By Glyn Collinson
 

Chapter Two - First Contact


Their trouble began as soon as they had closed the hatch. The bright lights turned out to be nothing but a reflection of their own cells off a complex array of crystalline spider's webs which they had to burn their way though. The Captain was alarmed at the thought of the spider, which had created them. So now darkness smothered everything. Even the landing party's suit illuminators cut only a few feet into the gloom. Here and there dark shapes loomed out, reaching for them with shattered and clawing fingers. Colonel Richardson took a careful breath of the stale air.

"What's that smell?" He asked wrinkling his nose and inhaling deeply through it. The air was sickly sweet, with an overture that reminded him of fish left for several days in the sun, mixed with the pungent aroma of waste disposal reciprocals. His mind flashed back to the ISV Oragan. The bodies hacked and mangled by exploding bulkheads and the powerful blast of laser fire. That had smelled like this….

"Oh SHIT!" He exclaimed, slamming his suit helmet down and pressurising it. "Helmets on NOW! We have Bio Alert status one."

Twenty humans, rasping, hissing and swearing. Slamming helmets down to seal themselves from the deadly micro-organisms that they felt sure were to be feeding of the crew. Robertson looked into the darkness with a deep distrust. People had died in this section. They must have been caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Crushed. Mutilated. Disembowelled. Their bodies were still down there. Somewhere. For the first time, he was glad of the darkness that protected his eyes like a shroud from the gruesome sight of dead and rotting corpses.

The Captain was preceded by a crackle of static as he delivered his response to the situation. "With hope, that is only the food stores. Ok, pair up. Keep together, and watch your step. This section got it pretty hard."

If the ship was wrecked, this deck was hardly there any more. Twisted and blackened monoliths of metallic rubble stood watch over the silence. Here and there were strewn pieces of warped and melted plastic that could have been a packing crate or a computer outlet. Although the illuminators were un-powered and looked like they had been in that state for a long time, the absence of bulbs in them suggested that there had been survivors. Once.

The Captain illuminated a torn and warped hatchway, clearly the access to the next section. By the light of his suit, he located the door release and pulled down on the electronic handle. The door remained in place. He looked for the emergency release, to find that it had been removed, and the socket where it had been had been stripped bare. One trooper took out a portable scanner, the green lights from its control surface cast eerie lighting effects on the shattered ceiling.

"No good that way." She said "Blocked for twenty meters by rock."

"Hmm" The Captain pondered "I am not keen to split up, especially after what had just happened. Wait" The Captain closed his eyes in furious concentration. Replaying a memory over and over again. "I have it. There is a turbo lift shaft down that hallway." The team made their way down the dark passage, their heavy suits cracking and crunching debris on the floor. The turbo lift was gone, leaving an empty tube. The entire shaft at this level was battered, giving it the appearance of a lava tube.

"Right" Colonel Robertson "Captain, how far up should we go?"

"I would say up two decks to deck four. We could get to the loading area from there."

"Very well sir. Right, troopers activate climbing suit mode."

The Captain taking his que from the rest of the team, shifted in his suit, hitting a recessed control with his hand on the inside of his suit. With a whirr, the claws were extended. Sleek, agile claws with serrated edges, appearing out of his wrists and boots. The suit powered up its anti-gravity field, making the suit neutrally buoyant to gravity.

"Follow me." He said, and with that slammed his claws into the metal side of the turbolift shaft, hauling himself up the tube. The climb through the darkness was terrifying. At every moment The Captain expected the ghosts of the past to grab at him, chastise him for not being there. For being afraid? No, he had had his reasons for not sailing that day. His wife, his loyalty, his… his? What other excuses needed to be made?

The claws made short work of the door, slicing it open as if it had been made of butter. Light spilled into the shaft, for the first time in years. Glorious illumination bathed them all as they scrambled onto the habitable decks of the Kran.

The room into which they had pierced was a large chasm that, although being violently shaken from the force of the impact, still appeared to be capable of holding an atmosphere. The Captain took out the scanner and read for micro-organisms. After a short processing time, the scanner told him that there were no harmful or unknown organisms present. He cracked his seal, the helmet retracting into his suit.

The smell was still here, hanging in the air, intoxicating and overwhelming. After a few breaths, The Captain quickly re-established his suit's integrity.

A technician had wandered over to a large display board upon which was the flat image of a large bio-suit. The technician pressed a few commands, to hear the ship uttered its first words.

"Bio suits inoperable." Came the standard female voice.

The technician looked up at the monolithic Bio Suit. Designed for use in outer space or other such hazardous environments and standing at over twelve feet tall, the bio suits were, impressive to say the least. It stood silent, dormant, waiting for the activation command that wouldn't, couldn't come.

Everything was covered in a layer of thick white dust, which dulled the riotous colours painted upon the walls. Brushing a section of bulkhead clear, The Captain read.

"Bad Day." Scrawled upon it, in a deep crimson ink.

"Come on" He said "let's get out of here. We need to get to engineering if we are to re-establish communications with the Avenger."

The morbid team left the silent loading area, still ringing with the echoes of laughter as jovial dock workers loaded the first, and last of the Kran's supplies. They had told jokes, sang songs, and chatted for endless hours beneath the sentinel watch of the guardian Bio Suits.

Deep in the shadows, the survivor watched the rescue team, it smiled.

More Minions upon which to apply its revenge.

*****

"Repeat, this is Sub Commander Drake to landing party, do you read us? Captain? Colonel Richardson are you there?" Drake turned back to the pensive communications officer, and then glanced at the planet. A storm was brewing among the clouds. Bolts of jagged energy seared the upper atmosphere, detonating the air in a silent explosion.

"Let's give them a little more time." He said, looking away from the world of Tyranza.

*****

Laayk pulled the trigger again, sending another scarlet energy bolt into the scull of the 'God'. He laughed, watching the dead eyes roll upwards in their sockets, the lifeless fingers scrabble on the earth, the blood trickle down its forehead. But no, now was not the time for congratulations. Now was the time for concealing the body. Others would come looking for it, and he had to get the weapon back to the dead minion before Pullai suspected anything. He dragged the body through the light and into a rocky cave. Then after blasting a hole in the ground with, the weapon, he dumped the foul creature into it. He laughed, looking down at the two tiny arms. It was then that he realised how small a creature it was, and how powerless it would be against a Nali in full fledged anger.

The plan formed in his mind.

Two emotions battled for existence. Fear, and freedom.

Now the deed was done, and the 'Gods' would not be able to find the body. He had to think. But he could not do it amongst the village, with all the battling thoughts and invading messages. He would go to the metal temple.

Bless the Minions. Chizara had cast them down to do away with the 'Gods' in their huge metal temple. It had got stuck in a great fissure of the earth. For suns and suns the Minions had fought on. Now, all were dead.

But the appearance of the Minion had given him hope. If she had survived, then maybe others had survived the cleansing to. The skeletons of the rest still hang, for all Laayk knew, swaying from the towers of the fortress as a reminder of the 'Gods' omnipotent power.

And what did this bright light in the sky foretell? More Minions? Had more come to join the fight? Laayk didn't know if they would succeed, but from the power of the weapon, and the ease at which it destroyed the Gods, made Laayk think that they would have a harder time getting rid of these Minions than the last.

But now, to the metal temple of the Minions, with all speed!

*****

Engineering was a colossal room, fully three decks high. The huge horizontal anti-matter reactor which sat like a silent coffin dominated it. Obsidian control surfaces stood black against the dim glow of the illuminators, which were still giving out a low level of light. Catwalks ran around the sides of the room at deck levels. Elevation platforms protruded from the walls, still functional, awaiting the weight of human forms to take them up or down. The rescue team flashed their suit lights, tracing the banks of dead computers and silent control surfaces.

Then a beam hit a blur of white. Exclamations of horror were expelled as the team saw what it was. It was lying back on the floor, its white legs and arms reaching out in a spread eagle X. The skull grinned at them with yellowing teeth, and glared at them from empty eye sockets. The remains of its fingers lay wrapped around a small cylindrical device. Blood soaked the walls, and had congealed to form gigantic blob like scabs on the floor. It wore the remains of tattered clothes. Upon its left pocket was inscribed "ISV Kran, Ensign Lowe"

"Ok we knew we were going to find this." Came The Captains reassuring voice. "Let's get to work. Tech crews, we will need all the power we can get, so get to work on the reactor. Colonel, please organise the troopers into scouting parties. Medical teams… clean up the, er, mess."

"Captain, a word please" Colonel Richardson asked, threading his way in between suited forms as the crowd dispersed to go about their duties.

"Of course Colonel, what's on your mind?"

"We both know your, er, connection to this ship and her crew. This trip has been hard on some of the troops. Are you doing alright?"

"A little shaken, but otherwise fine."

Colonel Richardson glanced over at the medical team, busily removing Ensign Lowe, with a certain amount of dignity. "Did you know er, uh know…" he trailed off.

"Lowe had a wife and family back on Terra, as well as a dog called Max. He went on the trip because he was fascinated by Black Holes." The Captain stopped and sighed. "That's what so difficult about this mission Sam, I know every corpse and ghost we meet."

The suddenly and violently ship shook, and a great spark of electricity jumped between the gargantuan energy contacts, leaping several meters. Then the contacts glowed blue, and a mysterious blue energy field shimmered between them. Illuminators sparked with power, and the glow they exuded became bright enough to see by. Control surfaces flickered into life showing engine and ship readouts. A Technician leapt over to one of them and started hurriedly punching in requests.

"We are lodged in a volcanic rift valley." He said, the display changing again "partial main power has been restored. Just enough to power illuminators, turbo lifts and force fields."

"What systems are online?" The Captain asked anxiously.

"The water purification system has been removed, as well as all of the plumbing. Nothing below this deck works, sir."

"I doubted anything would. Ok, activate force fields. Isolate the lower decks."

"Got it sir." The Technician said, pressing more commands. A holographic representation of the starship in flight appeared on the monitor. This changed to a deck four plan. Red bars appeared here and there blocking off corridors and hallways.

"Do we have enough power for a sensor sweep?" The Captain asked.

"Although the sensors are all in perfect working order, full engine power would be required for that." A Voice said.

"Ok, work towards full engine power." The Captain continued "Until then, I want troops to secure main engineering. I don't think that anything is left alive on this ship, but just in case, I want to be sure. Nothing must enter or leave here without my permission." The Captain added "Set all weapons to stun."

*****

The first thing that Laayk noticed when he went though the light, was that the hallways of the temple, usually dark and silent, were filled with a humming noise, and flooded by bright white illuminations. He had to shade his eyes for a few moments before he could proceed.

So they WERE back, the magic was happening again, which meant that soon the 'Gods' would be gone for good! He was ecstatic with joy. So ecstatic that he didn't notice the shadowy wraith following him further into the bowels of the ship. It was an evil mind that drove the shadow. Driven mad by years of imprisonment on the planet. Constant exposure to the strange blue crystal had warped his mind. The creature didn't know what it was, or who it was. It only knew, that it must defend this temple at any costs. He remembered it distinctly, something telling him that he must defend this place with his life. So he had remained here, wandered the endless corridors, fearful of nothing, but driven by an insane devotion to a cause long forgotten.

Laayk knew that the Minions would go to the hall of lights first, so that was where he had to go. He set out, followed by the thing.

*****

Lightning crashed again from one contact to another, then another, and another, and then a long continuous blast. The power indicators jumped even higher. A technician was shouting something about diverting power. The Captain didn't know what was happening, so he just held onto the control surface as best he could. Then the crash turned into a loud hum, and the ISV Kran once more had full engine power.

"Excellent" The Captain said "please confirm that we have obtained full power."

"Confirmed sir, control systems and data banks are online."

"Status of the data banks?"

"Sir!" The Technician said with astonishment. "There are thousands of gigaquads of files missing!"

"What?"

"Everything concerning their mission findings has just, gone."

"I see." The Captain said coolly. "Do we have enough power for a communications transmission?"

"Barely Sir."

"Very good. Scanner station, is the atmosphere still creating the sensor jamming affect?" Asked The Captain anxiously.

"No sir" came the astonished response from the technician huddled over his control station. "I have a complete sensor sweep as far as the sensors can see."

"And how far is that?"

"Well sir, we are caught in a canyon which makes our scanning solutions limited. I have minimal forward and aft scanning, I can detect objects in the upper atmosphere and in a 45 degree slice of sky, but that is pretty much it."

"Can you see the Avenger on your scopes?"

"No, I, wait, yes I can see it just entering sensor scope range."

"Very good. Communications, I want you to send a signal, on a frequency that the Avenger could read."

The communications technician pressed some virtual buttons on the bright holographic display.

"I have it, ready to transmit."

The Captain clanked over to the communications station, and retracted his helmet. The smell still permeated everything. Trying not to notice it, he pressed the 'transmit' button and spoke.

"Avenger, this is ISV Kran, over." Static met them. "Avenger this is the rescue team onboard the ISV Kran, please respond." Static hammered back at them.

"It isn't working." Someone said.

"Don't worry" The communications technician responded. "It may take them some time to detect our signal. I suggest that you continue Captain."

In answer to this, The Captain tried again.

"This is the ISV Kran to the TBS Avenger, please respond."

Static.

Then.

"ISV Kran, this is the TBS Avenger, we have your signal. Man are we glad to hear from you. We have a rescue team on the ground, lead by our Captain looking for you, please, don't panic."

"Sub Commander Drake, this is The Captain. We are inside the Kran, don't your sensors register our presence inside the ship?"

"Oh, sorry Captain, er no, our sensors are still unable to penetrate the atmosphere."

"Interesting."

"Are there any survivors?"

"We haven't seen any yet, but then our sensors are only just online." No sooner had he said this, when the intruder alarm started wailing, and the TBS Avenger disappeared in a crackle of static.

Fear clutched at The Captain's heart. He slammed his hand down on the helmet button and he was instantly protected. The intruder alarms blared loudly even through the sealed suit. Something was trying to get in. He could hear his breathing, loud and rhythmic in the enclosed suit. His sweating and gloves hands were already grasping his weapon. Condensation built up on the insides of his helmet, refracting the light. It ebbed and flowed with each of his heavy breaths.

The Captain pressed further down the hallway, leading the advanced troopers. All were ready for the un expected. All lighting at this section was gone, save the few dim bulbs that had resisted the crippling impact of the crash. Even though he couldn't see anything, Colonel Richardson thought he caught

There was a flicker of movement, followed by a hail of Blaster fire. Troopers yelled incoherent instructions to each other as they pursued the being. Richardson got a glance of something 7 foot tall, with clammy pale skin and four arms, each ending in a set of razor like claws. He raised his Blaster and fired like a mad man. The hallway was pierced with the echo of a howl of agony. The Captain exhaled a long sigh of relief, glad that the panic and terror had come to an end.

A figure leapt out of the darkness onto him, knocking him to the floor. His helmet shattered in a spiders web in front of him but held. The figures grappled on the floor, two writing black beings locked for survival. The thing hit The Captains helmet retract button, and The Captain suddenly got a face-full of the smell, mixed with the clinging aroma of adrenaline.

The Captain smashed the thing in the face with all the force his powered suit could muster. The thing flew across the corridor. It impacted the wall with a crunch that made The Captain wince.

He activated his suit lighting and shone it right in the face of the thing. He stopped in horror.

"Commander Daniels?" The Captain exclaimed in puzzlement and gazed into the unconscious face of the ISV Kran's only surviving crew member.


Move on to Chapter Three

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.