irritated by his constant use of the word It, when ever he refered to any of the Humans. Instead he reasoned that Mulk was upset about him coming along. He was beginning to suspect Mulk was not being honest with him. The alien was following Mulk rather than Mulk following the alien.
I should have brought a communicator he realised.
Standing on the jetty was Notross and four Warriors.Tanyk recognised her at once, and explained who she was to Mulk.
“Greetings” Notross shouted as they drew near.
“Greetings” Mulk replied.
“You must be Mulk of the Council” Notross said as Jessica lifted Mulk onto the jetty. She spoke to Mulk but kept her eyes on Jessica though, and as the Human climbed up out of the gondola, she took a few steps backwards.
“You are so tall!” she exclaimed without fear.
“Hello:” Jessica said.
“Welcome to the Sacred island.” Notross stepped closer and examined Jessica´s ships suit. “I am informed you are here to see the Interpretor?”
“Yes, that is correct”
“Well then. I must inform you that you must be checked first, in case you are carrying any weapons or communications devices.
“Okay” Jessica took off her jacket and handed it to Notross. The four Warriors stepped forward and two of them covered her with rifles as their partners examined her with various instruments.
After a few minutes, they gave her her jacket back and Notross motioned for them to follow her. Mulk walked besides Jessica and Tanyk followed.
Inside the underground settlement, the many workers stood and stared at Jessica as she walked among them but Notross showed no sign of anything untoward. She is either the perfect hostess Mulk thought, or someone has told her what to expect.
The elavator was a problem. Jessica had to sit cross legged, but she did´nt mind and once they had dropped into the vast cavern below she forgot all about it. Mulk was also struck dumb by the sudden darkness, and they fell in silence until the first of the lights flashed by them.
Tanyk stood behind the other two and watched Mulk secretly.
The doors slid aside to reveal Hopien 41. Obviously no one had informed it what to expect because at the sight of Jessica King, Hopien ran away.
“Well, that was rude” Mulk observed.
“She must have known we were coming!” Tanyk growled, “Surely the upper level told them what to expect.”
“Apparently not.” Mulk replied waddling after their missing guide.
“Hey wait for me!” Jessica called unfolding herself only to find she would have to walk stooped in the passage way.
Mulk came back. “Its okay, there is a much larger chamber just up ahead.”
A tall male was waiting for them, visibly nervous but still eager to keep up appearences.
“Greetings traveller” He cried out as they approached. “I am Urja, Assistant to the Interpretor. What is your request?”
“Where is the interpretor?” Mulk demanded.
“The Interpretor is taken ill” Urja explained.
“Ill?” Mulk snorted.
“Yes, he said ill,” Tanyk replied,”What is wrong with that?”
“Why were we not informed?” Mulk demanded, staring at Tanyk.
“It is a sudden infliction.” Urja replied.
“Where is the Interpetor? I shall see her” Mulk declared.
“Oh, that is not possible, she is gone to her rest” Urja rubbed his hands nervously.
“I am a trained biologist.” Mulk carried on as if she had not heard him. “Show me where the Interpretor lies and I shall examine her.”
“Honourable Tenk gave strict orders she was not to be disturbed.” Urja turned from Mulk to Tanyk. “Those were her orders”
“What is the matter Mulk?” Tanyk demanded, “Why is it so important to you?”
Mulk turned on him, and despite his taller bearing she pointed a finger in his face.
“I am a member of the council am I not?”
“Indeed you are, but that..”
“And I am entrusted with assisting this Human in attaining her rights, am I not?”
“That does´nt give you the authority to over ride Tenks commands! Tenk is the Interpretor. You must abide by her command.”
The room had fallen silent.
Mulk changed tactic.
“Show me the records.” She demanded.
“What?” Tanyk blinked.
“Which records Council Member?” Urja asked.
“I want to know which point of law Tanyk and Jept consulted fifteen orbits since.”
Tanyk stamped a foot. “That has nothing to do with this alien!” He hissed.
Urja hopped from one foot to another.
Jessica, towering over everyone, intervened.
“It is my business Council Member Tanyk. I wish to know what the law says about my people, and as a released prisoner, I have a right to know”
Mulk lifted her head in triumph at Tanyks sudden hesitation.
Urja moved to a computer and began typing. Mulk turned to Jessica and imitated a gesture she had seen Hardwicke do. She closed her tiny fist and raised her thumb. Jessica flashed her teeth.
“There is no such record” Urja´s voice wavered.
“What?” Mulk turned to face Tanyk, “How can that be?”
“We had direct consultation with the Interpretor” Tanyk answered. “No computer input was required.”
“All contact with the Interpretor is recorded is it not?” Mulk flashed a glance at Urja, “Urja?”
“Yes…” He was salivating heavily now, and several of the technicians had sneaked out of the room. He felt increasingly more alone. “Yes, it is the law.”
“Then why was your visit not logged Tanyk?” Mulk replied.
“Why are you asking me?” Tanyk had taking several casual steps towards the elavator corridor.
“What is it?” Mulk asked, “Are you nervous?”
“Then why are you backing away?”
Mulk lifted her with a sarcastic jerk. She turned to a technician and pointed at his computer. “Find me that record if it exists”
The technician lifted his head and went to work, typing with blurring speed.
“I find your behaviour inapropriate Mulk” Tanyk said. “It is obvious that you came here of your own accord, and not in the interests of this alien”
“Mulk has my permission to ask these questions on my behalf” Jessica said.
“Your permission?” Tanyk grunted. “What do you think you are? You are but a guest here. It is only by curtesy that we allow you to enter this chamber, to walk on the sacred island.. it is only…”
“Tanyk!” Mulk snapped loudly. “Jessica King is here by the ruling of the Council. She is a representative of an alien race, whose fleet is more powerfull than all our Warriors together and whose help Council Member Trull has declared, is her intention to enlist.
Jessica King has every right to be here.”
“No she does not!” cried Tanyk enraged. “´She is only here at your behest. Were it not for you, This alien would never have asked to come here!”
“Were it not for Mulk, we would all be dead right now” said a loud voice from the far side of the chamber.
Everyone turned to see who had spoken and standing there beside Hopien 41 was Tenk.
“Mistress.” Urja sighed in relief.
“Interpretor.” Tanyk stated coldly.
“So you are this Mulk I hear so much about?” Tenk wobbled closer, and Mulk saw she was indeed unwell.
“Interpretor, I am honoured.” Mulk replied.
Tenk sat on her command stool and examined Mulks face. “I told them you would not be fooled”
“Them?” Mulk turned to look at Tanyk, who was standing with his outer eyes partly closed.
“Yes, Tanyk and Trull. They got rid of Jept when she disagreed with them and they swore me to secrecy.”
“You swore!” Tanyk whispered loudly.
“Yes. I swore.” Tenk nodded slowly, “but I regretted it afterwards and I realised I had made a mistake. I am the Interpretor, and it is for me to tell the Council what to do, not the other way round.”
Tanyk muttered, spitting in his frustration.
“Fortunatly, I can repair my mistake” Tenk said softly. Tanyks voice ceased at once.
“What are you going to do?” he whispered
“I am going to show Mulk and this alien what we saw down there…” and Tenk turned and pointed at a small open passage at the back of the chamber.
“No…” Tanyk seemed to deflate.
Tenk ignored him and returned her attention to Mulk. “You must forgive me Council Member, but in many ways, we did what we had to. Even Tanyk. We were at a loss..”
Mulk had stood silently, but now she motioned at the open passage way.
“Where does that lead to?”
“It is the direct passage to the law.To where the law ‘originates’ from.”
“I thought this was the law?” She waved her hands at the rows of computers and their androgynous technicians.
“No. That is what Jept and Tanyk thought also, but this is nothing. This is only where we moniter the entire Solar system and compile all our data into reports.”
“You gather information?”
“Because I am not the law. I only interpret what is written.”
“You are being obtuse.” Mulk observed.
“I would spare you what I about to reveal” Tenk confessed. “Come.”
She rose from her command stool, and Hopien 41 stepped forward to help her.
Mulk turned to look at Jessica. “Are you willing?”
“Are you kidding?” The Human laughed, “I´m dying of suspense here!”
Mulk, Jessica and Tanyk followed Tenks light down into the darkness, and Jessica noted that the passge, although narrow, was easily tall enough for her to walk up right. Mulk was walking directly in front of her and the liitle alien kept looking back over her shoulder at Jessica.
“Whats the matter?” Jessica asked.
“I am not happy about small spaces” Mulk replied.
“But you´ve been living underground all your life.” Jessica observed.
“Yes, but in wide open, well lit spaces.”
They came to the last bend and here Tenk stopped for breath, and Mulk began to fidget.
Tanyk stared at her obvious distress and taking the light from Tenk he offered to show the way. Tenk, waved them on, but Mulk refused to leave Tenk in the dark, so they all stood there whilst Tenk breathed heavily and Mulk breathed fast.
After a short while Tenk lifted her head.
“I am ready,” she said, “Mulk, we did what we did for a good reason, and now I shall show you the reason.”
“Yes, “ Mulk gasped, “Show me”
Tenk took the light from Tanyk again and they carried on. Within a minute thay had reached the golden door, and here Tenk stopped again.
“What is this?” Mulk asked indicating the door.
“The first time we came down here, Tanyk, Jept and I, this door was locked from the inside” Tenk explained. “I had to have it opened by my technicians and that took almost nine hours, but finally we managed to drill out the lock.”
She pointed to an indentation, “Please Jessica King would you pull here?”
Jessica looked at Mulk who raised her head, then reaching over she took hold of the door and pulled. At first its weight defied her, but she braced her foot against the wall and slowly the door swung aside. As it did, light seeped around it, and as the door opened, the light flooded into the passage.
“What is this?” Mulk gasped in amazement. She waddled into the vast chamber thus revealed and stood, looking about in incomprehension. Jessica, in the door way swore softly.
The chamber was a tall circular cavity with a domed ceiling and archways leading into more chambers around its walls. Everything was dusty. Floating in the centre of the chamber was a large globe of pure light, and hanging in orbit around this were the planets of the system.
“Its an observatory” Jessica guessed.
Tenk waddled past them, “follow me” she said, and Mulk noticed the tracks in the dust.
The only light in the next chamber came from the first, and here were long deep shadows that clothed the room in deep mourning. Tenk stopped in the entrence and turned to Mulk.
“Here” she said bitterly and pointed within. Mulk stepped past her, into the musty chamber, and stopped. This chamber was similar to the first, only here was a figure seated on a throne, flanked on either side by black dusty computers.
“I don´t understand…” Mulk blinked.
The figure, sitting on the throne was obviously long dead, its pale skin had shrivelled and its eyes had collapsed back into the skull, but even in its advanced state of decay, Mulk could easily identify what she was looking at. She had seen it many times before.
Behind her she heard Jessica enter the room and say; “what is that?”.
Mulk turned back to face her and caught the down cast expression on Tanyks face.“It is an enemy” she said.
For a long time Mulk said nothing, She stood staring at the corpse with a thousand thoughts cascading though her head, and amongst this crazy confusion came the realisation that Jessica was not saying anything. She looked at the Human, who returned her gaze.
“Now you know” Tenk spoke, her voice loud in the silent room.
“Yes.” Mulk nodded, “But how can this be?”
Tenk said nothing and Tanyk turned and left the chamber.
“This is the body of an enemy!” Mulk repeated, pointing at the grinning corpse.
Jessica walked closer
“Do not approach closely!” Tenk warned. There is a force field that protects it. It killed one of our technicians when we first came in here.”
Jessica stopped and noticed the faint haze in the air around the seated figure.
“Do you notice anything strange about this body?” Jessica asked Mulk.
Mulk found she was still capable of humour. “Strange..?”
“What?” her humour vanished.
“Have a closer look.”
Mulk stepped closer, and saw that Jessica was right. The figure had been naked when it died, and evident between its legs was the withered remains of a semen injector.
Suddenly Mulks heart began to pound in her mouth.
“Do you realise what this means?” she gasped.
What?” Tenk asked.
“Yes, I think so” Jessica was grinning.
“The enemy were coming here for this!”
“I don´t understand” Tenk complained.
“Well neither do I,” Mulk replied, ”at least not fully.”
“The enemy was always sexless, they were clones incapable of breeding, right?”
“Yes, that is so” Tenk nodded.
“And they never attacked in force. They always attacked this planet, and yet they never used weapons of mass destruction.”
“But…” Tenk looked at the tattered corpse. “Why?”
Mulk gestured incomprehension. “Who knows, the answer may lie inside those computers”. She pointed to the dark computers which even now showed coloured lights under their layer of dust.
“Are you saying that this enemy was always here?” Tenk continued, wagging her finger at it.
“How else do you explain this?” Mulk asked, some what surprised by Tenks question.
“Well we assumed the enemy had infiltrated us during the last attack”
Mulk lowered her head, “No. This creature is different. It has gender. I think it is unlikely they left this one here just to die, what would be the point of that?”
“But seventeen thousand orbits!” Tenk wailed. “Have we been gaurding this enemy, unknowingly for seventeen thousand orbits?”
“Perhaps in the early days, we knew of its existence” Mulk suggested. “Perhaps…” she stopped.
“What?” Tenk asked in a fearfull voice.
“Oh…” Mulk breathed, “I just thought..”
“The Creator. We always talk about the creator, but we have no record as to what we mean by it…”
“You mean…?” Tenks eyes turned to face the seated corpse.
“The Humans said they could not find any reason why we had evolved” Mulk whipsered.
“Your breeding farms.” Jessica added as she realised what Mulk was saying.
Mulk looked at the Human woman and lifted her head.
“What about them?” Tenk seemed almost demented.
“We can´t produce intelligent hatchlings” Mulk explained. “All our young are mere breeders without extensive regeneering.”
“Well ask yourself, how did that begin?”
Tenk said nothing.
“We were created by the Creator.” Mulk continued, “Once we were mere breeders, all of us. Then the Creator changed us.” She pointed at the seated figure.
Tenk followed her pointed finger and gazed at the dead enemy with half closed eyes.
“Don´t you see it?” Mulk urged. “It created us, then it set us up to defend it. It made the law to control us!”
“Its not true!” Tenk whispered.
“Then what?” Mulk replied.
Tanyk came back into the room. “It changes nothing.” He said.
“What do you mean?”
“This creaure is dead, yes, and maybe…maybe it was responsible for the law, but now the Council will rule as it always has. Your mission here is ended. You have seen what you came for and now you must decide Mulk.“
Tenk looked wildly at Tanyk, “What are you saying?”
“He is talking about carrying on the war.” Mulk answered. “About taking the fight to the enemy”
“If anything, this is just another reason to destroy the enemy once and for all.” Tanyk shouted.
“You can´t destroy the Eedrach.” Jessica interupted. “They are far more powerfull than you. They are a race that has existed through out this galaxy for millions of years.”
“And yet you say they live in only three systems!” Tanyk countered.
“No.” Jessica cut him short. “We know of only three systems, but the Sagith OctoDarians tell of many hundreds of other systems through out the galaxy. As far as we know only one race is more powerful, and they are the Zinn, whom we have never yet encountered.”
“Then how do you know about them?” Tenk asked.
“The Zinn protected my people when we were developing, they kept Earth safe from the Eedrach and they did the same thing for the Sagith OctDarians.”
“Then why did these Zinn not protect us?” Tenk demanded.
Mulk sighed. “Because we were only animals…” She looked up at Jessica with such a plaintive look, that the Marine felt her eyes sting.
Tanyk flopped onto the floor in a paroxysm of grief and began to wail.
“We were just animals, living in the sea when they came here, and changed us” Mulk continued in a tiny voice.
Jessica nodded. “I think you are right Mulk.”
Mulk turned to Tanyk, but the Council Member was to far gone in his emotion to hear her, so she turned back to face the pale corpse.
“What are we going to do then?” Tenk asked.
“I suppose we will have to explain this to the rest of our people..”
“No, we cannot!” Tenk replied, “How can we expect them to understand?”
“Then what?” pretend that nothing has changed?” Mulk demanded.
“Only for us and Trull is the truth revealed.”
“And for Jessica King, who is a Warrior, and must report all she see´s here back to her commanding officers and Scientists.”
“So?” Tenk blinked.
“So, do you think they will be able to keep such a secret safe once they´re entire fleet knows it?”
“The information can be kept classified” Jessica said, “But in all honesty Mulk, this matter goes far beyond just your people. The Human race has found other planets populated by genetically altered animals, and knowing what happened here will help other peoples on worlds far away.”
“I know that, “Mulk replied, “I am saying we must spread this information, it should not be kept a secret for just the Council.
“What does it matter?” Tanyk wailed, he pointed an accusing finger at Mulk. “You will bring chaos and disorder to us all! How shall we continue without the law to guide us?”
“Tanyk.” Mulk shouted “ Do you think this thing died recently? The law has not spoken for six hundred orbits
“I don´t know,“ Tanyk mumbled.
“Its true,” Tenk said. “We have not had any change in the law since just after the last attack.”
Mulk lifted her head, “And Trull has already made her decision that the law will continue regardless, only now the Council make any new laws that need making.”
“But what of the Warriors?” Tanyk insisted, “How will you convince the Warriors?”
“We do not need to convince them of anything. They will continue to defend the system against possible attack, only now we will decide for ourselves who is our enemy and who is not.” Mulk seemed to gain new strength as she spoke and Tenk was lifteing her head in agreement.
“But…” Tanyk spoke, but Mulk ignored him.
“This is not the end Tanyk!” she declared, “this is a new beginning!”
Admiral Van der Gees listened incredulously. Beside him Trent was opening and shutting his mouth like a gold fish
“So it really was a dead Eedrach?”
“Yes sir. And it did´nt die of natural causes. These lot have´nt noticed it yet, but the corpse has a hole in the back of its head, and judging from the stain on the seat behind it, I´d say it took one through the eye.”
“Good God!” The Admiral swore. He turned and motioned to the Marine steward, “Coffee.”
“Can I just ask “ Trent interjected, “will they let us examine this corpse?”
“Yes. Their Council has just met, and decided to share the information with us, but they want something in return.”
“What?” the Admiral asked.
“They want to know how to build jump capable ships sir.”
“I´ll bet they do” The Admiral answered. “Well, its out of my hands now. I have my orders to return to Sol system.
“Who will represent the Empire here once you are gone Sir?” Jessica asked.
“An ambassador is being sent,” the Admiral replied, “The Most Honourable Susan Deere of the Imperial Diplomatic Corps”
Jessica sniffed, “I see, so I should report to her?”
“Not directly, no. Captain Arrat is still going to be remaining here for the next few weeks at a least, and until further notice, you and your brother in arms Hardwicke will be assigned to the Napier.”
“That is all Marine, oh.. and well done!”
“Yes sir, thank you sir!”
Jessica broke the senslink and refocused her eyes on Mulk who sat on the beach stool besides her.
“What did they say?” the little alien asked.
“Earth is sending an official Ambassador.”
Mulk stared out to sea. “Good.”
“What is it?”
“What is what?”
Jessica nudged Mulk carefully.
“Why are you pushing me?”
“Come on, your keeping something from me, what is it?”
“How do you know that?”
“I can just see it”
“I think maybe you know me better than I know myself” Mulk growled.
Jessica smiled and Mulk bared her chewing plates in response which made Jessica laugh.
Mulk lifted her head. “I am no longer on the Council”
“I had to.”
“Was it Trull?”
“What do you mean?”
Mulk sighed in pleasure and anticipation, she looked up at the blue sky where she knew the Napier was orbiting high out of sight.
“We are also going to have an Ambassador.” She said.
Jessica looked at Mulk, then followed her gaze up into the sky.