By Glyn Collinson
 

Chapter Three - Unanswered Questions


The Avenger gracefully slid around the bulk of the planet. Upon the bridge, The Captain stood staring down, watching the storm clouds hammer the surface with lightning. His pensive mood was interrupted once more by Medical officer Harrison. Harrison was a bulky man, who kept his uniform immaculate. Every lock of curly black hair was brushed back with precision. His hat stood proud upon his head, at exactly the same angle as the ground.

"I have finished the preliminary analysis of Commander Daniels. Physically he is in good shape. Mentally, well, the man is a wreck, sir."

"Wreck?"

"Yes, he is extremely paranoid of everything, and his levels of adrenaline and seratonine are off the scale. He has no idea of who he is, only that he was told to protect the Kran with his life, an order which he clings to vigorously."

"I see." The Captain said dejectedly.

"There is more. He is hallucinating almost constantly. I hooked him up to the brain wave analyser and got a look at what he was seeing."

"What does he see?"

"I think you had better see for yourself, sir."

The lights in the clinically white medical holding cell were set to minimum, and even that seemed too much for the creature that inhabited it. It was square, with one side created into a one way viewing screen. From the lab side it was a perfectly clear window. From the cell it appeared to be just another white wall.

Harrison and The Captain peered through the gloom, making out the shape of the being that had once, mentally, had been human.

"Computer" Harrison ordered "give me the audio receptors inside the holding cell." The computer beeped once, and was replaced by a stream of un-intelligible howls. The words were garbled, mashed together and pierced by screams. Sometimes the thing would put its arms up or ward off an imaginary attacker.

"Ok Computer that's enough" The Captain said. "Can you fix him?" he asked Harrison. Harrison looked doubtful.

"I can repair that kind of mental damage. It is not difficult, just time consuming. Commander Daniels is in there, somewhere. But it will take time, maybe even years to start seeing him again."

"Suggestions?"

"Well sir, we are not going to be able to get anything out of him, and he is a danger to himself. I suggest that we put him in stasis for the rest of the mission, and transfer him to a mental hospital at the end. He is a most interesting, but sad, case."

The Captain sighed, and nodded.

"Ok Doctor, do whatever you think is necessary for his safety. Now what about that alien that Colonel Richardson stunned?"

"Ahh, another interesting case. The creature appears to be sentient, have a double circulatory system and increased brain wave activity. We suspect that he may even have telepathic or psychotransportive powers."

"Psycho what?" The Captain asked, bewildered.

"Psychotransportive. The ability to transfer yourself from one point in space to another without actually travelling using the power of one's mind."

"Interesting. Have you been able to translate its speech?"

"Uh, well, the language is a very strange one, sir. De-crypters are still working on it now."

"This is a First Contact situation Doctor Harrison, and I want to be the first to talk to it. Inform me when we can talk to it."

"I will sir." The Captain left, leaving the Doctor alone with the thing and its violent hallucinations.

*****

A few hours later, in the comforting darkness of his cabin, The Captain's frustrated thoughts were once again shattered by the loud piercing chirp of his door bell.

"Yes, what" he exclaimed loudly at the shut portal. The door hissed open, revealing Sub Commander Drake, looking almost as confused and frustrated as the Captain did.

"Sir, I have the progress report you requested on the translation of the Alien's language."

The Captain massaged his burning eyeballs, transferring some of the heat away from them.

"Give me the short version."

"Zip. It is a language unlike any we have encountered so far, and the creatures ESP powers are baffling the biologists too."

"That is only one of the mysteries that we are dealing with here." The Captain said, gesturing Drake to a chair. Whilst Drake took his seat, the Captain turned the lights down even more and activated the desk's holographic projector, showing a view of a red clock. Red numbers were slowly and accurately counting towards infinity. "This is the Kran's Atomic clock. Notice the date."

"The second of March '23? But that was…" Drake cut off, and looked at The Captain.

"Exactly. That was two years ago, and it is not possible for those things to be altered or to be inaccurate."

"Sir, maybe when the Kran was at high speed, the time differentiation would have made time go relatively more quickly for them?"

"Yes, every good officer knows Einstein's theory of relativity. However that theory does not apply whilst travelling in Hyperspace. And in normal space, it would have taken them over five thousand years to cover the distance between the Black Hole and Tyranza."

"I see your point. Have we been able to get anything from Commander Daniels?"

"No, his mind is a blank. Although that man we found had the body of Daniels, believe me. He is not the same person. I had him transferred into stasis for his own safety and comfort."

"If only the dead could speak, eh?" Drake half joked. The Captain sat bolt upright.

"By the burning suns! Drake, I think you have something there!" He exclaimed with glee. He leapt up and shot out of his cabin, Drake in hot pursuit. The Captain did not stop his half jogging pace until he reached the turbo lift. "Computer, Bridge." He said. Drake just managed to squeeze through the gap as the metal doors slid into their jacks.

"Captain, what is this all about?"

"Think Drake. The Kran wasn't a massive mile long warship like the Avenger, it was a small science vessel. And scientists have the habit of keeping careful log books. They note every little factor that they can think of."

Drake's face lit up. "I see, so all we have to do is to read those logs, and all the answers are there!"

"Exactly." The Captain exclaimed, as if finishing an argument. The Turbo lift stopped its high velocity journey, and the Captain stepped out onto the darkened Bridge. "Communications section, I want a dump of the Kran's main computer core. Inform Colonel Richardson on the surface of what we are doing."

"Yes Sir." The officer said. "What files should we download?"

"All of them." The Captain said with a wry smile. "Make sure that you scan it for viruses, clean it up and get the science section working on it right away."

"Sir that operation will take…" The officer paused. "Uh, yes sir." The Captain rubbed his hands together.

"Those logs have everything we need to know to wrap up this mission!"

The Captain did not know it at the time of course, but he would later eat every single syllable.

*****

The Captain stared into a completely different person's soul. Light blue eyes set off Daniels high cheek bones strikingly, and his podgy face, with its tangled mass of feathery black hair was dominated by an enormous nose that launched itself out from his features like a solar prominence.

"Day one. Commander Daniels, personal log. We have left space dock without any serious incidents, although we did have a close run in with a Baku Megafreighter. Some idiot in the dock control booked it into the same exit vector as us. I can tell you, we had to do some pretty fancy flying to avoid a collision! Still I think I speak the truth when I say that, I couldn't have hoped for a better crew. Still it is a shame that ****** ouldn' ***************."

"Day twenty. Commander Daniels, personal log. Long range sensors have picked up the Black Hole. Burning Stars it is fantastic. The great eddying whirlpool is sucking in this huge cloud of red gas, so it is possible to actually see it! The particles appear to fall more and more slowly as they approach the event horizon. Of course, the middle of the phenomenon is completely dark, I mean we are talking BLACK here! I am including a picture for reference. The iris like appearance of the accretion disk has already given it the unofficial name of 'Blood Eye' here among the crew. Looking forward to further study tomorrow. Computer end recording."

"Day fifty. Commander Daniels, personal log. Not much to report today. We continue to get closer to the Blood Eye. We are close enough now to get some firm sensor readings. Even though it has meant that more power has to be diverted to them, at least it has shut up that tiresome 'Einstein'. Oh, er I mean Chief Scientist Carter. She is such a pain. But she has discovered ************************* altering course to match."

"Day seventy three. Commander Daniels, personal log. The alteration in course may have proven detrimental to our mission. We have been captured by the Blood Eye's gravity well. Everyone is near breaking point. Einstein has locked herself in her precious lab and even The Captain seems dejected. However Engineering think that they have a plan to get us free. No word yet what it is, but they are due to report to the senior staff tomorrow."

"Day seventy four. Commander Daniels, personal log. Those Engineers have flipped. They are talking about going faster TOWARDS the Blood Eye. The strange thing is that everyone has accepted it as a 'brilliant plan' heh. I am not convinced. It will either tear the engines apart, or simply accelerate our own demise. I tried again to contact Terra today. Still no response. Those bloody fools on Terra gave us the wrong size transmitter. Either that or wanted to get rid of us. I want to go home!!!"

"Day eighty. Commander Daniels, personal log. I have tried everything to block out the sound of our engines, but the roar is just too loud. It's what, five days now since we turned then on, and the speed is off the scale. I wish we had a better ship. Or a more efficient crew that didn't argue over what was the best thing to do all the time."

"Day eighty five. Commander Daniels, personal log. Although we are clear of the Blood Eye's influence, we have no idea where we are, and are hurtling out of control through space. Engines are even louder than before, trying to slow us down. Speed is not registering on the computer. I don't know what is going to happen to us."

"Day ninety. Commander Daniels, personal log. Well that's it. The Engines have finally given up. The constant heat and pressure has meant that we had to shut them down today, or the ship would tear itself apart. Everyone is dead on their feet. I don't think the technicians and engineers have had a single rest cycle out of the last five work periods. Another five stars have gone by my window today. The science guys indicate that our speed has got the be faster than that of light. We have no clue, and I mean none at all about where we are. The Blood Eye disappeared from the aft windows weeks ago, good riddance to it."

"Day one hundred. We have begun to slow down now, only about three stars went past today. I got another roach in my lunch today, I don't know how they get onto a starship like this, but if I ever find out that it was done on purpose, I will nail the son of a dog who did it to the nearest wall. We are going to die. I know it."

"Day one hundred and thirty three. Engines are too darn loud, but speeds have started to register once again! Our speed is currently Sol three decimal two eight. Our location cannot be determined, even though we have time and direction readings, the absence of speed makes it impossible. That means when we stop, we can't use the Hyperdrive. I only hope that we arrive at a hospitable system."

"Day one hundred and fifty one. We are caught in the gravity well of a strange planet. I have ordered all power to be diverted to engines. It doesn't seem to be working."

"Day one hundred and ninety. Day of fire. Impact! We have crashed on a large M class planet with a set of rings and two moons. At first light we got outside to asses the damage. We are caught in a canyon, with the lower decks crushed to paste. We lost over a hundred good people in the crash. Moral is, well, higher than it was in space. At least now we know our fate. We have started transmitting an emergency distress beacon, but with all the wrecked equipment we can't tell if it is working or not. The shuttle craft is still functional, and the Captain has said that he has put everyone's names into the computer and drawn out, at random ten names. Everyone hopes it is them."

"********************** the last thing that the Captain told me before he climbed with a smirk into that bloody shuttle of his was 'to look after the crew and to guard the ship with my life.' Heh. Just my luck to get left behind. Bet it was rigged. The cheater should be taking off tomorrow. I know him he tricked me. He tricked me. I will get even. I WILL get even. **************"

"Day of revenge. Commander of fate's personal log. Plan worked. Got him. Shuttle exploded all over the landscape. Made contact with new alien race today, call themselves Nali. Finally got the universal translator to work. De crypted Nali language. They want help. Being slaughtered. Skaarj kill them in hundreds. Make them slaves. Make them mine crystal. Must get even. Must protect ship."

"They are coming. I can hear them scrabbling through the air ducts. God save us. They are coming. Why weren't you here Al, why weren't you here?"

The journal ended.

The Captain sat back in his seat. Tears burning to be shed in his eyes. But they didn't come.

"I am sorry Dan. I should have been there with you." Was all he could find to say.

*****

"And it appears that the crew of the ISV Kran were taken over by a previously unknown alien race, know as the Skaarj." The Captain continued to the ship wide holographic briefing from the bridge. "We have no idea of enemy starship or ground strength, but a species that can subvert the outlet valve on a starship has to be pretty resourceful and very strong. Although we are not sure, we think, by studying the five surviving fractured log books, that the Skaarj are not native to Tyranza, and that they have a starship landed somewhere on the planet. I speak in particular about the references by Chief science officer Carter to a 'Gigantic metal thing."

"What we are currently concerned with, is that there appears to be a crystalline structure that is unique to this planet, which seems to be the cause of all our problems."

"Such as?" Richardson asked.

"For a start, it creates a field that is at the same frequency as our scanners. This means that we have to re calibrate all of them, and we are using the Kran's sensor frequency as a template. But let's leave that to one side for now. The main problem with this field is that it puts any creatures within it, into a constant state of mental alertness which later develops into extreme paranoia. We also know that subjects will swing towards violent tendencies. For instance, we know from Commander Daniel's log book that he assassinated the Captain out of jealousy for his 'ticket' on a shuttle craft." There was an echoing silence.

"Therefore I am limiting all activity on the surface to a minimum. Colonel Richardson, I want you to withdraw all troops from the Kran."

"Yes sir."

"I want all science crews to start working on an affective counter measure to this condition."

"Sir" Lieutenant Tennyson asked. "What about the Kran's clock?"

"Ahhh" The captain sighed with relief. "That mystery has been solved. The Kran used a Black Hole as a gravitational sling shot and the resulting speed led to the time dilation."

"The what?" came the blank reply accompanied by an equally blank stare from the goggle eyed crew assistant. The Captain sighed.

"It was the controllers of several interplanetary probes back in the late twentieth century" explained The Captain "that if you fly a spaceship or probe close to a planet, the gravity pulls you in, and you can use that force to accelerate yourself out into space. Now what the Kran did, accidentally or on purpose we don't know, was to use the gravity of a Black Hole instead of a planet. Because the gravity is so much more, the ship shot out faster than light speed on a new course that led it right here" The Captain said, pointing out the viewport to the stormy world below. Several of the main continents were eclipsed by the fuzzy shadow of one of its gigantic moons.

"Now in normal space, the faster you go, the slower time goes from your perspective. I am pretty sure that it was this phenomenon that led to the clock becoming inaccurate from our point of view."

To come onto a new heading, as it were, we now have the capability to talk to this creature that the Colonel captured. Ensign Lowe had on his remains a Universal Translator that has been programmed with the Nali language. After this briefing I am going to communicate with this, creature, and discover more about the general situation."

"Sir?" A female voice said. "What are you going to ask the Nali?"

*****

"I am The Captain of the Terran Battleship Avenger. I greet you in peace." Said the Captain, reciting the standard first contact phrase. There was a pause, and the black cylindrical translator spat out a strange series of sounds.

Laayk looked around this new room. It was incredible, truly worthy of the saviours of the Nali people. The room was a metallic grey, and the spongy floor was made out of a deep satin red materiel. Great holes were carved in the sides of the room, giving vistas of what looked like the nights sky, but this time there was a huge blue and green and white moon like thing in the sky. It filled half of what he could see, and he couldn't even see all of it. He was sat at a silver table. The surface of the table was as smooth as water, and just as reflective. Here and there, light sources were suspended in mid air, as if held up by the very winds themselves.

Then the thing spoke into the box of words, and it issued forth a comforting speech.

The four armed thing was responding now. It babbled for what seemed a long time, and they both looked expectantly at the translator, that sat in the middle of the conference table.

"I am Laayk, the daughters son of Pullai, leader of the Worshippers of Chizara. I greet you, great and mighty warrior. Where am I? Are you the Messiah?" the box said.

"Greetings Laayk." The Captain began. "You are onboard the TBS Avenger. It is a gigantic space ship. Do you know what a space ship is?"

"If by spaceship you mean spaceship, then yes I do."

The Captain smiled. The creature had obviously said two words that meant the same thing to the translator.

"Good" the Captain said. "This space ship is currently very high above your planet. That big blue sphere you can see out there is your home." The Captain pointed to it. Laayk looked out, his mouth dropping open in realisation. "We came here, because that place we found you in, belonged to us."

"Yes, yes, the Minions Metal Temple. I knew that."

"Oh" The Captain was genuinely surprised. "We are trying to find out what happened to the people that came down in it."

The creature was silent for a few seconds.

"Captain, I regret to say that, all the Minions that came down in the Metal temple are all dead. The Gods killed them all, because they resisted them and would not work for them like the Nali."

The Captain was silent for a while.

"Captain, again I must inform you of my deep regret. The Minions fought bravely against the Gods. But there weren't enough of them, and their weapons were little more than tools. I advise you to protect yourself from the Gods, Captain."

"Don't worry about us. If the Skaarj come looking for us, they will have more of a fight than they can handle. But I am hoping that it won't come to that. Now, about the Messiah question, I seriously doubt that. I don't even understand what you mean."

"Chizawa told the Nali people, that once the Messiah had come, he would banish the Gods from the planet and back into the stars."

"Well then, I am definitely not the Messiah them."

"What do you mean? I thought that you are going to fight for the Nali?"

"Laayk, I am sorry, but it is not the policy of the Terran Space Force to interfere with the balance of power within a star system that is not part of the Terran league of worlds. It is our prime directive."

The creature sagged and spoke in a trembling voice that was intermittently interrupted with loud sobs. "Captain you don't understand. There are not many of us left! They come for us, butcher us without mercy! You have to help us! You don't understand what it is like!"

The Captain sighed.

"No Laayk, I understand. But unless you are a member of the league of Terran"

Suddenly an explosion rocked the Avenger from bow to stern. The Captain was out of his chair and half way to the bridge before the second shot hit the ship, mere moments later.

*****

"Sub Commander Drake, what is happening?" The Captain demanded, running onto the bridge as another impact rocked the ship. The Bridge was in chaos. The illuminators had been switched onto red light mode, casting strange shadows over the black deck plates. Crew ran about franticly carrying data pads, and yelling orders to each other.

Drake pointed to the bridge viewports. Onto one of them was tattooed the holographic image of a surface facility. There was a group of five medium sized towers, arranged in a helix shape. They were about twenty meters in length, cigar shaped, with two curved blades coming out from each side, each blade being as large as the tower itself. They were coated with red war paint, making them appear to be covered in dripping blood. The whole feeling that one got by looking at them was summed up by The Captain's cold shiver. Glowing balls of blue plasma were forming in between the scythe like blades. The left most tower's fiery ball had reached such a size that it eclipsed the emplacement completely. The plasma suddenly leapt forth, lancing up through the atmosphere and shot into the Avenger's shields. Upon contact with the protective bubble of energy, the plasma detonated in a brilliant shower of sparks. The ship shuddered from the impact.

The Captain sat down in his chair, and pressed a holographic button, allowing his voice to carry to all parts of the ship. "Attention all personnel. Battle stations, repeat battle stations. All fighter crews to their spacecraft. All Troopers arm themselves with high power weaponry. Gunner crews report to their stations."

"Captain, your turn, what is happening?" Asked Drake, reflecting the Captains question.

"Isn't it obvious Drake? The Skaarj have just declared war on us." The Captain said, a vengeful look upon his face. He pressed a button on his control panel. "This is the Captain to all weapons batteries. All turbo lasers open fire. Let them know the true meaning of Starfire!


Move on to Chapter Four

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.