By Glyn Collinson
 

Chapter Ten - The coming of shadows


The Avenger slid around the radiating orb of Tyranza, glistening as it hit the terminator leaving the shadow and moving into the warm radiance of its twin suns. It cut a dagger like profile into the softly swirling clouds that were forming over the main ocean.

The large amphitheatre like briefing room, with its rows of seats, ascending into the blackness was buzzing with activity, with nearly every seat full, and there were enough seats in this room to accommodate the entire crew several times over. Obviously some of the Nali people had decided to attend.

From about the twentieth row backward, one couldn't see the faces of the speaker, so holographic projectors were recessed into the seats, that projected the life size visage of the speaker's face a meter or so away from the observer. It could also project pictures of starfields, tactical computer models or reconnaissance pictures, right into the lap of the audience.

The huge chamber was designed expertly, so even though microphones were used, most of the time they were not needed. The sound quality was perfect from all seats, and each seat had a near perfect view of the proceedings.

Three pairs of chimes reverberated around the amphitheatre, and the crowd became silent, as The Captain strode up into the light. He stood there for a moment to compose himself, and then began, grasping his sweaty palms onto the polished brass handrails of the speaker's box.

"The Skaarj have been dealt a significant blow, and the time for our final attack has come." The Captain said, pausing to let the murmur of several thousand sharply inhaled breaths die down. "From the information provided to us by the Nali people, but first and foremost by our newest crew member, Citizen Fa'liene, we have been able to plan this assault. For the details I would like to hand you over to Colonel Richardson, who has designed this strike down the smallest detail." The Captain stepped away and out of the light. On the audience's holographic screens, his face was replaced by the scarred features of Colonel Richardson.

"Good morning." He said, coughing. "The Skaarj have only three days of life left. After that their stockpiles of Tarydium will be exhausted, and they will have to leave the planet and return to their home world to revert back to their standard power source, whatever that is, or die."

"Die?" The theatre asked.

"Yes. Die. You see, because of the Skaarj Warrior's need for an artificial environment in which to recharge, or sleep, or whatever they do, once these units are out of power and no longer function the creatures will simply, stop. Of course with their tremendous reliance on the power their Warriors provide, the Skaarj will not have the resources with which to keep the planet's forces under control. Nali rebellion is inevitable, and the destruction of their machinery and most importantly the Skaarj Queen will follow."

"Queen?" The theatre asked.

"The Skaarj are insect based, and every single creature from the Warrior to the lowly beetle that cleans up their refuses comes from The Queen. It lays thousands of eggs a day, and these turn into either a Warrior, a Brute, a Thinker, a drudge, Behemoth or an Overseer. Queen's are not produced in this way, and it is unclear at the moment where they come from. But to leave the Queen aside and return to the scenario. There are two pieces of evidence that seem to back this theory up. The first is the data stored in the Skaarj mainframe. The second is the fact that for the last few days, the Skaarj have been slowly pulling out of their bases which consume the most power. The Skaarj travelled by Air Skimmer to the Mothership, where they seem to be congregating. This all points to one thing. They are evacuating."

Richardson paused, sipping his water.

"In three days. They will be forced to take off no matter how many Skaarj are left below. Their power almost gone, they will be forced to lower their shields. Then, we pounce. Are their any questions?"

There were thousands, but none were asked.

"Good. Gunnery stations should start drills now. Starfighter crews should brush up on their skills for the delivery of high yield bombs. Troopers will be issued with heavy weaponry. Thank you, and may fortune favour the foolish."

The lights flickered on, revealing the white faces of the crew. Then a wild cheer erupted into the chamber. It filled every corner, reverberating the air and creating a noise so inspiring, that even Lady Luck himself should of heard it. Unfortunately, all Lady Luck could do was to frown.

*****

The Captain sat at his wooden writing desk, and began to contemplate the glowing stars. He hoped that Richardson's cover had comforted the crew, because they both knew that there was no way that the Skaarj were going to play their game. The Captain thought that the plan was very short sighted, until Richardson had told him the backup plan. Then he had understood why there was need for comfort. Then he had understood why the Bio Suits had been brought up from the ISV Kran and fixed. Then he had understood the very essence of fear and nervousness itself.

He was just in the middle of a worrying thought, when the familiar sound of the doorbell heralded the end to yet another moment of peace and quiet. Without waiting for The Captain to answer it, Lieutenant Tennyson burst through the door.

"Sir." He said quickly. "You had better come down the medical bay."

*****

The Captain entered the clinically white medical bay, and saw his reflection in the many black screens that glared at him with electronic eyes.

"What is it Psycho?" he asked Dr Harrison. Taking one out of his white overall, Dr Harrison pointed to a high backed medical chair.

"My patient has been asking to see you." Harrison said.

The Captain looked at the man sitting in the chair. For an instant he didn't recognise him. The last few years hadn't been kind to the man, and the time he had spent in stasis had wrinkled his flesh. But he was unmistakably Commander Daniels.

"Dan?" The Captain asked cautiously.

"It's me Al." The Commander replied calmly.

For a moment the two old friends stared at each other, and then they were rushing forward to give each other an embrace, laughing, slapping each other on the back and both talking far to fast at the same time. Daniels was the first to recover.

"I tell you, that stuff Fa'liene gave me really hit the spot. Thank him for me."

"Well you can tell him yourself, but later. We have a lot to catch up on. I need to tell you our situation, and you need to tell me all you know about the Skaarj."

Just then, the red alert siren wailed, and the two friends exchanged glances before they rushed out the door.

"Commander Daniels, come back! I haven't finished the tests yet!" Shouted Harrison over the din. Too late.

*****

"Status." The Captain said striding onto the bridge and feeling the sense of union between bridge crew grow tighter. He sat down in his comfortable high-backed chair and activated his holographic projectors. The screens shimmered into life in front of him. Commander Daniels stood to his right, bathed in the green glow of the holograms.

"The Skaarj have completed loading their final Air Skimmer of troops, and we are reading a massive surge of energy from the Mothership."

"Are we reading any Skaarj, that are not on the Mothership?" The Captain asked Lieutenant Ivans.

There was a pause as Ivans checked his screens.

"Negative sir, and scanner coverage of the planet is one hundred percent."

"Very good." The Captain said calmly, feeling his heart beat just a little bit faster. "Can we get a view of their take off on the windows please?" The windows of the bridge stopped being transparent panes of glass and showed the image of the doughnut shaped vessel blasting clear of its supports and start the long climb up into the sky projected onto the starfield.

"How long before they reach orbit?" he asked.

"About five minutes sir" someone answered.

"Very well. Move us into close strike position. All space craft launch."

*****

The Skaarj were flying upwards through the rushing knots of atmosphere, past the gentle clouds. The light got darker and the sky got blacker. Then the Skaarj were out, out into the clean fastness of space. A million stars glimmered in greeting. The vessel cut through the chords of blackness, slicing out towards Hyperspace. The creatures had the dim memory of being at awe, but now, desperation and rage was all they could see. Desperation to reach the safety of their home, and rage for being driven out of their rightful lands. Silently, the Skaarj flew forward, into the night.

Massive explosions rocked the Skaarj. Fireballs lit up space, illuminating the grey hull as the Avenger poured shot after shot into the ship's shields. The ship swung violently around to meet the attacker with a blind fury.

Drayson flicked a switch and her space ship dropped out of the hangar and out into the blackness of open space. All around her she could make out the others, flying out of fighter bays like a swarm of angry bees. Their weapon systems buzzing to life ready to sting their opponents.

"Skaarj shield status." The Captain said gripping the arms of his chair, and watched another volley pour into the vessel. Silence greeted him. "Skaarj shield status." He said again insistently. "Still at full strength sir." Came the response.

Silence. The shielding was made of immense amounts of energy, it would take considerable firepower to punch through it and The Captain seriously doubted that the Avenger or even his secret ally had enough.

"Very well. Colonel Richardson inform Mc Kinely and Fa'liene, the bear refuses to be stung."

"Yes sir." Richardson said, executing an about face, and hurrying out of the Bridge.

"Sir, reading multiple fighter contacts coming from the Skaarj Mothership. There are, forty-nine, no wait. Make that an even fifty. They are all similar in design to the fighters we saw before."

"Very well. Inform Squadron Leader Drayson to concentrate on the fighters for now. I have urgent business to attend to."

"Sir, where are you going?" Sub Commander Drake asked.

"I am going into hell Sub Commander, into hell. You have command. Daniels, you are with me."

*****

"I would like to say one more time, that this plan has got to be the maddest that I have ever heard. I spent a year avoiding Skaarj warriors, and you lost over twenty men in a few minutes to them. And now, we are going looking for some more?" Fa'liene said, re checking that his Bio Suit's formidable armoury was primed.

"Fa'liene, if we need someone to hack into Skaarj computer systems then we need you." Richardson said for the eighth time.

The Intrepid shuddered as it took a hit from a Skaarj fighter.

"Don't worry." The Captain said. "She can take it. Landing craft like this one were designed for it."

"I hope so." Sergeant Mc Kinely said, listening to the roar of the Intrepid's engines. That was the odd thing about space battles. Huge explosions, and unless you were firing or being hit, you heard nothing, just the roar of your own engines.

The Captain looked at his squad of four Bio Suited personnel. Colonel Richardson, the bravest and most battle scarred man he knew, Sergeant Michael Mc Kinely who had already come through hell once, Citizen Fa'liene. Publicly reluctant but internally ready to reap revenge for the deaths of so many of his friends and comrades. And then there was Commander Daniels. There were too many unanswered questions about him, but The Captain had been forced to make a leap of faith.

The plan was insane. That was why he trusted it.

The Captain's mind flicked back to remember all those Space films he had seen as a little wide eyed boy. The Captain had always survived in those, hadn't he? He had been the hero, right? All his actions were justified, weren't they?

Fa'liene ran his hands over the array of buttons on the inside of the Bio Suit. His attention was drawn by a glowing red one. It seemed to pulsate with energy, and he placed his finger over it, poised to press it.

"What ever you do don't press that button" Mc Kinely said slowly, in a manner that seemed almost half scared.

"Why?"

"It would be bad."

The roar of Intrepid's engines was slowly drowned out by silence, as pumps sucked the air out of the compartment. The illuminators changed from pure white to a rotating red glow. Then the main hatch cracked open, and slid slowly upwards into its socket, spilling in the brilliant light reflected of the surface of Tyranza. Then as the Intrepid turned over, the planet was eclipsed by a huge black thing. The thing ate away at the stars, and took ravenous bites out of Tyranza.

The Captain switched on his powerful Bio Suit lights, and the blackness was replaced in part by a circle of black hull plates. There were no windows at all, and no hatches to speak of. Getting in was not going to be easy.

"Right let's go." He said, and pulsed his suit's engines. The suit was massive. Over twelve feet tall and like a miniature space ship in itself. The five stepped off the Intrepid, and out into space.

"Oh my…" Fa'liene came over the speakers.

"Try not to look at the stars." The Captain said. "Keep your eyes focused on the hull. If it helps, activate your lights."

The bright circle of hull plates that was visible by the suit's illuminators was joined by several others. The circles shrank as the five got nearer and nearer.

Mc Kinely had always hated zero gravity environments. It was something about having literally nothing beneath your feet that unnerved him. In that sense he was looking forward to getting inside. With a clank, his boots made contact with the black thing, and the magnetic locks pulled him around by ninety degrees, making the black thing seem like a floor instead of a vertical wall. He felt better, and looked around him. His range of vision was limited, but the suit projected a holographic representation of the environment around his helmet, so he could 'see' all around him. The servos and motors were excellent, making it seem like he wasn't wearing a several ton Bio Suit.

Looking around him, he could see the others floating down to a gentle landing on the surface.

"OK, everyone look for a good spot." The Captain said, and with that the four dispersed, clanking slowly and rhythmically towards a distant black horizon. It was Mc Kinely that found one. His powerful illuminators showed him a perfect square of metal, with what could have been a handle, if you had low dexterity, fixed into it.

"I got one." Mc Kinely said proudly. Whilst the others came over to him he started priming his cutting laser. Using the holographic display he drew a rough circle with his finger around the image of the square of metal. The circle was imprinted on his vision, and it blinked red. His transmitter send the information to the other suits, so when Mc Kinely fired his cutting laser, they all fired, sending five incandescent beams of red energy to converge on the plate. The circle was quickly finished, and the piece of metal in the middle started spinning end over end, and floated upwards towards the Intrepid, making a fast exit amongst the bright flashes of dog fighting space craft.

Fa'liene shone his lights down the hole, and picked out the familiar site of a hall of air.

"Congratulations!" he yelped " I think you hit an airlock."

Inside his suit, Mc Kinely grinned.

"Well that's the hard part done" joked Colonel Richardson.

The hard part was only just beginning.


Move on to Chapter Eleven

STARFIRE is copyright Glyn Collinson.

UNREAL is copyright to Epic Games.

Please do not plagarise this story! I have done hours of work on it, and to copy it and say it is yours would just show how un-imaginative and illiterate you are. I am sure you agree.