By Glyn Collinson
 

Chapter Eleven - The long night


"Is this a wall a floor or a ceiling?" The Captain asked Fa'liene.

"Your guess is as good as mine." Came the response from the direction of the colossal mass of metal which covered the hybrid.

The chamber that they had cut their way onto was a dull matte black, like the rest of the ship, but the surfaces were covered in lines along which ripples of green energy slid down towards the hole they had made. The room was tiny, and they only just all fit into it. Opposite their hole was another square piece of metal which had what looked like a handle recessed into it. Strange writing above the handle was decorated by the image of a Skaarj warrior going through a door.

"I recognise this symbol." Mc Kinely said suddenly. "Fa'liene, remember when you were shepherding me through the fortress? The door that you opened in that long corridor that lead to the refinery had this sign etched above it."

Inside his metal coffin, Fa'liene's face lit up with realisation. "That means this must be an emergency exit. Even better, that would mean that security in this area would be low. Bad news is that we really could be anywhere. There are exits like this one all over the ship."

"So let's stop talking and get through this door." Richardson said. "On three."

"One." Prime cutting laser, activate targeting sensors.

"Two." Attach boots to floor for pressure differential.

"Three." Fire. Once more the five red beams leapt forth to slice easily through the thinner metal. But instead of gently falling away like the last circle, this one exploded outwards, rocketing through the compartment and sending the team flying. Air was roaring out of the circle, as the pressure differentiation tried to empty the ship of all its air. The five clanked through the hole, metal boots making contact with the deck plates.

No sooner were they through the gap when a force field slid up to cover the hole, like an electronic window being wound up. Through the field they could see the two circles of emptiness, and beyond then the fastness of open space, where huge flashes indicated that the battle was still in full swing. The second thing they noticed was the fact that they were the notices. Screens showed strange red glyphs, that were similar to the writing on the "emergency exit" sign on the previous door. The third thing they noticed, was the fact that the corridors were very tall, and quite comfortably held the quartet with room to spare. The fourth and most significant thing they noticed, was the fact that they were upside down.

Mc Kinely gingerly put one boot on the wall, and then swing round so that he was horizontal to the floor. Then by placing his other boot on the floor he stood the right way up. Mc Kinely took deep breaths and closed his eyes as the blood rushed out of his brain after being in space, and then upside down. Whilst he recovered, the other four Bio Suits made their way down to the floor, and started to look around.

Inside his suit, Fa'liene typed furiously on his control panel with two hands, and kept the other two inside his sleeves. Holographic images whizzed around the creature, and finally with a grunt he snapped the view back to the outside view.

"I have the power core. But it is going to take some doing to get to it. It is about half a mile away, in that direction." He said, pointing with his upper right arm in the correct direction.

Then the first Skaarj attacked. It was only a small Skaarj as Skaarj go, and it was only a Drudge. The creature was a simple mass of two arms and legs, with cunning dextrous fingers. It was mindless, and it was only the Queen that drove it onwards. The Drudge was not a creature designed for combat, and had no claws or large teeth to prove it.

To Fa'liene it was shocking. But to the Drudge, coming to investigate a blown hatch, and finding five gigantic creatures standing in the hallway, the emotion was firstly pure terror, which turned into an un-natural desire to draw blood. Gathering its strength, it leapt up at The Captain. It never made it, Richardson's laser cutting cleanly through its carapace and slicing the creature in half.

From somewhere deep inside the ship came a rumbling, as the chords between of one of the Queen's beings and herself was cut. The sudden release in comforting tension caused the Queen to let out a low roar of pain.

"They know." Said Fa'liene.

"How did you make that leap?" Richardson asked.

"I can hear their thoughts. Like a thousand voices all talking at once. I can't make out what they are saying, but the voices just got angrier and louder. They know. "Fa'liene said "They know we are here."

Richardson shot at the thing, as it came out of the shadows to leap at the troopers. It was huge, twice the size of a normal Skaarj Warrior. Instead of a green scaled body, this one was covered in a thin blue mucus layer. It had gigantic demonic red eyes that glanced evilly at each of them. It hopped up and down on its toes so it had maximum agility. Choosing its target, it leapt at Richardson. Commander Daniels didn't even flinch, switching his cutting laser to a Blaster Cannon he aimed at precisely the correct spot, and detonated the Skaarj in a shower of red gore, green chitin, and blue mucus. The stuff drenched all of them, making then blend into the corridor a little more, and smell more like Skaarj.

"Nice shot." Richardson said appreciatively, putting his hands down from his face to ward away the attacker. "Where did you shoot it?"

"Nerve bundle, right below the brain." Daniels said, checking the charge on his Blaster Cannon "The central nervous system is routed through there. One shot and, poof. It won't take long for more to arrive, we had better get moving."

*****

Drake gripped the arms of his chair, his palms drenched in sweat and watched the status reports shoot in. The last of the Skaarj star craft had been destroyed, the last of the extra vehicular crews had been found and taken to sickbay, but he had been forced to withdraw the Star bombers and fighters. After all, against that kind of energy shield, what good could they do?

He toyed with the idea of bringing in Resource O. But no, if the Avenger couldn't even dent it, then he doubted that they could do anything either. He looked at the glowing red button just under his fingers, he took his hand away from it. Not yet. Besides there was no guarantee that it was here yet.

Through the bridge viewports he could see the massive hulk of the Skaarj, silhouetted against the brilliant glow of the binary stars. Projected onto that, he could see five holographic people, all standing erect and smiling, as they had done for their identification holographs.

Drake was about to rub his hands on his trousers to free the layers of sweat. But then he remembered that he was supposed to be in command. Instead, he put them together in a thinking pose. Seconds later he found that his hands had started to fidget once more.

He returned to the representations of the five troopers, and beyond them, the black dome of pure evil.

*****

The Captain blasted the last of the Skaarj warriors, sending the headless corpse flying across the cavernous corridor.

"That's it for now." The Captain panted. Then stopped, as he saw why no more approaching. "I spoke to soon." He gulped. Charging straight for them at a slow speed was the massive hulk of a Behemoth. Its jaws were open, and its claws were extended, ready to tear at the mechanical men. Although the team members were now over twelve feet tall, they were dwarfed by the gigantic alien creature. The Captain had seen space ships smaller than this Skaarj. The five started blasting at it, but even the immensely powerful laser shot of a Blaster Cannon was only a pinprick to the gigantic creature.

"What do we do?" Fa'liene shouted over the din of Blaster fire.

"RUN FOR IT!" Yelled The Captain. The sound of the shots ceased, and as they leapt for a convenient side passageway, hotly pursued by the enraged Behemoth. The Captain went first, ducking and rolling away. He ran just far enough down the passageway to avoid the creature, then turned to watch for the other Bio Suits. Fa'liene was right behind him, kicking at his shins the entire way. Daniels came skidding to a halt next to them a few seconds later. Mc Kinely and Richardson were unlucky enough to be on the other side of the passageway, but Mc Kinely still had a little fuel left in his propulsion systems, so he rocketed over the cavernous corridor, the Behemoth snapping at him the entire trip.

Richardson's heart was thumping. He had never known fear like this before, even in his many engagements against the vicious Fewe. The Behemoth was made of terror. He could see the creature coming for him, and between its legs was the dark alleyway of safety. Letting out a bloodcurdling scream, he leapt forwards, somehow dodging every swipe that the creature made at him. He was only meters away form freedom now. He could see his four friends reaching out for him, beckoning him on with cheers of encouragement. Then suddenly the four froze, and the world turned to slow motion.

His right leg was suddenly not free to move anymore, and looking down, he could see the huge claws wrapped around it. Then he was torn from his feet into the air.

The four were silenced, as they watched Richardson, kicking and screaming being lifted into the air and out of sight. From upon high, there was an almighty crunch.

Richardson was pain, it drenched him, penetrated him. Especially his leg, but that was odd, because looking down, or up, he could see that he had no leg. Not anymore. He did remember a time when he had had one, but that memory was slipping away. But he held onto one. Something he had said about not being taken alive. About going out in a blaze of glory. Then he remembered that his ammunition magazine had an overload setting…. *****

It was leaving, Drake could see the fire of the Skaarj's engines burning hard, grappling to get away from the gravitic mass of Tyranza.

"Guns, give them another salvo." He said into his seats green holographic display screen. But even as yet another blinding volley of shots thundered out into the shields, Drake knew it was hopeless.

"We have to keep her in the system." He said, frustrated at his inability to prevent the inevitable.

"What do you suggest?" Lieutenant Tennyson asked cynically. "A big red and white flashing neon sign with the word 'stop' on it? I know, I will talk to them over the communications array and tell them to kiss my Dog."

Drake snapped his fingers. "That's it!" he shouted triumphantly. "Lieutenant Tennyson that is a brilliant idea!"

"Fine I will get my dog." Tennyson said.

"No, No, I mean insulting them. Communications section, Chief Lieutenant Arnold are you there?"

"Yes sir." Said the green holograph of Arnold, appearing in front of Drake.

"I want you to open a communications channel, and get the Universal translator online, switch it to that Skaarj frequency our lab boys just worked out. I want to talk to the sons of sows."

There was a pause, and the holograph of Chief Lieutenant Arnold frantically pushed buttons and moved holographic switches.

"I think I have it sir." Arnold said. "Try it now."

"This is the TBS Avenger to the Skaarj vessel. I knew you would run, in fact, I kind of was waiting for it." Drake said, half laughing. "My pal Fa'liene told me that you would run, being the bottom dwelling cowards you are. You see, you thought you wiped out the Nali? Well guess again genius, because we saved most of the race, and we have them safely tucked in aboard. I told them that, being the pacifists you are, there would be no problem with a fight, because all you would do was to deploy your fighter screens, and run for your lives! So you have a nice comfortable flight back to your home, wherever that slime pit is, and tell your Skaarj Pilots and gunners that we had a harder fight when we fought a swarm of Banshee Squid down on the planet."

"Er Sub Commander?"

"Not now Ivans, can't you see I am insulting the enemy?"

"But sir?" Ivans pointed out across space to the Skaarj vessel. It had swung about on its axis, and was coming towards them at full speed, weapon batteries glowing, ready to rain Starfire upon The Avenger.

*****

The Captain looked at the remains of the Behemoth. There were a lot of remains and all scattered in very small pieces all over the passageway. Somewhere in there, mixed in with all the bloody pieces of flesh, and the dark pools of smeared black blood, were the mortal remains of his good friend Colonel Richardson.

"We have to keep going." Mc Kinely said. He gave his life so that we might proceed."

Fa'liene looked at him and laughed. "My dear Mc Kinely Sergeant. You have a lot to learn about poignant speech making. But you are correct, I will give you that much."

"Ok" The Captain said. "This passageway has to be a major one if it could hold Behemoths. It also points in the direction of the power core. Therefore I think that we have to go straight ahead."

"And if we meet any more Behemoths?" Daniels asked.

"Then we improvise." The Captain said, smiling and taking a step down the long and now dimly lit corridor.

*****

The Avenger shuddered from bow to stern as it took another blast of lightning. Drake was keeping the crew together, but with no way to penetrate their shields, he was fighting a loosing battle. Drake stared at the ship, and watched it turn about to come in for another pass.

"Come on Al, don't let me down." He whispered to The Captain.

"Ok" Drake said, talking to the entire senior staff. "Our weapons can't hurt them, but we can outrun them. I need options."

Silence, apart from the shouts of the bridge crew, giving instructions to their sectors, and the distant rumble of impacts.

Then a light beeped in mid air, in front of Drake. The Sub Commander froze, and then quickly put his finger into the light, that covered his finger tip, and then was replaced by a projection of Squadron Leader Drayson, still in her flight suit.

"Sir, I have an alternative."

"I am all ears Squadron Leader." Drake replied over the boom of a large explosion. Out the viewports, Drake could see the explosion blossoming all over the Avenger's bow.

"I was thinking that we could hide in the asteroid belt."

"Hide?"

"Yes sir, it would buy us maybe twenty minutes, but long enough to get the Avenger into a better shape.

"Understood." Drake said, closing down Drayson and turning to shout an order to the helmsman. "Helmsman, I want full engine power now. Give us a low orbit, as low as she will go and get us into that belt!"

*****

The Skaarj office was cramped. There was not enough room for the team to squeeze in. Then again that was not that surprising as there was now a lot of team to fit in the seemingly narrow space. The room seemed to be made out of grey metal with power conduits snaking all over the walls. There were two control surfaces. One was at head height of a Skaarj warrior, and was made up of five black panels each tiled with brightly coloured buttons and screens inset into it. The five surfaces were not level with each other, jutting out at different distances from the wall. The other control surface was from Skaarj head height downwards and was completely different. Although it was made of the same black materiel with glowing multicoloured lights, it was a regular octagon fully two meters across. In the centre was a hexagon of space, where it seemed a panel had not been fitted yet. The Captain looked into the space, and noted that it was studded with little crystals of Tarydium, all set in a regular square pattern.

"Interesting." Mc Kinely said, breaking the echoing silence. Lots of tessellating geometrical shapes, do you think that there is some significance?"

"That is like asking an artist if there is significance to his work. Of course there is. That is a multiphasic particle focuser, it needs geometric shapes like that to create its phasing array."

"A what?" Daniels asked.

"Well, put simply it can change energy into solid objects. Much in the same way as your transporters do when they re-assemble someone. But it can form it into whatever it wants."

"So why don't they just make Tarydium or some new weapons that beat our shielding?"

"Tarydium is a complex chemical structure. Anything beyond simple compounds it can't do, but it varies. For instance it can mix Iron and Oxygen, but it couldn't mix un-reactive elements, or create compounds of anything more than two kinds of atom."

"Spare us the chemistry lesson Fa'liene, could we use it to our advantage?"

Fa'liene stood and thought for a while.

"Well I suppose that we could make it generate some Black Zenite."

"What is that?" The Captain asked. He caught the projection of Fa'liene's quizzical glance at him. "Hey I am a Captain, not a chemist."

"Zenite is a clay like metal found on the Skaarj homeworld. It becomes extremely unstable in the presence of high amounts of energy. Therefore we could attach it to our Nuclear charges and…."

"We would give them a little MORE bite. Good idea Fa'liene." Daniels said. "But what we really need now is a map of the ship."

"I am already working on it." Fa'liene said, his hands flying over the five black panels of the primary control surface. In front of them, shimmering in the air was an exquisitely sculptured wire frame diagram of the Skaarj Mothership. Most of it was made out of the gigantic engines, which filled a full three quarters of the ship, like on the Avenger. However in the centre of the doughnut was a long shaft, blocked by multiple doors. It was gigantic, and clearly was the tube for some kind of escape craft. The shaft sliced into the ship, and came to rest next to a simply enormous space. Even with his huge metal fists, The Captain could fit both inside the representation, with room to spare.

"Is this the Power core?" The Captain asked, eyeing their prime target.

"Yes, it is the chamber for the most powerful energy supply in the galaxy. The source." Fa'liene said, speaking with awe filled tones as he spoke the last two words.

"What is this 'source'?" Mc Kinely asked.

"Well" Fa'liene said almost apologetically. "I don't really know. Information about this ship itself is very well guarded. I don't know half of what there is to know.

"I suppose that that information doesn't tell us the whereabouts of the Skaarj sleeping quarters." Daniels said hopefully.

"You are quite correct my dear Daniels Commander. It doesn't."

"Now, you are definitely sure" the Captain asked worriedly, "that taking out this source will lower the ships shields?"

"Oh, absolutely. One hundred percent sure. Well, seventy percent. Well, maybe fifty actually, but the point is that it is our best hope."

"Hang on" Mc Kinely said suddenly. "I thought that the Skaarj energy supply was Tarydium."

"Well, it is and it isn't." Fa'liene answered, pressing buttons on the second panel, making a few bars of a greyish materiel appear out of blinding white in the octagon in the centre.

"Their power is Tarydium based, but they don't actually have pieces of Tarydium in all their vehicles and machinery."

"They don't?"

"No. In fact there isn't a shred of Blue Crystal anywhere on this ship, apart from in the Source chamber. The Source takes the Tarydium and extracts the power from it. The by product is huge amounts of energy, which is stored in relay capacitors. These Capacitors are distributed to the Skaarj forces, who use them, and when the energy has run out, they return the capacitors to the Source and collect new full ones."

"Sounds very efficient" The Captain added, stuffing as much grey materiel around the thermonuclear charges as possible.

"It is. Very." Fa'liene said flatly, handing the Captain another bar of the clay like substance. "And because of this, the Skaarj are sure to surround the Source with as many troops as they can muster."

"Well whatever the odds, we can't stay around here." The Captain said. Clicking the Thermonuclear charge box closed and replacing it in its holster. "The Skaarj are sure to be close by."

"On their Mothership?" Daniels exclaimed. "You can bet on it."

"Ok." The Captain ordered. "Lead on Fa'liene."


Move on to Chapter Twelve

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.