By Glyn Collinson
 

Chapter Twelve - Sacrifices


"Another asteroid bumped into the side of the Avenger, sending a shudder through the massive ship.

"Engineering, how is that damage repair coming along?" Drake said to his holograms. "If we stay here much longer, the asteroids will do more damage than the Skaarj."

"Working on it sir." A smutty face said. Behind the engineer, in the brightly lit cavernous expanse of the Engine room, clouds of steam were erupting from pipework. Red illuminators shone light lighthouses through the mist. The man spoke quickly, trying to get as many words into his sentence as possible. "But we received a serious hit we will have to take the drives offline."

"For how long?"

"Thirty minutes at minimum and at maximum around an hour?"

"That is not good enough engineering, we need to be out of here in ten."

"I will try sir, engineering out."

*****

"Fa'liene, get that dammed door open!" Shouted Mc Kinely over the din of Blaster Cannon fire. Mc Kinely aimed at another of the blood thirsty Skaarj Warriors and opened fire. The Skaarj detonated, leaving only a cloud of incandescent smoke to prove that it had been there. Their weapons were strong, their aim good, but there were, Mc Kinely knew, FAR too many to fight.

"Almost got it" Fa'liene screamed back, fiddling with the door controls. He inserted a probe from his wrist and gave the obstinate door controls a blast of pure Tarydium energy in the correct place.

With a creak, the gigantic portal lifted up a crack. Not far, but far enough. Fa'liene didn't wait to see how the battle ended. He ducked and rolled under the door, catching his power pack on one of the spikes that, once closed, held it in place in case of sudden decompression. The Captain was next, followed by Daniels, who managed to get of a few parting shots at a pair of gigantic clawed feet. One foot suddenly disappeared from view, and the other started to hop up and down comically. Where was Mc Kinely? Fa'liene was worried that he wouldn't make it, but no, there he was, half rolling, half leaping through the narrow gap. Fa'liene slammed his gigantic fist into the door controls, and the portal slammed closed, slicing another pair of claws clean in half.

"Well, where now?" The Captain asked.

"No where." Fa'liene said calmly. "We are here. The source."

Eagerly, Daniels shone his illuminators into the darkness, but the huge lights didn't even make contact with another wall, a tremendously long way away. The word cavern just did not describe this monstrous enclosure. There was no light save the glow of a thousand black power conduits. Every few seconds, each conduit sent a wave of green along it. The waves all converged at a set point, but because of the size of the cavern, judging distances was impossible.

Daniels walked forward, and felt something sticky brush his illusory head. Looking up he saw a long tendril like a spiders web. The thing was covered in dust and hung down like a stalactite. Glancing upwards, and pulling his illuminators up through forty five degrees he made out millions of more strands, all arranged in long broken webs.

"I wouldn't like to see the spider that made this" he joked.

"I just have." Fa'liene said, his voice flooded with pure terror.

The spider was gigantic, easily twice as large as a Behemoth. Its eight gigantic red eyes were bigger than their heads, and they seemed to pulse with amber light. The thing was black, but had a bluish tinge. The Captain took a full sensor reading, and tapped his holographic projector, causing the world to judder. But no, he had not misread the results.

"It is made of Tarydium!" He said. Then he did a double take at his sensor pack. "Either I am getting sensor echoes, or there are over five hundred spiders in here."

"What do we do?" Fa'liene said, trembling.

"KILL THEM! KILL THEM ALL! Daniels screamed. He fired his lasers at the things eyes, tearing through the soft flesh and into the things brain. The spider screamed, a long piercing high pitched scream which shattered through The Captain's hearing. But then the wail cut off, and the light in the eyes died. From all around them, the spiders were getting up and crawling towards them, cutting mandibles outstretched and opening and closing.

Red laser fire shot through the night, tearing through spider after spider. Fear clutched at their chests as the things came in closer.

"LEAVE US ALONE!" Fa'liene screamed in desperation.

To his shock, the things all suddenly stopped, dead in their tracks as if they had just run into an invisible wall, and turned around, scurrying off into the pressing blackness as fast as their long crystalline legs could carry them.

For a moment the four just stared at the back ends of the vanishing spiders. Then they all started breathing again.

"What did you do?" Mc Kinely asked, hearing his words echoing around.

"Nothing!" exclaimed Fa'liene. "All I did was…."

"All you did, was to tell them what to do." Daniels said slowly, with realisation. "And, as you are mostly thinker, they had to obey. After all, thinker is the highest class is it not?"

"Second only to the Queen." Fa'liene exhaled.

"What else can you do?" The Captain asked.

"Let's find out." Fa'liene said. Then he raised his voice to shout into the darkness. "LET ME SEE THE SOURCE".

Like a thousand and one fire flies, balls of light shimmered into existence, and flew in a swarm towards a point in the dark. They suddenly split up, dancing over a long shape.

"I think that's it." Mc Kinely said.

"Ok." The Captain said. "Let's plant the charges. Fa'liene I want you to.. Er hello Fa'liene?" Fa'liene was not looking at the Captain, but simply staring at The Source.

Suddenly he laughed.

"Captain, I think you had better look more closely."

Spinning around, The Captain made out a long and slimy caterpillar like body. Eight red round control surfaces lay at one end, whilst a large processing maw lay underneath it. The power source was bloated, and had small leaver like devices all over it, that waved back and forth in a peristalsis like motion. Heat sinks perhaps? He didn't understand. Then his heart stopped, as he looked closer at the control surfaces. They were eyes. Eight gigantic eyes, larger than the spiders, larger than anything else he had seen on the Skaarj. The Source, was alive.

"What is it?" The Captain asked.

"It's the Queen." Fa'liene whispered back.

*****

"Engineering…" Drake said, not needing to say any more.

"We know sir, almost got it." Drake was thrown forward in his chair as the Skaarj fired yet another salvo against the Avengers dimming shields. Then with a gigantic roar, the engines kicked to life, sending the Avenger hurtling forward at a tremendous, unthinkable speed. Stars became pin stripes as the ship raced through the cosmos, in the distance, directly ahead was a bright star, which got brighter, and brighter, until Drake realised that they were heading straight for the Skaarj Mothership.

"Helm, steer to course one niner five zero." He yelled over the creaking of the Avenger.

Out the viewports, the nose of the Avenger pulled up, spilling light from Tyranza into the Bridge. The Avenger rushed over the hull of the Skaarj. Drake saw grey and black, and then just grey, and then black again with a smattering of stars. Switching the viewports to a rear view, Drake smiled as the Skaarj took a major hit from a city sized asteroid. The huge object passed easily through its shields, and knocked the alien vessel into cartwheels. A piece of the Skaarj, twice as large as the asteroid snapped off, and rushed off into space, becoming yet another part of the growing asteroid belt. Fire leapt out of the exposed decks, to be quenched by the cold and airless environment of space. With over a quarter of the Skaarj gone, all it could do was to blast upwards, out of the belt and safely out of range of the Avenger's guns. But then with a double boom coming from deep within the ship, and the squeal of tortured electronics, the Avenger's engines died. They were stuck, hurtling forward. Without engines they couldn't slow down, to say nothing about stopping. But even as Drake realised his fate, he realised that the Skaarj, although damaged, were not beaten yet. They still had a job to do.

"Are those shields down yet?"

"No sir." Came the dry response. "Although weaker, it is still enough to resist our salvos."

"What?" Drake exclaimed. He frantically pressed buttons on his control pad.

"Engineering, need I ask?"

Static.

"Awww hell."

*****

The Captain was routed to the spot, staring into the red menacing eyes. He was entranced by the glowing orbs, which appeared to stare right through him into his soul. He thought about the thing, and it all came into focus. The Queen needed had come here in search of a new energy source. Upon arrival she mad become dependant on the blue crystal. But did that mean that all the Skaarj were as well? He had no idea, but he definitely had to find out. However the thing that mattered, is that the Queen must eat the crystal, and turn it into raw energy. With this energy she could power the Skaarj machinery, and have enough power to hatch new Skaarj. Fascinating.

Then, as the effects drove her mad, she had become more obsessed with the Nali's destruction? Maybe, after all it had to be this mind that drove the Skaarj onwards to evil upon evil.

However, when Mc Kinely's bomb had shattered the crystal seams, it had become worthless. Maybe the blast had de energised the crystal or something. It didn't matter. The most important thing was, that she had been forced to leave.

He shook himself and forced his eyes away from the obscene creature. He glanced at the others, who were similarly engrossed.

"Ok, we know what we came here to do." He said, breaking the spell. All around him his team shuddered, as if waking up from a deep sleep. "Place charges, I don't know where so improvise."

Mc Kinely ran around the creature in long mechanical bounds, placing bombs all over the thing. The bomb's jaws dug into the soft flesh of the Queen, and soon the thing was lightly peppered with deadly explosives. Daniels had taken his eight charges and was arranging them neatly under the creatures eyes. The Captain took out his single devastating device, and threw it like a Frisbee into the maw of the thing.

"Fa'liene, you had better get your single charge down so we can get out of here." The Captain said. "Fa'liene?"

Fa'liene jerked his head up. "Yes Captain?"

"Are you alright?"

"Fine, just."

"Just what?" Mc Kinely asked concerned.

"I can hear her speaking to me…." Fa'liene replied dreamily.

The Captain slid Fa'liene's charge out of its holster and handed it to Daniels, who clipped it onto the Queen.

"Come one Fa'liene" The Captain said, taking him by the arm. "Let's get you out of here. According to that map of yours, there should be our ticket out of here, just over there." The Captain pointed to an iris like door. The iris was black, and it appeared to be made of a scab like materiel. Slime dripped down it, and it was coated in cobwebs. Mc Kinely shuddered.

"I have a bad feeling about this." He said.

Then with a final crash, the far door burst in, spilling in the forces of darkness.

*****

"I really don't recommend this sir," the engineer said to him, pressing holographic buttons on his temporary station on the bridge. "She just complained once, and now you want to push her again?"

"We have no choice." Drake said sighing. "Fire up the engines now."

The Engineer pressed an illusory button. Beneath him the rumble of the engines spluttered into life. Not bad, considering they had just been put back in once piece. Drake opened one eye, relieved to find that the ship hadn't exploded, and that his feet still were firmly placed on the deck plates. Out the viewport, the blue orb of Tyranza stopped shrinking. However, even at full engine power, it would take hours to get back into orbit. They didn't have hours. The Skaarj had already gotten most of the damage under control, and were preparing to make a jump into Hyperspace. In fact, they had more like minutes.

"Sir, I have an idea." Said Drayson, who stood beside Drake's chair, clasping and unclasping her sweaty hands.

"Another one Squadron Leader?" Drake replied and pulled a face. "Well, I guess the last one turned out alright. What is it?"

"The Kran sir, she used the gravity of a Black Hole to accelerate off the scale. Now, we couldn't get as much juice from a planet as from the Blood Eye, but the effect could be the same."

"I see." Drake replied. "We use the gravity to sling shot us round something, and get back into range?"

"Yes sir."

"Apart from the minor fact, that we are too far away from the planet to do any good."

"Well, maybe sir, but how about that moon?"

Off to the left hung one of Tyranza's two moons framed in a beautiful nebula. This moon had a surface the colour of molten iron. With a wry grin, Drake began issuing the orders.

"Helmsman, project a slingshot course."

*****

"Fa'liene, tell them to stop!" The Captain said, eyeing the hordes of Skaarj tear ever forward. He aimed at one of the Warriors and fired, sending pieces of Skaarj sailing over the black mass of claws, teeth and jaws. The Captain, Mc Kinely and Daniels opened fire, shredding chitin. Over the noise, The Captain might of heard Fa'liene bellow:

"There are too many Captain! Besides, I HAVE to get this iris open!"

Fa'liene's hands flew over the door controls, but he knew that it would be several minutes before he had the door open. Several minutes they didn't have. But suddenly, he felt a shudder run through the bulkhead, and with a snarl like hiss, the iris cracked open.

"I am Invincible!" he yelled in triumph. Then he glanced back to see another Skaarj detonate. Even with several gone, there was still a moving wall of death rushing towards them. Through the iris Fa'liene made out a large black open space, which was filled by a sleek silver tower. The tower had two metal scythes painted red protruding from it. Even with his brain intoxicated with fear, Fa'liene recognised it. It was a Skaarj escape pod.

"Captain." He spluttered.

"I know, I know." The Captain yelled back, picking off yet another creature. He looked at the mass of Skaarj. There was no way that they would all make it before they arrived. They would all be dead. Someone would need to hold them off.

"Fa'liene, get to the ship, you are the only one who can operate it. Mc Kinely and Daniels go with him. I am going to stay here and hold them off to cover your escape."

"Al, this may sound corny, but I are not leaving you behind!" Daniels yelled at The Captain.

The Captain saw it was an impasse.

"Alright Dan, you stay, but you two go. Go on get out of here. We will give you 5 minutes to take off, and then we will blow the charges."

Mc Kinely stared at The Captain. The he saluted, and taking the arm of his friend, they ran off towards the entrance portal on the escape pod.

"Do you think they will make it?" Daniels asked.

"Who knows?" The Captain said, shooting down another Skaarj. "You know, I doubt we can hold them off for five minutes. So before I do, I want to say sorry. Sorry for abandoning you and the crew of the Kran four years ago. I was just, well, I was just afraid of the Unknown."

Daniels looked at him, and then nodded.

"In understand Al." He paused. "Al, I want you to know, before, well, before. You have been one heck of a Captain. And a Friend."

The Captain paused in his raining down Starfire to look at Daniels. Then, giving him a friendly slap on the back he turned away, his face hard as iron, to watch the charging wall of teeth and claws close in on them.


Move on to Chapter Thirteen

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.