By Glyn Collinson
 

Chapter Four - Ashes


From the safety of his sealed suit, The Captain surveyed the charred and rubble strewn crater, that had, once, been a Skaarj weapons emplacement. Small pieces of black debris were raining down from the several miles high that they had been thrown. The vegetation, once vibrant in this area, had been reduced to burning stumps, and blackened skeletal remains which clawed at the grey sky. Great clouds of smoke rose into the azure blue afternoon sky, making the scene overcast. The Captain whistled. He had not seen destruction on this scale since the last time he had ordered Starfire delivered into a planetary target. It had been several years ago, and he had changed a Fewe weapons constructions factory, into dust. And all of this was done with only a single salvo from the Avenger.

"Pretty impressive." The Colonel's voice came from inside his suit. The Captain looked around for him and saw Richardson climbing up the side of the crater. "I have got the crews going over the crater with a fine tooth comb looking for this 'blue crystal' that we want."

"Do you think they will find something?"

The Colonel looked once again at the blackened and charred chasm.

"I am not holding out hope." He said simply. "Anything would have been shot to fragments and melted."

The Captain sighed. "You are right. Issue the recall order. Code fifteen. All personnel report to transport site."

"Ai sir" The Colonel said and gave the order.

*****

Laayk crept forward along the tunnel, his feet making no sound on the roughly hewn dirt floor. Lit flame cages, suspended from wooden beams swung to and fro in the baking hot convection currents. The tunnel was open on one side to a gigantic cavern. Below, the cavern floor was a boiling sea of magma, giving out clouds of foul smelling air, and so much heat that Laayk could see the other side of the cavern wobble.

He was close, very close to the Blue Crystal now. He knew this, partly because he could hear the sounds of the toil of Nali slave workers, but partly because, he could hear the thought song of the Crystal.

The tunnel changed direction, darting back into the tightly packed mud that made up the mountain. Laayk was about to plunge down the passage, when something stopped him. A tingle in the back of his mind, that told him that he was in over his head. He closed his eyes and assumed the meditation position. Straining to hear over the loud bubbling of the magma was not easy, but he was sure that he could hear them. Two of them. Their massively green scaled bodies skulking around, looking for someone useless to play with. There was a loud piercing scream, followed by several others. There was the sound of a loud crash, and then silence. But Laayk listened harder. He heard sharp claws scratching the ground, their long tails whipping back and forth, as if trying to churn the air into a froth. The sound changed. It got louder. Resonating along the passage. Laayk could hear their growling voices, their skin rasping like tight Mywa hide. He clutched at the weapon that the minions had reluctantly given him. He felt his fingers along the smooth and cool barrel, and silently flicked a switch on its side, setting the weapon to maximum.

The sound got louder, and Laayk prepared himself. There was a blur of green motion as the 'Gods' came out of the tunnel. Laayk pointed the weapon in the direction of the couple, and pulled the small leaver.

A bolt of brilliant red energy erupted forth, and out of skill or just plain luck, it caught the first God in the chest, leaving it a smoking hole. The creature howled with agony and fell backwards over the edge of the knee high guard rail and down, down into the fiery pit below.

For a moment the Second creature was frozen, it couldn't believe what it had just seem through its squinting black eyes. Then the creature came to its senses, and with a howl of revenge, leapt for Layyk.

The Nali tracked the thing, and pulled the leaver again, but it must have been luck on the first shot, because his second went wide, ricocheting around the cavern.

Then time seemed to slow down, he could see the 'God' leaping through the air, three of his hands raised in a protective arc, and the other desperately trying to get the weapon to point in the right direction. He prepared himself for nothingness, to be torn apart.

The thing fell on him, but he felt no claws puncturing his body, nor the sharp agony of it sinking its teeth into his neck. He struggled out from under it, and it was only then that he saw the back of the creature, or at least, the remains of its back. There was now a smoking hole where the tough carapace had once been.

He laughed at his luck, the ricochet had bounced off the far wall and back at him, hitting the creature. A million to one chance, but one that had saved his life.

Vowing to prey to Chizara for his luck later, he hauled the thing, flies buzzing around it, over the edge of the abyss and down into the lava below. He saw the Skaarj Warrior turn over and over, before hitting the lake of molten rock, burst into flames and sink beneath it. Those two would not be missed in a while.

Laayk turned, and led by his weapon, charged down the passageway towards the work area. He came to a running halt as he saw the carnage that lay before him. The Nali slaves had been gutted. Mounds of rotting flesh lay around in untidy heaps, and the floor was pooled with blood. Laayk lent against the side of the cave for support. A wave of nausea swept over him. He turned around and vomited up litres of lumpy liquid.

After that he felt a little better. He wiped his mouth with his lower left hand, and carefully walked over to the work face. Baskets of blue crystal lay about, shining their soft radiance into the cavern. Laayk quickly found the biggest basket he could carry, and filled it with all the crystal that had been mined. He looked up at the rock face, a single shard remained, hanging by a thread of rock. Laayk brought his weapon up, confident that the shot would free the crystal. He fired, but forgot to set the weapon to a lower charge. The bolt leapt forth, and blew a gigantic hole in the side of the cave. Rocks and grit started raining down, and Laayk realised that that last shot had just cost him his life.

He grabbed at the basket, felt the comforting tug of the hessian straps, and closed his eyes….

*****

The afternoon air was tainted with the intoxicating aroma of exotic flowers. It seemed as if the remnants of the jungle were displaying their tenacity and resilience to the heavy blow that it had just been dealt.

The Captain stood, resting inside his suit, pensively looking up at the sky. The silver moon was out in full flourish, appearing like another flower in the crisp air. The Captain was glad that he could breath in fresh air. The air on the Avenger had the distinct smell of being recycled through too many mouths and noses, and the air on the Kran had been, well, un-breathable.

The immense blast of turbo laser power had burnt a smouldering hole in the jungle, several meters wide. The scar was pocked and pitted with craters, where the blasts had touched the ground.

Even as The Captain took in the vividly contrasting views of life and death, a trooper leaped over the mound of scorched earth that had neatly shielded the transport clearing from prying native eyes.

The trooper's helmet was foggy with condensation, hot breaths creating ripples on the droplets of water. His suit was covered in a dirty black layer of filth, that seemed to cling to everything in this part of Tyranza.

The suited figure saw a blur of darkness from within his clouded vision, and tore his blaster pistol from out of its holder.

"Don't shoot trooper! Don't shoot!" The Captain yelled, leaping to the ground. The human realised just in time, and jerked the gun upwards, sending a bolt of red energy high into the azure skies. The Captain recognised the man. It was Trooper Edmunds, from the Kran landing party. The Captain got to his feet, the entire incident forgotten.

"Edmunds! Are you alright?"

"Sir, you don't know how glad I am to see you. Sir, we are in trouble." he gasped. His entire body was in spasms as he attempted to suck in the suits air supply. The Captain supported the trooper, and snapped open his helmet, letting the luscious breezes brush over his face.

"What is it?" The Captain asked calmly. The shock hit Edmunds, sending his entire body into convolutions, making speech almost impossible.

" These… things called…Skaarj…. coming from…. south east." The Trooper panted. The Captain got the message. He yanked out his heavy duty blaster rifle, and powered it onto full.

"Why didn't you use your communicator?" He asked, looking around the clearing anxiously.

"No good… damaged in fall"

From somewhere near by came a blood curdling scream. The Captain flipped on his communicator.

"This is the Captain, everyone get out of there and get to the transport site. The Skaarj surveillance party just arrived. Try not to be seen. Avoid fire fights. Just get here as quickly as possible. That is an order." The Captain finished, and with a bleep he changed frequencies.

"This is The Captain to Avenger, we need air cover, and we need it ten seconds ago. Watch where you fire, we have troopers in the attack zone. Mr Wilde, as soon as you get a lock on any human, transport immediately. That is all."

There was a blur of motion as a green shape rocketed over the top of the crater's rim and landed onto The Captain, who, just in time, powered his suit up and closed his helmet. Edmunds drew his pistol, but couldn't see where The Captain ended and the Skaarj began, they were rolling over and over, trading slashes and blows in a whirlwind of motion.

The Captain struggled with the obscene creature. He couldn't tell what its strategy was, but he knew that the thing was trying to get his head in its mouth. The thing was biting viciously at his bubble, giving him a perfect view of a row of needle sharp teeth. The thing had a set of incredibly long incisors, with which it was attempting to bore right through his helmet. There was a crack, and it appeared, by the spiders webs that were forming on his suit, that it was succeeding. The Captain struggled to bring his blaster to bear, but the thing was on top of it pinning it down. With a final desperate effort, The Captain pushed the Skaarj away from him, raising him high into the air. Its head was hallooed by the silver full moon. Then Edmunds's shot hit the things head, and the Captain was lying on his back, blood splattered across his helmet, staring up an early evening sky. The stars had just begun to come out, and the birds were finding a place to rest for the night. He held in his hands, the blasted remains of something that resembled a Skaarj, with most of its head and upper body missing.

Then the world turned into pure white light, as Mr Wilde finally got his act together, just as the roar of Star Bomber engines overhead, heralded that for Skaarj reconnaissance party, the end was very near indeed.


Move on to Chapter Five

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.