By Glyn Collinson
 

Chapter Five - Descent


"How is he Psycho?" Drake asked Doctor Harrison, which the crew, with a fine sense of irony, had christened anew.

"Not good Sub Commander, it was a good thing that Mr Wilde got him out of there when he did. That cave he was in was literally collapsing around him. I don't know much about his species, apart from what the crew of the Kran could piece together. He got hit on the head by a pretty large piece of rock, and has serious concussion. But I think that I could pull him through."

"Do whatever you can Harrison, that creature may have just given us a gift that no-one else could."

"And what is that?" The doctor asked.

"We now know what makes the Skaarj machinery tick." Drake said with a wry smile. "Still, how is The Captain?"

"Apart form a few bruises, and the shock of the fight, he is going to be ok. He may need to rest for a few days. Having ones head inside a homicidal Alien is not something that I could take regularly."

Drake looked at the Nali, lying on a clinically white bed in a clinically white room. The creature looked so peaceful and serene, so free from the immense trouble that Sub Commander Drake felt.

"So, how are the sensors coming?" The doctor asked, not looking up from his work desk, where he was typing furiously into a computer terminal.

"Coming along, technicians need a little longer, but the equipment and information we got from the Kran has seriously upgraded our sensor package. Once we are finished, we will be able to sense the movement of individual electrons on the head of one of those dammed Skaarj." Drake said distantly, still staring intently at the sleeping form.

"Ah huh." Psycho continued, picking up a datapad and copying some figures from it. "And how about that crystal my patient recovered, how long are the scientists going to be working on it?"

"No idea, they have made some headway in blocking the emissions, but currently that involves keeping it in a five meter thick containment field. Not much use for field usage. Still, it should protect them from the effects. They assure me that they will have something soon."

"Good, because I still have no idea how to treat the effects. If one of our crew becomes mad, there isn't a thing I can do about it." He said, finally looking up and gazing worryingly into the eyes of Drake.

The Sub Commander hurriedly turned back to the creature, contemplating the simple life of the naïve.

*****

The sensor screen was black, with a slight greenish tinge that came from the holographic projectors. It called out at Lieutenant Ivans with a shout of triumphant silence. Ivans reached over, clicked a row of red safety switches down, all except the last one. His finger poised above it, calling to be pressed. Ivans surrendered to the temptation, and applied the weight of his finger to the switch. The gleaming silver leaver clicked, turning a circuit on, which activated relays, which activated an entire series of commands. The screen abruptly erupted with static, then the fuzzy snow like images settled down and a 3D image of Tyranza, with its two moons appeared on the screen. The outer most moon dipped out of the screen and appeared to pass right through Ivans's head. He yelled out a shout of triumph.

"Sir" he called to the Captain "Sensor re-calibration complete, I have full sensor scanning capability."

The Captain leapt up from his seat, and leapt over the side of the starboard crew pit. He landed on both feet, and hit the deck, right next to Ivans's station with a loud spang. He grinned.

"Excellent. I would like a full sensor sweep for any signs of cities or technology."

Ivans worked skilfully, directing his two other subordinates to type in the commands that could make the Avenger's advanced sensor package do the Captains bidding. A single word was projected into the air in front of Ivans.

"Scanning".

A progress indicator bar, resembling a conventional radar screen appeared on his monitor. The green bar made one complete orbit of the circle. There was a beep, and the word "Scanning" changed to the word "Scan Complete."

"Scan complete Captain" Ivans said. "Do you want me to give you the results now?"

"No, no. I want you to prepare a presentation, that will be given in the next senior crew meeting. Give me everything."

"Everything?" Ivans said, raising an eyebrow and glancing at The Captain. The sensor has given me over one billion reports. Would you like them all, or would generalisations be sufficient?"

"Generalisations will do." The Captain said, obviously amused at the sensor chief's tenacity. "The meeting is in two hours."

*****

"From what we can see, the strength of the Skaarj air forces appears to be minimal. In the last two hours, I have picked up the outline of thirty small fighting craft, skimming the atmosphere. However, as we have never seen all of them at the same time, it is difficult to get an idea of the scale of the Skaarj air strength. We are working on a way to analyse the Skaarj transponder frequencies, which should deliver results." Ivans said, gripping the dais rail tightly and staring out into the blackness where he dimly saw the faces of the twenty or so senior staff.

"Ever since the away teams discovered the Skaarj, we have all hypothesised that they are not native to the planet Tyranza. This suspicion has been carried out. Look what we found in the mountains, just North of the Kran." Just behind Ivans, a large display flickered into life, showing a sharp and clear three dimensional image of a two mile diameter crater. The crater was filled with something huge, a blob of metal.

The blob was doughnut shaped. The octagonal hole in the middle didn't appear to pierce the entire width of the ship, but went down only half way. The base was flooded with some kind of pulsating green energy. The doughnut had long prongs coming out at ninety degree angles. They prodded into the side of the crater. The ship glistened with pools of rainwater in the morning sun.

The presentation room was flooded with awe.

"That thing has got to be as large as the Avenger." Someone said.

"That is correct, Squadron Leader Drayson. Obviously it would take, even the bombers, years to hack away at it, and it the rich Crystal deposits in that area make only the most cursory scan possible. Achieving a sensor gun lock for the Turbolaser batteries would be impossible."

"Then how do we take it out?" The Pilot asked.

"That is not my job." Ivans said after a long pause. "Sorry Ladies and Gentlemen, but I can only provide you with the facts. Drayson, I can update you with all the information we have on the Mother ship after this briefing."

Squadron Leader Drayson nodded, spreading her main of copper hair over her shoulders, which appeared to glow in the dim illumination like the corona of a star.

"Thank you Lieutenant Ivans." The Captain said, replacing him on the podium. "It seems that the level of Skaarj technology is higher than we have previously estimated. Their power source, is this." The Captain said, holding up a clear box, in which a single shard of the blue crystal. "Our science crews are currently finishing work on their first prototype protection grid. They have also managed to identify it as an isotope of Taryis Crystal, and have christened it Tarydium."

The shard of Tarydium seemed to glow with its own radiance, if The Captain looked closely, he could see whirlpools and eddies of the blue light, as if the shard was composed of water rushing down a hillside. The crystal gave his face a shimmering blue aura.

"Although the Skaarj attack was unsuccessful, Colonel Richardson assured me that not to retaliate would be a sign of weakness, and weakness is something that cannot be displayed when facing an enemy such as the Skaarj. Colonel, the briefing if you please."

The Captain stepped away, vanishing in curtains of darkness. The Colonel, slowly stepped into the light, and gripped the edges of the podium with white knuckles. He pressed a recessed red button, and the display of the Skaarj Mothership disappeared, to be replaced by an image infinitely more terrifying. The thing was blackened, gnarled and twisted. It was a dilapidated structure, made with what looked like second rate materials. The shattered remains of ancient mechanical machinery lay scattered about. Arranged in an odd figure of eight formation were numerous tall towers, each spewing black smoke, which had an odd greenish tinge.

"Don't be fooled by what you see." Richardson began. "It may look old and disused, but most of our target is actually safely underground. Too far down for our turbolaser cannons to reach it." He paused, and took a sip of water from the cube like glass that sat glistening atop the podium. "This construction is sitting directly above the strongest seam of Tarydium on the planet. It has to be where the Skaarj mine their crystal. Now we know from Laayk, that the Skaarj use Nali slaves to do the actual mining, which means that there will be heavy civilian traffic down there. The target is this." The picture changed to a hand drawn picture of a metal column, a hundred meters long stretching from the ceiling to the floor of a square metal cavern. The column had stripes of green going down it, and had what appeared to be lightning erupting from the sides.

"This, Laayk assures me is where the mine gets its power. We think that it must be a Tarydium refinery. The process of refining Tarydium must give out tremendous amounts of energy, and we think that it is this energy that the mine uses. The team will be issued with one thermonuclear charge. It needs to be placed directly onto the shaft. The device can then be triggered remotely from the Avenger. Be warned, once it is placed and armed, it cannot be unarmed without a signal form the Avenger. Any tampering will result in detonation. This should lead to a chain reaction that will destroy the mine. Any questions?"

"Won't that kill the Nali slaves?" Asked someone.

"Whilst the first team is searching for the shaft" Richardson answered "a second, larger team will scour the mine for any Nali. Because of the interference of the Tarydium field, transportation without pattern enhances is not possible. The team will have to locate the Nali, and then tag them for transport. The team's scanners have been fixed, so they now have an operational range of ninety meters. The Avenger can only penetrate the upper few levels, but scanners on the ground should work. Any questions?" The Colonel paused, listening to the silence. "Mission begins at 0800 hours tomorrow."

*****

The last of the troopers marched in two lines into the belly of the Landing craft, a long black serpent of armour. The grey hatch slid into place with a hiss. The large landing craft filled the gigantic hangar bay. The bay was lit with powerful lights from above, casting deep black shadows on the polished black floor. Inside the docking master's transparent viewing bubble, the Dock Master watched the last of the technicians clear the bay. He reached down with black gloved hands to press the holographic button, that closed the main hatch to the bay. Once the thick piece of metal was sealed, he evacuated the air in the bay back into the Avenger's atmosphere reservoirs.

Then, after typing in the password, he opened the bay doors, creating a gap in the Avenger, spilling light out into space to battle with the breathtaking light show that he could see through the bubble.

"Shuttle Intrepid, this is Avenger Dock Master you are cleared for launch." The man said, and waited for the response.

"Dock Master this is Intrepid" came the silky voice of Squadron Leader Drayson "Acknowledged, please advise one flight of our departure."

"Confirmed Intrepid."

With a silent roar, the Intrepid gracefully slid out into space. Drayson cleared the hangar bay and swivelled her dolphin like craft around so she could get a slice the craft swiftly into the atmosphere of Tyranza. The stars turned, and then were eclipsed by the immense orb of the planet. Two of the Avenger's star fighters slid along side her.

Then in the space of a heartbeat the entire scene went strait to hell. A bolt of energy slammed into the ship, sending the craft spiralling down towards the planet. Sirens wailed, and the gravity inside the ship cut off, making Drayson's gut take one gigantic roll. She could see her instruments quite clearly by the over head lighting which had switched to red. With one hand she fastened her pressure suit, and with the other flapped at switches, activating the Intrepid's shields. Just in time to receive another powerful, but less violent blow. The shields took the full force of the energy, leaving the ship with only the physical impact. However it was enough to send her shuttle into a crazy spin. Stars shot past her vision, and in those few seconds, she could see dark shapes, silhouetted against the brilliant white spiralling clouds of the planet below.

"Intrepid this is Alpha wing, we are intercepting."

The agile Interceptor craft dove in, engines blazing with fire. The first dark shape didn't even see the bolt of laser fire coming. The first Interceptor's shot blew cleanly through the cockpit of the fighter, detonating it's Tarydium powered engines in a fantastic silent fireball. The Interceptor sliced through the centre of the blue expanding cloud of fire. His wingman kept with him all the time, matching him move for move.

The sensor scrambling effect of the Tarydium blew his sensor array up in a shower of silent explosions. The pilot scanned the blackness of open space.

"Come on, come on" she whispered. "where are you?" Then she saw a light coming from the thick green asteroid belt. With a grin, she kicked her engines up as far as they would go, sending the starfighter hurtling into the nightmarish asteroid belt. The blocks of green rock were tightly packed, and the pilot had to make course corrections every few seconds to avoid huge mountains of solid marble like rock. Then she saw it, with a wry smile, she jabbed the fire button down.

The Skaarj pilot clearly knew how to fly but had no flight experience at all. In a desperate bid to avoid the incoming missile it kicked its engines hard, sending it hurtling into an asteroid. The thing bounced off, spilling its atmosphere in a cloud of white gas. Nothing spectacular at all. The Dark shape became nothing more than another part of Tyranza's beautiful rings.

Looking out of her cockpit she saw another explosion as her wingman got the last fighter.

"You either got it, or you haven't." She said, smiling. "And you guys didn't even come close." The Interceptors, low on fuel reluctantly turned around and arrowed towards the impressive bulk of the Avenger.

*****

After the panic of the battle in space, the rest of the flight was relatively easy, the only flames that Squadron Leader Drayson could see outside her windows were the ripples of heat that licked the Intrepid as she slid through the atmosphere.

Drayson saw the target zone through her virtual reality goggles. She kept the shuttle craft flying through a series of boxes that were projected into her eyes. At every course correction the ship would judder and complain. However after ten minutes, the ship entered the lower atmosphere, and, Drayson could see the large brown mountain ranges and the deep blue lakes rushing beneath her. She took off her goggles and flying by eyesight, she banked the ship in the bright sunlight towards what she knew was the landing field. She flew over a mountain ridge, and immediately hit trouble. The Intrepid sliced into the heart of a thunderstorm that she had not detected. Lightning licked at the sides of the ship, the shields spluttered in the intense bath of energy, but held.

Rain and vicious winds beat at the ship, as it slowly dropped down towards the surface. Drayson kept her eye on the altimeter.

Twenty feet. Wing to landing configuration, landing gear extended.

Ten feet. Hand on manual engine cut off switch.

Five feet.

Contact.

The Intrepid hit the ground with a loud thud, and after making sure that everything that needed to be off was off, she opened the hatch. The ship was filled with the sound of heavy rain and occasionally lit by a bright blue bolt of lightning.

"Ok" Colonel Richardson said, releasing his straps and taking command. Team two, you are with me. Team one, you are with Sergeant Mc Kinely. Move out!"

Richardson sealed his suit and stepped outside. The rain hammered on his bubble like helmet, and the lightning tore through the sky, momentarily dimming his Head Up Display.

With the last of the Troopers outside the ship, Drayson sealed the hatch, and started her pre-launch checklist.

"Ok" The Colonel continued. "We need to get those geo-scanners in place. Team two see to it. Team one, double check your equipment."

Whilst the Troopers busily went about their business, Richardson had time to look around him. The landing craft had disappeared through the sheets of rain, even though he knew that it was only a hundred feet away. Looking down he saw that his boots were firmly entrenched in the thick mud. He heaved a single boot out, and, after nearly being thrown off balance, the imprint filled with water. Rivers of mud were flowing down the hillside. He could hear the roaring of water coming from all around him. Here and there they meandered, picking up pieces of wood or stones and rushing them away down and out of site.

"Sir" A Trooper said over his radio. "Geo-scanners in place. Informing Avenger."

There was a crackle as the team contacted the Avenger. Just at that moment the scene was lit by a pair of red flames, as the Intrepid powered up its engines, launching up through the clouds. The roar got louder, and the lights hovered in mid air, about a hundred feet up. Then they shot away, and up with a roar. The Intrepid was swallowed up by the banks of storm clouds, leaving only a sonic boom and three gigantic elongated hexagonal prints as proof of its existence.

"Avenger to Black Knights, we have the location of the appropriate tunnels locked in and ready for transport. Please separate into appropriate groups." Came the tinny voice from the Colonel's speakers.

"You heard the Sub Commander." He said "Team one over there by that tree trunk. Team two over here by me". His order placed them apart by a few meters. "Knight leader to Avenger, confirmed. Ready for transport."

The teams got one last glimpse of each other, and the horrific storm before it was all blanketed in blinding white light. The team, and their spacecraft had vanished, and all that was left was the tracks in the mud.


Move on to Chapter Six

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.