By Glyn Collinson
 

Chapter Thirteen - The path to destruction


"We have them on the run now!" Sub Commander Drake yelled, and watched the Avenger's massive salvos play over the surface of the Skaarj, setting off a series of huge explosions.

"Sir, we, er, we have problems here." Lieutenant Ivans suddenly called, and clicked a row of silver switches on his console, changing one of the window's views.

Drake stood up out of his chair. His mouth falling open.

"My god" Was all he could splutter.

There were only three spiders, crystalline and black with eight glowing red eyes. But one of those things could have swallowed the Intrepid hole. The spiders had detached themselves from the Mothership and were floating towards the Avenger, mandibles opening and closing. One of them seemed to stare right at Drake as it flew past the windows, and landed on the vast flat expanse of the hull, hundreds of meters below the bridge.

Through the bulkheads, Drake thought he could hear a scraping or crunching sound, as the Spiders began to dine.

*****

It was a long silver corridor, lit by a pure blinding white light, the walls and floor seemed to be made of a liquid metal. Fa'liene held out a massive hand to brush it tentatively, causing ripples to be set off in the material.

"Fascinating" he remarked, as he and Mc Kinely splashed through the liquid metal along the boarding passage.

Fa'liene expected at any moment to be leapt on by a Skaarj Warrior. But no attack came, and the only sound he could hear was the crackling of his radio, and his rhythmic heavy breathing. They could see that the passage ended in a curved metal wall, which had to be the hull of the escape pod. Set into it was a trapezoidal hatch, standing open on a set of heavy duty hinges. Suddenly, there was a loud clank and for some reason the pair could go no further.

Mc Kinely almost broke down there and then. He could see the open hatch to the escape pod, only ten yards away, but the passageway was too narrow for them to make it through, unless…..

"Fa'liene remember that red button that I told you not to press?"

"I do."

"Press it."

The Hybrid closed his eyes, his finger hovering over the button. Then without a second thought, he applied his finger to the glowing box, and toggled it down.

There came a loud hiss, and Fa'liene's helmet rotated back into the suit. Then the heavy armour plates swivelled around, sliding into hidden jacks. The entire massive Bio Suit slowly folded up and fell of the Alien like a snake shedding its skin. With a loud plop, the shell fell into the liquid metal, and vanished below the surface, and suddenly Fa'liene found himself wading knee deep in mercury. Before him was a curved hatchway, made from inch thick steel plate. The inside was padded with a dark green fabric, that in places was getting a little threadbare, the foam padding poking through to peer at them.

The two splashed through the metal, holding onto each other's arms for support. Fa'liene, with longer legs made it to the door first, and fell through the open hatch, pulling Mc Kinely with him. It was only then that they realised that the clean floor of the pod was two meters below the floor of the hatch. Fa'liene hit hard on the metal floor, and felt the sharp pain in his top left shoulder as the bone popped out of the socket. He yelled in surprise and pain, just as his body broke Mc Kinely's fall, who landed on top of him, pinning him down.

Mc Kinely scrambled up to slam the hatch closed. He clawed at a leaver by the side of the hatch and with a series of simultaneous clacking sounds, twenty locks snapped into place, and the Skaarj pod was airtight. Just in time. Through the smoky glass of the thick circular window, Mc Kinely thought he could see the gloomy dark figures of creatures moving towards the hatch. They were huge, dark and coated with blood. Human blood.

"Fa'liene, get us out of here!" Mc Kinely yelled, but Fa'liene was too delirious with pain to do anything. The creature had propped himself against a wall, and let the waves of nausea flow over him. The creature forced his eyes closed to fight the sticky sensation as the shock set in.

The inside of the pod was very small and cramped. It was perfectly cylindrical, and padded with the same green padding as the hatch was. There was only one window, but that was mounted just to one side of the controls. But the odd thing was that it had a very high ceiling, there were what looked like chairs, bolted to the wall, very high near the top. Then Mc Kinely caught on. The Pod is launched vertically, but flies horizontally. That meant that there had to be some kind of emergency launch control, or an autopilot, somewhere.

"Fa'liene, just give me a clue, anything!"

With one of his right arms he pointed a wavering finger towards a silver handle, mounted into a silver hole in the wall. It was designed for alien hands, but nether the less, it very clearly said "launch control."

Mc Kinely stepped over Fa'liene, and grabbed the leaver. He tried to move it in all directions, and found that the leaver wanted to be rotated around ninety degrees, and pushed down into the hole.

Fa'line made urgent signs for Mc Kinely to sit down with a hand, and slid down to lie flat on the floor. The Soldier copied him.

It started as a rumble, and then grew to a roar as the engines burst into life with a gout of flame. The liquid metal connecting tube lost its solid properties, and dropped down, spilling its Skaarj occupants down with it to rain on the blast floor, far below. Ahead of the pod, a gargantuan piece of hexagonal metal that had been a ceiling also became liquid, which rained down and opened the launch tube up.

The Skaarj pod slid forward, sliding of its support stands and gaining speed.

Inside the ship, everything was shaking and rattling. Mc Kinely was screaming something to Fa'liene about holding on, but the Hybrid couldn't make it out. The flesh on Mc Kinely's face was rippling as the acceleration tripled his weight. Out the window, through his squinted eyes, the soldier could see the pod navigating through a maze of hellish tubes, sizzling with green lightning, and then out into the vast hole in the middle of the Skaarj ship. Ahead of them were stars, millions of stars. Fa'liene, drugged with pain, still managed to let out a yelp of triumph. They were going to make it.

Mc Kinely exclaimed wordlessly in horror. He could see the Skaarj Fighter bearing down on then all right, but with no control over the craft, and all of its fuel expended. There was nothing they could do, apart from wait calmly for the end. Tears of failure welled in his eyes. After all they had been through, after coming so close to surviving, they were going to die here. In a tiny escape pod, floating in the infinity of space.

*****

"Dead?" Drake asked, his voice raised an octave.

"Yes sir." Tennyson said, gulping his black sludge thirstily. "The Spiders are all dead."

"And that is bad?"

"It seems their entire purpose was to open a hole in us, and regurgitate their stomach's contents into the Avenger. The substance that they injected was a clear liquid, but with it came over a hundred Skaarj."

Drake's heart stopped. He relaxed in his chair and rubbed his eyes.

"So they were boarding shuttles." He said tiredly.

"It would appear so, Sir."

"Alert the garrison, inform them we have been boarded, issue all troopers with as much armour and firepower that they can lay their hands on. The Skaarj cannot take control of the Avenger."

"Yes sir." Tennyson said. He deposited his empty cup on the floor, and ran to the nearest holographic communicator.

Drake opened his eyes, and for an instant saw a Skaarj Warrior standing over him, claws extended, reaching for his throat. He flinched, but it was only Lieutenant Clark.

"Sir?" She asked.

"Yes Lieutenant?"

"In the Colonel's absence, I request command of the Garrison."

"Granted." Drake agreed. She was the obvious choice, she was the highest-ranking trooper on the ship and she had experience fighting Skaarj. "Do whatever you feel is necessary, keep me informed."

Clark's holographic wraith saluted and flickered out of existence.

*****

"Remember. Just shoot anything that is not human." Clark said, sealing her suit and taking her pulse cannon of safety. The doors opened in front of them to reveal what reminded Clark of Dante's vision of hell. Mountains of twisted metal stuck up here and there, and overhead the roof had been chewed away, spilling in the light from a million stars. There were no illuminators intact, but the party of troopers made their way through the darkness by the light from their suits. Here and there, fingers of twisted and blackened metal reached for them with icy fingers.

Clark's sensor panel flashed yellow. Possible lifeform detected. It flashed faster, and went to red. She nodded to the rest of the troopers, who fanned out into the darkness. A second later they were all back together again, and circling around a monolithic metal outcrop, magnetic boots giving the illusion of gravity.

Their deception tactic was risky, but it had to work.

It didn't. The Skaarj came from above, floating gently down through the vacuum from what remained of the roof. A hundred whirring sets of teeth and claws all converging on the unprepared humans.. Blackness enveloped them, lit sporadically by the bursts of light as pulses of energy leapt out into the night.

*****

Squadron Leader Drayson concentrated on the shape of the Skaarj Fighter, as it flew low over the battered and burning TBS Avenger. Air was leaking from every deck of the once great Battle Ship, and flames were leaping out into space, to be quenched by the icy airless environment. The Mothership ship, still under partial control fired huge blasts of blue energy into her home.

Then everything went a blinding white. Her fighter's window responded immediately, turning from clear to opaque in less time that it took for the light to reach the fighter. The blast from the team's nuclear charges blew out the bottom of the Skaarj, and the energy flooded out through the hole in the middle of the ship, and the maw of the bottom in two lances of brilliant white light.

When Drayson's windows had cleared enough for her to see through, she could see the Skaarj fighter again. It was no longer dodging and diving, but drifting lifelessly in a straight line that led it slightly over the Skaarj's bow. She let of a shot at the fighter, tearing off a piece of wing. The pilot did not respond, and the fighter continued to drift.

*****

The Fighter slammed into the Escape pod, shattering the window into a series of silver spider's webs. Mc Kinely held on as best he could as the pod shook violently, sending him and Fa'liene tumbling end over end in the zero gravity environment to strike the window. The glass held. Barely. Squinting through the distorted and broken glass, Mc Kinely could see the fighter tumbling end over end, and falling away from them slowly.

"What's going on?" he asked Fa'liene. But the Hybrid was not listening. He was lying still in the air, twitching in a series of random violent convulsions. His eyes were wide and unseeing, and great spherical globules of sweat were forming on his brow. Mc Kinely was too worried about the creature to see the Intrepid latch onto the pod with it's docking clamps. He was too worried to realise, that it was all over.

*****

The Skaarj Warrior that had found it's way to the bridge suddenly fell to the floor, twitching violently. Drake got up from his death crouch and walked shakily over to examine the thing. The thing was reptilian, with the long snake like head and beady eyes to go with it. Down it's back were a row of dull flat black scales that reminded him of a Crocodile. The tail was long, and was thumping the floor in quick spasmodic jerks. It was only now that the thing was still, it's long claws scrabbling on the floor, that Drake realised how small the thing was. It was only around five feet tall, which was a dwarf by most standards. Drake leapt forward and gave the thing a sharp vicious kick to the head. The head jerked back, tongue lolling out. The thing whimpered in pain and looked up at Drake, tears welling up from soft pink eyes.

Drake felt a deep sense of pity, and regret that he had caused the thing unnecessary pain. He knelt down, and stroked the thing's head, hoping to calm it. The creature was completely lethargic, apart from it's sudden uncontrolled jerks. Drake moved away from the creature and sat down in his command chair.

"Report" he said into the cracked holographic camera. "Sensor station. Ivans, what is the Mothership doing?"

"It has stopped firing sir, all Skaarj communications have ceased. I think that the Captain delivered a hard punch to their soft spot. It also appears to be adrift, shields are down. One other thing, sir. We have picked up a Skaarj escape pod. It has one human life sign, and another unrecognised one."

"It is probably Fa'liene, and one of the team. Get a tractor…"

"No need sir." Tennyson reported. The Intrepid pulled her in about five minutes ago."

"Who was onboard?"

"Fa'liene and Sergeant Mc Kinely, sir."

Silently, Drake arose from his chair and gazed out into space. The wreckage of the battle lay in hap hazard orbits, eternally falling into the night.


Move on to Chapter Fourteen

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.