By Glyn Collinson
 

Chapter Nine - Extraction


"The last of the troopers are onboard, sir!" Shouted Richardson to The Captain.

"Right" he yelled back over the roar that either was the Behemoth closing in on them, or the engines staring up. The Captain gave a hand signal to Trooper Edmund, who nodded and pressed the button that closed and sealed the hatch. The roar cut off abruptly in a hiss of compressed gas. The Captain walked through the passenger section saying. "Everyone get strapped in, this is going to be a fast take off." Then he got to the circular hatch separating the passenger section from the cockpit. It opened automatically like an iris, and then closed again after he had passed through it.

The cockpit was a scene of Chaos. Drayson was going through every required check at maximum speed. Outside the rain pelted the transparent viewport. The cockpit was large enough to contain four seats side by side with plenty of room to spare. The pilot's chair was on the right hand side, level with its co-pilot counterpart. The display boards were holographic, and were projected a few inches out from the actual console. This created a strange two layered effect that baffled the untrained eye. The attitude controls were controlled by the right hand, a joystick that came up out of the floor on a stand. The throttle was controlled by a simple two way leaver by the left hand. Both leavers were black, and designed to change shape to fit the pilot's hands. Mc Kinely sat strapped into the back left seat, whilst Fa'liene occupied the right. The alien was staring at the two layered display screens with interest. He held his hands together in a knot, so he wouldn't feel the urge to press buttons.

"Is she warmed? Well never mind. Take off as quickly as possible Squadron Leader, time is short." The Captain said sitting down in the co-pilot's chair and strapping himself in. He froze. Through the humming of the engines and the rapid clicking of Drayson on her control board, he could hear the impact of gigantic feet. The Intrepid started to lurch up and down on its hexagonal landing pads. Drayson stopped clicking.

"Maybe I should forget the checks and trust to luck." She said, turning to The Captain.

"Maybe you should" The Captain replied, listening to the roar, audible through the thick hull.

Drayson's hands flew over the controls. In seconds she had the navigational computer on, and the control mechanisms primed. She engaged the null-gravity lifters, and the Intrepid rose gently off the ground and hovered about a hundred feet in the air.

There it was. A Behemoth reaching for them with gigantic open claws. But Drayson had no intention of being caught. She jammed her left hand control full forward pushing the engines up to full power, sending the Intrepid rocketing forward on twin jets of flame. The Captain got a glimpse of a huge head, a row of savage teeth and evil, beady eyes. Then the thing was gone, and the sky outside was growing darker as the Intrepid blasted forward, grabbing for speed and altitude.

*****

"So how are you settling in?" Mc Kinely asked Fa'liene, popping his head round the door of the large chamber. The Alien past the numerous technicians who were busy re modelling and re designing the small storage bay. It was an internal room, with no view out into space, but it was very close to the bridge, and to one of the main power arteries of the Avenger, to accommodate Fa'liene's rather large power requirements.

"Well, most of my stuff is still being transported up," he started, ticking off points on his right hands. "And it is going to take a lot of work to convert my power systems to work with your strange energy sources. Plus the room is a little tighter than before. Still, the novelty of not having to worry about Skaarj hunting parties is a definite plus." Fa'liene reached Mc Kinely, and gave him one of his double handshakes.

"So, could I get a quick tour?" the Sergeant asked.

"Certainly" The Alien said, gesturing "I have insisted on having my old equipment brought up from the surface. There, that is my desk that they are fixing in, and that mass over there under that wrapping is my old chair. I am going to get the use of the Avenger's communications array to break into the Skaarj mother computer."

"You can do that?"

"Of course. The Skaarj may be powerful, but when it comes to technology they are sloppy. That is one of the reasons why that bomb went off. Anyway, I am having a new computer set up, with minimal access to the ships computers. The Captain is reluctant to connect my system to his."

"I can understand that." Said Mc Kinely, resting on a wooden packing crate.

"Would you prefer a chair?"

"It would be nice." Said Mc Kinely. Fa'liene picked up a pry bar, and forced open a large crate. Inside were two comfortable starship chairs, that looked like they had come from a Terran observation lounge.

A Terran observation lounge. "Fa'liene, where did you get these?" Mc Kinely asked.

"A friend gave it to me, in fact he gave a great deal of nice equipment to me, just before he was captured."

"And this friend." Mc Kinely reasoned "was from the Kran." He said it as a statement, not as a question, but Fa'liene answered it all the same.

"Yes, he was the Kran's computer specialist. Much of my system is ex-Kran materiel. Without it I wouldn't be here today. I tried to use it to, well. That is a long story" he finished.

Apart from the sounds of drilling and the occasional spang of a metal hammer hitting a metal surface, there was silence.

"Ok." Mc Kinely said, clearing the air, and sinking into the luxurious blue materiel. "Wow, this is nice."

"Yep, I kept them clean for my next guests."

"So you were just sitting down there, waiting for someone to come along?"

"Either that or for the Skaarj to leave. It was a pretty long wait. I had only Banshee to keep me company for the better part of a year."

Another pause.

"Fa'liene, what are you?" Mc Kinely asked. "I have to ask, look, sorry if it is a little…"

"No, it's alright." The Alien interjected. "In fact I have been expecting this question for some time now." Fa'liene sat back and started his story. "I was, an experiment. Back in the days when the Skaarj were Gods, and not daemons. In an attempt to close the social gap between our two peoples, the Skaarj created me. Half Nali, and half a member of their most respected type of Skaarj. A thinker. I not only inherited the mental capability of a Thinker, but the problem solving ability of a Nali, and several other traits as well. Then, as the Blue Crystal drove them slowly mad, I was regarded as 'just another Nali' and then 'just another Nali Slave'. I was put to work in their fortress controlling the computers. But I also got the Nali's natural resistance to the effects of the crystal, meaning that when the Skaarj were driven from grace and into the realms of daemons, I remained untouched."

"You mean the Skaarj are not naturally unspeakable?" Mc Kinely asked.

"Oh blazing stars no!" Fa'liene exclaimed. "If you ever encounter more Skaarj, you will find them to be about as enlightened as you are now. But like you, they have an evil soul that lurks within them. You know, the crystal doesn't really drive the victim mad, just unlocks the mental chains of the Daemon inside, letting it loose to rampage." Fa'liene paused, and shouted to a technician. "Ok, just plug my main monitor into that one. Yep, that socket. Watch out for the electrostatic discharge." Fa'liene turned back to Mc Kinely. "Where was I? Oh yes, the crystal." He cleared his throat. "Well, after a while I was sentenced to be crucified, in a random cruelty demonstration. But I was too clever for them. I escaped, and faked the computer records. It was then that the Kran crashed. It couldn't have picked a worse planet to land on. Seeing a possible chance at escape, I went to the Kran, and had many exploits with the crew as we tried, unsuccessfully, to restore power. But then, the crystal got to them as well, and because of it they let their guard down. And one night, they came." Fa'liene shuddered. "I can still hear the screams, even now. The ones who were not killed outright were taken back to the fortress to be tortured to death. You see, the crew and I had stirred up some pretty serious trouble."

"How did they get into the Kran?"

"Air ducts. A Behemoth forced the left dorsal air duct open and a Skaarj war party boarded. The lucky ones were killed then and there. We really were no resistance at all by then. I made my stand with Daniels Commander on deck one. But I got separated from him, and, well, I didn't expect any of them to survive. I left by using the emergency transporters, with as much equipment as I could get. I went into hiding after that, set up my little room underground. Then I just sat there, for a year. Waiting." Fa'liene finished, his eyes flooding with tears.

Silence.

"Well, I had better be going. I have a training cycle in a few minutes." Mc Kinely reluctantly left the velvet like coverings of the chair and got up, pulling his uniform straight.

"Alright." Fa'liene said, as there was nothing else to say.

"See you around, and remember, you are not alone anymore. If you ever need someone to talk to, I am always here. I will be watching out for you."

Fa'liene laughed.

"What's so funny?" Mc Kinely asked, half-serious, half-humoured.

"My dear Mc Kinely Sergeant, I have been looking out for you for about two days now." Fa'liene grinned. "Still, I am looking forward to you returning the favour."

With a salute, Mc Kinely Sergeant was gone, and Fa'liene could return to bossing the workers about. He smiled a large toothy grin and rubbed all four hands together. This was going to be fun.

*****

"And, Citizen Fa'liene has just finished putting the finishing touches to his electronic sabotage and computing lab. Even though the technicians are dead on their feet, they say that all the equipment he wanted brought up has been brought up, and all the necessary arrangements have been made planet side." The Captain said, addressing the rows of invisible faces in the senior staff meeting. "He promises me that he will be getting results shortly. On another front, Laayk wishes for me to convey the thanks of the Nali down in cargo bay 5a for our hospitality. Ensign Vladeck, I believe you can pass that on."

"It would be a pleasure Captain." Lisped Vladeck.

"On a medical front." The Captain continued "Doctor Harrison has analysed the elixir given to us by Citizen Fa'liene. He tells me that he can start mass producing immediately for distribution to all personnel. He has also started treatment of Commander Daniels, the Kran's First Officer. And that concludes this weekly briefing. Oh, actually one last word. I would like to express that I am very impressed by the way that everyone has stood up to this crisis. I want you to know that, even though we have only been together for a few months, you have already proven that you can respond far beyond the call of duty, and that you are by far the best crew, of the best ship, in the entire Terran Space Force. Now this isn't just a moral booster, I mean it. I am VERY impressed. Please pass that along."

There was a murmur of approval.

"Alright, that's it. See you all next week. Ensign, bring the lights back up please."

With a flicker, the illuminators were back on, showing the smiling faces of the senior staff making their way towards the exits, holding conversation with each other. Sub-Commander Drake threaded his way in between the officers and made it to the podium, as the Captain made his way down.

"Well?" The Captain asked.

"They are all nervous." Drake admitted. "Although that moral boost helped some."

"They have a right to be. We are tottering on the edge of a war situation here."

"Sir, there is an option that you have not considered."

"What is that?"

"We are only one ship. We were sent here for a search and rescue mission, not to play tag with a vicious alien race. I think we should call for help. The Force is looking for excuses to cutback on large expensive cruisers like this. Calling in backup would demonstrate their need."

The Captain nodded, and leaned closely to Sub-Commander Drake, whispering conspiratorially.

"I thought of that already, about two weeks ago actually, when this all started."

"And?" Drake whispered back. The Captain paused.

"The Force is spread pretty thinly in the sector. Our engagements with the Fewe in the Ultima Segmentium, have meant that a lot of our main warships are there. It would take months for them to get here, and that would leave their hindquarters open to an invasion force. Now we do have some seriously heavy stuff in this region, but , it is the, er….."

"I see."

"Yes. And naturally, Admiral Klarneck is unwilling to show his hand unless it is completely necessary."

"So he said, you are on your own?"

"Pretty much. But he did say that he would send re-enforcements."

"He did?"

The Captain nodded frantically, smiling evilly.

"In fact the Executor is probably on it's way right now." Said the Captain, pointing out of the view port to the large exquisite nebulae, that shone like a beacon through the total blackness of space.

"Oh boy" Drake said, grinning. "You know, a part of me now wants the Skaarj to make their move. I would love to see an Obliterator in action!"

*****

"Worthless!" The mind screamed with fury. "Worthless!"

"Yes." Came the answer. "The great burn spread through the blue crystal, and now it is all shattered into shards."

The mind let out a silent tortured scream. It howled in agony, feeling the loss, but most of all it felt white-hot fury.

"And the Nali slaves, did they also burn?" it asked.

"No, the Minions took them out. All of them."

"Then we shall take from, them what they took from us. We must prepare for the coming of the blackness. Send to our brothers and sisters, tell them what has happened. Species 247 'Nali', as from this moment on, is extinct."

"And what if the Minions succeed?"

"Then we shall go through the light."

*****

Fa'liene typed at his standard furious pace, evading blocks and running past security protocols. Something was definitely going on. He flicked once more through the camera visions of outpost 3J, glancing at the empty halls. The streets of the town were equally as quiet, but this time with an enforced silence. Dead and rotting corpses were everywhere. Waves of black flies buzzed over the things, making the bodies difficult to spot in the gloom. He cycled through every camera he could find. All were working, yet on none of them could he see a single Nali, well, at least a single live Nali.

But where had all the Skaarj gone?

He checked the mainframe, which had been curiously left in place, still directing mundane chores to mechanical devices. The last Skaarj had left a day ago on Skimmer 1A. But no where did it say why.

There were other maters too. It hadn't taken him much to crack the central computer, and to read the data held therein. But what he saw, terrified him.

Shuddering, Fa'liene pressed a button on his desk, and spoke into the cylindrical holographic camera.

"Captain, this is Electronic Sabotage and Computing lab one. You had better get down here. Bring Laayk with you."

The Hybrid exited outpost 3J, and went on to another. This one was snuggled in among the farther most southerly mountain range. It had stationed a full wing of planetary air skimmers. Now, all were gone. The hangar force field had been left open, and gusts of wind blew fallen leaves into swirls that danced across the cavernous enclosure. Here and there were piles of corpses, all rotting and covered in mounds of flies. Fa'liene was about to check another station when The Captain, followed by Laayk entered the room. There was a hiss as the door sprung back into the closed position.

"Well, what is it?" The Captain asked.

"You had better take a look." Fa'liene said, leaning back in his chair so the two visitors could get a good view of his main monitor, and the carnage therein.

"What does this mean?" Laayk asked.

"It means that the Skaarj are up to something. They have abandoned their outer outposts, and killed their slave forces."

"What are they up to?"

"I have no idea. But for them to abandon twelve bases in the last few days, it has to be big. I think that they are getting ready to make their move."

Silence.

"There is also, another mater Captain." Fa'liene coughed. "I have found this information in the Skaarj computer. I believe that it is from a Terran computer."

The Captain looked at the data his face stern as the information scrolled across his retina.

"The scientific logs of the Kran." He whispered. "And there is enough data here to learn how to create Quantum Singularities."

"Exactly. Once the Skaarj get home, they will posses the most awesome weapon in the Galaxy." The Hybrid said.

"Which means, that they cannot be permitted to leave Tyranza." The Captain said. "Most regretful. OK, well we had better start evacuating as many Nali as possible but I can't simply take them from their homes without permission from an authorised representative."

The Captain looked up at Laayk with a wry smile.

"Laayk, how would you like to be an ambassador?"

*****

Pullai knelt, staring up at the cross. His eyes flooded with tears. Through his mind he could hear the piercing screams of another Nali, being hacked mercilessly to death. He focused his prayer even more.

"Oh mighty Chizawa. You have chosen to destroy out people, but I ask you, I beg you. If you have even a shred of doubt to what you are doing, please, help us. The Nali need you like never before. Send a miracle. Send the Messiah!" There was a crash as the church door was breached. They were coming for him. "From Achranis I come, into your arms. Your willing servant, Pullai."

The things were coming for him. The left God extended its long claws from its fingertips and kept padding towards him. The right God slid out a long and twisted knife. He recognised it. It was a sacrificial knife.

He tried to meditate, to escape through the light. But he was to panicked. Escape was impossible, so it was a different kind of light that enveloped him. He bathed in its warm radiance, staring out into the facets of glowing beauty. So it was all true. There was life after death.

The light faded, and he was in the Hall of Chizawa. Or was he? Yes, this must be it, but it was nothing like he had imagined. The chamber was vast. It was so long that he had to strain his eyes to see people at the other end and the ceiling was so far above that wispy clouds were forming among the suns light like bath of the illuminators. That made him pause. In the hall of Chizawa there would be the real suns, not pretend ones.

But there was Laayk, striding towards him, his arms out stretched to embrace him. But where was Fyroll? He had seen her be nailed up to a crucifix by three Gods. They were insisting that she was thinking 'impure thoughts'.

"Laayk, there you are." We grieved when we could no longer sense you in our minds. But now we are re-united together at last, in the great hall of Chizawa…." Pullai was broken of by the vigorous shaking of Laayk's head. Droplets of sweat were thrown off his head and four shoulders, cascading onto the metal earth.

"My Mothers Father, you are very much in error. You are not in the Hall of Chizawa, you are in somewhere much better…."


Move on to Chapter Ten

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.