The deep bell tone of the door chime announced the waiting visitor. An equally deep voice called out to the computer to open the door and the moment it slid back Captain Retchub entered the room.
"You have the latest intel reports," said Shock Commander Dreal.
"Yes commander. Theyre on your computer now but I have to warn you that they dont report complete success."
"The Arions increased the size and armament of their groups."
"That was anticipated and you informed me that youd take the appropriate measures to deal with such an eventuality."
"I did and the surprise that my marines were able to achieve worked in every case but one."
"And tell me of this one case," said the shock commander with a sigh.
"It was in the California location commander. If youll recall it was mentioned in the data gathered from the destroyer and came from the Rembert Terran. As expected our troops were able to achieve tactical surprise on the enemy. However, the Arions were not the only beings present. The Velorian called Aurora was also there along with an alien the likes of which I have never seen or heard of before. The combat degenerated into a three way affair and enabled the Arions to recover from their initial surprise and blunt the force of our attack. The Prime in charge deployed a cluster bomb and escaped in the confusion."
"How many of our force survived the attack."
Dreal was upset by this news but didnt show it. Anger at this point was useless. Now, he had to bring into effect the contingency plans he had spent those long hours working on.
"Very well," he said calling up the intel report. "Have the artifacts been examined?"
"Yes commander. None of them shows any sign of extra-terrestrial origin."
"That was only to be expected," said Dreal as he reviewed the images to the short but bloody fight. His eyes were instantly drawn to the 6' 10" guy with the jackals head. "Have you any information on whatever is emanating from his hands and eyes?"
"Yes, the sensors on our combat lander were set to maximum. They could not analyze the nature of the energy discharge but did estimate its power as within the range of 5 to 10 times that of a max ion cannon burst."
"By the blood of my ancestors! Who is this alien?"
"No records of such a species are in the computer files. On a whim I decided to examine the computers mythology records and found a faint reference in the writings of the Preskin which refer to a race called Wanderers that do have some resemblance to this new alien. Unfortunately, the only thing contained in this file is the fact that these Wanderers are beings of immense power. I would have liked to question the Preskin but as we both know that is impossible."
"Yes Retchub, I do," said Dreal knowing very well that the Kintzi had hunted the Preskin to extinction two generations ago. "I have always argued that every drop of information should be wrung from our prey before we send them into oblivion. However, the time for recriminations is long passed. We must plan for the future. We will execute plan a-1274."
"Understand Retchub, that we cannot fail in this. There is no explanation for failure. The Arions must never gain full access to the alien ship. Do you understand my old friend?"
"Yes Dreal, I do. We shall return victorious or we shall not return."
Fairchild regained consciousness slowly. Her body was lethargic and she knew instantly that the feeling didnt come from her physical ordeal alone. The tingling from her chest and from between her legs as well as her general lassitude could mean only one thing. She now wore gold on her body. Fairchild had been under the influence of gold many times before but each time was like the first and she always discovered some new sensation that shed have to fight in order to retain control of her body. She moaned softly but it quickly turned to a yelp of surprise as something struck her across her lower back.
Fairchilds eyes snapped open and she looked around her. Of the perhaps 25 Arions, Primes and Betas, who had come in the shuttle there were now only ten remaining, six Primes and four Betas. In addition to the Arions there was one other occupant in the shuttle. Fairchild recognized him instantly as Basil Martine and from the glow in his eyes and the rippling bulges in his arms she knew at once that he had been enhanced. In his outstretched hand was a long sinuous coil of crackling energy. Basil flexed his arm slightly and the energy whip hissed as it slithered across the deck. She tore her eyes away from the whip and for the first time looked at herself.
They had chained Fairchilds wrists from an overhead support beam. In addition to the Vendorian steel cuffs there were also two inch wide gold bands on both her forearms. The shuttles air conditioning system blew across her golden sweating skin and she realized that she had been stripped naked. When she bent her head to get a look at the condition of her body Fairchild felt the stiffness around her neck. Someone, mostly likely Basil, had placed a golden collar around her neck like she was some kind of high priced poodle.
Its strange what a Velorian under the influence of gold will think of and heres an example. The moment that Fairchild realized that they had put a collar around her neck she began wondering what Id look like in one. She began to imagine me with my jackals head wearing all kinds of different collars and finally settled on a black leather one with big silver spikes. The picture that she created amused her so much that she began laughing despite her situation. Her laughter on served to really piss Basil off.
"Laugh at this, slut," he cursed as her brought his energy whip back and then hissing forward until it curled completely around Fairchilds round muscular ass.
Fairchild jumped and began to wiggle as Basil whipped her repeatedly. Even in her weakened condition the whip did no real damage to her body except leave a trail of thin red lines across her sweaty ass. She was even a little glad for the treatment that she was receiving because the jolts of pain helped counter the effects that the gold was having on her body. That was the case before Basil switched tactics and used an underhand stroke to bring the energy whip up between Fairchilds legs and right on top of her pussy. All the air left her lungs in one mighty gasp as the burning in her loins washed through her. She pulled futilely on her cuffs as the blows came again and again.
"Enough!" cried a harsh feminine voice from behind her.
"Why should I stop?" said Basil delivering a cut which traveled across Fairchilds pussy and ended on her erect nipple. "I was promised something to play with."
"She is the Velorian Protector of this planet," said ZuaSha stepping forward and taking the whip away from Basil, "not your plaything. She is destined to follow a much different path than that as your toy."
"Captain Forgan said . . ."
"The captain said that I was to indulge you until your usefulness to the Empire was at an end. Well, that time is rapidly approaching Terran. Be careful, or you may find yourself where the Velorian bitch is now and that Im holding the whip."
Having recovered from the effects of the whip Fairchild was able to see the expression which crossed Basils face when ZuaSha made this statement. At first defiance blazed through his eyes and then there was something else. He lowered his head and took the sub-captains hand in his and kissed it.
"If you wish it mistress," he whispered.
"It is a shame that you were not born a Prime," said ZauSha with a pleased smile on her face. "Just remember who is in charge and I shall postpone your fate."
"Of course. May I ask a question?"
"Very well but do not presume too much Terran."
"I just wanted to know what happened back there?"
"Idiot," ZauSha sighed. "Were you not paying attention. When the Kintzi attacked the Pride they copied our computer files which included the list of artifacts that we were seeking. It was safe to assume that they would be waiting at those sights. The other collection teams were not as fortunate as we but then it does not matter now."
"No. The Beta has just finished scanning the Three Stars and they were indeed created somewhere other than this planet."
"Then well be heading back to the Pride then."
"No, we must reach the Czebhinn ship as soon as possible. The Pride will rendezvous with us there. The sooner that we reach that ship the sooner that we can deal with this miserable planet once and for all."
I was sure that ThenEtte was dead when we reached the end of the jump. She was just so still and her chest wasnt moving at all. I was going to tell LahrRinda but decided to make sure. I had to put my ear right against her chest but I could just hear a faint heartbeat.
"Computer," I said as soon as I stepped into the room where I had revived Melythra, "I need a horizontal stasis cocoon right now."
A white cylinder of light appeared four feet in front of me. After I told LahrRinda to stand back I carefully placed ThenEttes injured body in the cocoon of light. It lay suspended in the light and the moment that I stepped back I said, "Activate." Instantly the cocoon changed color first going gold for about five minutes before finally changing to that shimmering blue I remembered.
"Can I have a status report?" I asked the computer as soon as the light changed.
"The subject has sustained massive internal injuries and a brain embolism. Life activity suspended. Do you wish to begin medical assistance?"
"You can do that!"
"Of course. Time will be necessary in order to fully assess the extent of the damage and the proper course of treatment tailored to the subjects specific physical makeup."
"Okay go ahead. Can you say how long this will take?"
"Negative. Preliminary estimates will not be complete for another 4.53 hours."
"All right, report to me when you have any news."
"Are you hungry or thirsty?" I asked LahrRinda.
"No," she said quietly, "I need nothing."
I called up a chair and made the tear stained Arion sit down. LahrRinda had been injured by the explosion of the cluster bomb and had born the brunt of it trying with not too much success to shield her friend. I knew that she was in pain but that shed never accept being tended to until she knew that ThenEtte was all right. I did help without letting on. I raised the ambient temperature in the room by 10 C knowing that her body would process the extra heat energy and help in her recovery.
"Look," I said to the side of her face as her eyes never left the stasis cocoon. "I realize that youre probably not going to believe this but I think your friend there is going to be all right. Im not positive. But this ship is more advanced than anything you could imagine. It will be some time before I know for sure but in the mean time dont lose hope."
"I shall try to do as you say," she said blankly.
There was no way I was going to leave her alone. LahrRinda was obviously grief stricken or she was the best actress Id ever heard of. I chose to believe the former rather than the latter assumption but that didnt mean I was just going to leave her alone. I didnt trust her that much. So, I called Melythra and had her come.
Okay, Im sure youre wondering just how Melythra could travel to the ship on her own. Well, theres this translocation pad. Im sure you remember them. Theyre mentioned in the very first story. It seems that the Wanderers. You remember them tall guys with heads like various birds animals and reptiles, whole lot of power, and the annoying habit of being able to foresee future events. Anyway they had left enough parts in the ship to construct two dozen translocation pads. They were and Im quoting Melythra here, To facilitate the ease of transport of the Companion so that she would not be solely reliant on the Chosen. One of the first things Id done was to set one up in the basement of my house. So, it only took a minute for Melythra to appear after Id asked her to join me.
"Youre disturbed," she said the moment that she saw me.
No, I wasnt disturbed. I was pissed beyond belief. And Melythra didnt have to use our psychic bond to know either. For one thing my eyes were glowing and Im pretty sure that there were traces of foam around my mouth. Imagine a really tall man with the head of a rabid jackal and then youve got the picture.
There was a really cutting remark on the tip of my tongue but I swallowed it and instead said, "I need for you to stay here and watch over these two. Keep an eye on the reading from the stasis cocoon and let me know if theres any change. Ill be in the control room."
"Ross," she said using my first name for one of the few times. "What has happened? I have never seen you so agitated."
"Its those damned Arions. Theyve got the components they need to activate the Czebhinn ship and whats more theyve got Fair."
"Fairchild has been taken!" she exclaimed with uncharacteristic vehemence. "Is she in any danger?"
"Not immediate, I dont think. From what Ive seen of these guys theyll try and humiliate her first and parade her around like some kind of trophy. But Im not sure how long that will last though."
"What do you plan to do?"
"Get her back and destroy the warship. In that order. Ive really got to move. Times vital right now. If you have any more questions project them to me and Ill answer them."
"I apologize. I have taken you away from your sacred duty. It is unforgivable."
"Oh hush! Youre just concerned about a friend. Id have been upset if you hadnt acted the way you did. I care about Fair too you know."
"I just wish," I said as I reached the door, "that someday you might talk about me in the same manner."
I dont know what she said to that or if she said anything. As soon as the last sound was from my lips I left the room and went to the control room.
"Activate," I said the moment that I entered the control room.
"Does the work in the stasis room impair your function?"
"Negative. Stasis room computer is a separate system linked to this system but separate."
"Good. Have you located the Czebhinn ship?"
"Negative. At present the possible location of the Czebhinn ship has been reduced to four possible locations."
"Okay, youll have to continue the work on the way."
"You wish this ship to depart from its current location."
"Yes, and hurry we dont have that much time."
The computer didnt respond verbally. Instead the background hum grew louder as the ship came to life. 12,000 years of accumulated muck and debris were shaken from the hull by the ships deflection field and slowly at first it began to move for the first time in millennia. As soon as the ship began to move as 3D image of its progress appeared in front of me. I called up the command chair and sat and watched the ship leave Earth.
"All right," I said as we left Earths gravity, "begin scanning for Arion and Kintzi ships. That should help locate the Czebhinn ship."
"Affirmative. Do you have a course?"
"Oh, toward the nearest possible location of the Czebhinn ship. And Id like to arrive unannounced."
"The facility has already anticipated such a request and is currently operating at full stealth capability."
"Good. I have to discuss something with you. Will that affect your function?"
"Okay. Theres a chance that I wont succeed in what I have to do. I need to know if this ship has any offensive capability."
"Negative. The Chosen is all the armament that this ships requires."
"I thought so. Well, here it is. That ship must never been activated again. If it is, then a lot more worlds than just Earth will suffer. And if I dont stop it then youre going to have to do the job. Can you do that?"
"Affirmative. This ship was designed to serve the Chosen in whatever manner was required. Should you fail in your mission then this ship will take the appropriate action."
"Good. But if you can get the others off the ship and back to Earth."
"All right," I said glad that that part was done with, "does the information I got from the Syliads contain anything on the Czebhinn language?"
"Affirmative. This system now has 32,647 examples of both verbal and visual communication. Subjects range from . . ."
"Skip that part. Is there enough there to teach me how to read the language."
"Affirmative. However, the companion must be present if the language is to be absorbed in the shortest possible time."
"Okay," I said mentally asking Melythra to join me.
"You require my assistance?" she said as she enter the command room.
"Yes, I want to learn to read Czebhinn and Im told that Ill need your help to do it."
"Very well," Melythra said taking my face in her hands and looking into my eyes. "Begin."
Id try and describe what happened but it was a mystery to me. I know what happened all right. The computer linked with Melythra who was linked to me and a three way learning chain was formed. But what it felt like, well, that I cant describe. Lets just say that it was warm and fuzzy with a hidden sexual overtone but I think thats because Melythra was so close to me at the time. Even using this much faster method learning an alien written language took time, a little over an hour in this case. When Melythra finally released my head I was lightheaded and dizzy with what felt like the after effects of a headache. I expected Melythra to return to the stasis room but she just stood staring at me.
"What?" I asked.
"I do not wish to leave this ship. I am the Companion and have no desire to outlive the Chosen."
"Shit! You were supposed to help me learn Czebhinn not go poking around my head for stray thoughts."
"This thought was at the surface of your consciousness. I did not have to search it out. It was there for me to read. And I repeat my earlier statement. I do not wish to leave."
"Thats great but this isnt a debating society. Im the One and your the Companion. So far Ive tried to use that relationship as little as possible and let you make your own decisions in things. But not in this case. Youre leaving when the computer tells you to leave and thats final. Ill not have your life wasted needlessly."
"But Ross . . ."
"No, thats my decision and its final."
"Very well," she said actually hanging her head. "I shall return to the stasis chamber."
"Melythra," I said before she reached the door. "Thats just a last ditch contingency measure. Im hoping that it wont come to that."
"As am I," said Melythra quietly as she left the room.
I thought I heard something more in her voice and would have liked to go and asked her about it but there were more pressing matters to deal with, like the fate of Earth. So I reluctantly turned back to the 3D display in front of the command chair.
"Have you located those ships yet?"
"Contact with three alien vessels established 23 minutes ago. Now tracking movements."
"Plot the point where the three ships will meet."
Three moving dots appeared and there courses were laid in the display.
"Is the place where they meet one of the four possible locations of the Czebhinn ship?"
"All right take us there."
"Altering course now."
"Will we reach that spot ahead of them?"
"Negative. Two of the alien vessels will arrive ahead of this ship by 45 and 30 minutes respectively."
"Show them to me."
Next to the 3D image of the solar system there appeared two well defined images of two space ships. One I recognized right away as a shuttle just like the one that had taken Fairchild. The other I only knew from Fairchilds description even though Id been on it. It was an Arion destroyer.
"Where exactly are they heading?" I asked even though I could make a good guess looking at the display.
"Course indicates that said ships are heading directly toward an asteroid approximately 30 miles in diameter."
"That must be then."
"Alert! Aspect change in the ship designated destroyer. Target ship is firing on the asteroid."
"What?! With everything theyve got?"
"Negative. Only six particle beam weapons deployed, output 50%."
"Can you scan that asteroid without being detected."
"Affirmative. Scanning. Target asteroids crust ranges from 15 to 27 miles. Beyond metallic alloy density factor 15. Scanning efficiency reduced 37%. Continuing. Interior image available."
Even before the 3D picture appeared I knew what it was. The sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach was all I need to tell me. Id found the Czebhinn warship and so had the Arions. As I watched they continued to carve away at the rocky skin which had concealed the dreadnaught for 6,000 years. They sliced away seven chunks each with a surface area of at least a square mile before they found what they were looking for, a large cargo bay hatch to dock with. As the destroyer pealed the rock away like an orange the shuttle which I thought contained Fairchild docked with the destroyer. So, that when they finally uncover the cargo hatch it was just the large Arion ship which made the connection.
As all this went along the ship I was in continued to creep closer. Dont get the wrong idea about this ship the Wanderers left me to use. It was fast, faster than the destroyer, but in order to travel at great speed you had to sacrifice stealth. I wanted the element of surprise and so we went at what I was told was a prudent pace. This didnt mean that I liked it. I fidgeted in my chair as the time seemed to crawl by. I tried to keep my mind off things by finalizing what little plan I had.
"Zoom in on the area just below the cargo hatch. What is that?"
"Sensors indicate that the object is the access panel for an airlock. Currently access can be made by simple touch control. However, the device can be locked down either manually or by computer, which is on standby at present."
"All right, monitor that airlock and let me know if its locked down. Who knows I might just have caught a break. Can you tell how far that airlock is from the cargo bay that the Arions are going to enter."
"Three decks. I have completed a rough schematic of the interior of that section of the Czebhinn ship. However, it is not to be relied upon fully as sensor integrity decreases 5% for every 10 meters of penetration."
"All right. Thats how Im getting in. How close can you get without danger of detection?"
"Within one half mile."
"Okay, bring me to three quarters of a mile and then drop back. Ill try and contact Melythra and tell her whats happening. But if for some reason I cant you are not to allow that weapon to be aimed at Earth. Understood?"
The second time I entered the cold vacuum of space I didnt wonder at the size and scope of the universe like I had when Fairchild and I visited the moon. I didnt have time. As soon as I was clear of my ships airlock I began to move toward the ship.
Im glad that no one spotted me because moving in a weightless environment was disconcerting. When I first began my journey to the Czebhinn ship I felt like a pregnant whale and I moved like it. Fortunately for me, I was not spotted and made it to the airlock safely.
It was nice to get atmosphere back but once the interior iris opened and I stepped inside that feeling left. I was halfway to my goal. If I could only reach Fairchild before I was spotted then we might just have a chance to succeed.
The first thing I did was to locate the nearest computer access. Even after 6,000 years it was still functioning and I was able to call up an internal diagram of the dreadnaught. Not only did this confirm what Id learned from the computer on my ship but it also gave me a chance to memorize the layout of the huge ship. Next I called up a diagnostic program to find out what wasnt working and discovered that the systems which controlled navigation, engines, and weapons were all offline. Now I knew what the Czebhinn had sabotaged. I did a little more snooping before I left.
The nearest elevator was only one hundred yards from the airlock but I didnt use that one. I traveled another five hundred yards along the corridor and took the one Id learned was there. It took me the three decks up noiselessly. I hoped that I was far enough away from the cargo bay that the Arions wouldnt see my arrival. Well, thats where my luck ran out.
When the doors slid back what was the first thing I see but the arrogant face of a Prime man. I dont know who was more surprised him or me. I do know who recovered first. Me. Ever since the Arions had snatched Fairchild Id been itching to get another shot at them. And here was my perfect opportunity. Twin force bolts shot from my eyes and struck the large Prime right on the bridge of his nose. One second the Prime was right in front of me and the next he was gone. My force bolt sent him hurtling back down the corridor faster than a rifle bullet.
"Shit!" I cursed as I stepped out of the elevator. "Thats torn it."
Bang went the element of surprise. Its really hard to sneak up on someone when one of their fellows shoots past them at faster than the speed of sound.
Since there was no need to hide any more I decided to milk it for all its worth. I dont know how I did it but suddenly my every footstep rang through the corridor like an elephant in tap shoes. A little psychological warfare was called for.
"Fee fi fo fun," I said using the voice, "I smell the blood of some dead Arions."
I could hear the sound of scurrying feet and voices barking orders barely masking the terror which lay behind them. I neither sped up nor slowed down but maintained that same determined pace. Someone had had the bright idea of closing and locking the large door which lead to the cargo bay. I didnt take any chances. I hit with force bolts from my hands as well as my eyes. The results were spectacular to put it mildly. The doors which were twenty feet high by forty wide and four inches thick blew apart like they were tissue paper. I stepped through the smoking wreckage.
"Luucy, you got some splainin to do."
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