- Chapter 12 -
Among the Beldrahar
Canyons on the planet Tolan
The stillness of the dark and desolate canyon was thrown aside by a great metallic groan emitted by the gigantic ship. A section of bulkhead came to a mutual agreement with the hull after a minor disagreement over the stresses shared by them both. A pact now made between inanimate objects, the sound abruptly stopped, the fading echoes interrupted only by a brief hiss from an unseen vent. An occasional groan, squeal, or hiss from the dormant Arion ship were the only disturbances to the silence of the vacant chamber of the Tolan canyon.
The massive black Arion ship rested atop the canyon and three square miles of the surrounding mesas, forming a multimillion-ton steel lid for a chamber of stone. The only breech to the chamber being the canyon entrance to the south. Indirect sunlight through that south entrance slowly filtered into the darkness within to replaced the fading glow of a large spot on the ground. Only moments ago, that spot was a glowing source of the most brilliant white light. Now, as time passed, the spot faded rapidly to a dull red, eliminating not only the white light that had cast bizarre shadows along the jagged cliffs, but also the heat that was as intense as the light had been brilliant.
That spot, directly below the center of the ship, was a large sunken area of the ground converted by tremendous heat into black glass about twenty feet in diameter. At the center of this concave glass area were multicolored streaks that curved smoothly around the center like water stirred into a pool of oil. This had been the point where A'ya had stood. This had been the point where the full force of the Arion siege gun's plasma discharge impacted the surface of Tolan. This had been the point where A'ya ceased to exist.
Along the west wall, tons of scorched, cracked, and jagged rock that, earlier in the day, had formed the solid, continuous west wall of the canyon was piled high where it had come to rest. Shattered by the impact of two Velorians trapped within the huge shock wave of the Arion siege gun's discharge, the rocks instantly buried those two beings as if in retaliation for their violent disturbance.
Nature may not care for justice, but retribution in Nature can be brutally quick.
There was no longer any need for justice nor retaliation now. The canyon settled back into the balance that it craved, that all natural things crave. Nature strives for balance, for in balance there is peace.
In peace, there is life.
A small pebble on the pile of rocks rolled and fell, bouncing lightly from rock to rock with a distinctive tap-tap-tap until it settled to the ground. Tumbling along the dirty ground for only a few inches, it soon stopped, rocked a moment as if uncertain, and then became still again.
Balance and peace.
Soon, near the top of the large pile, a large rock that the pebble had once rested on moved a bit, shifted slightly, then moved upward again. Finally, the rock and a few next to it tumbled over to reveal a slender hand that had finally pushed its way to freedom. The hand gripped a large boulder just below it to pull the rest of a body from the burial place within the pile of rock, dirt, and dust.
A dusty blonde head soon emerged, spitting dirt from her mouth. Lillith was alive.
Her free hand rapidly brushed dirt and dust from her eyes before she could clearly see. A quick shake of her head tossed a cloud of gray dust out from her blonde hair that settled around her. Now able to clearly view her world, she saw no sign of her adversary nor of her friend. She inspected the pile of stone that still held her, but a loud metallic creaking sound pulled her attention upward to see the massive Arion ship that remained menacingly overhead.
Trying to call out in whispers, Lillith quickly searched for Carpathia. One by one, she slid boulders weighing hundreds of pounds out of her way as if she were looking for her friend in a box of popcorn.
Within a few layers of stone, Lillith found the top of a blonde head. Quickly she uncovered that head and cupped the chin of her friend.
"Carpie, Carpie, Carpie, come on, we gotta go!" she whispered frantically.
A bleary-eyed Carpathia bobbed her head a bit, her voice little more than a moan.
"Skietra, Lillith, what happened?"
Lillith pointed upward.
Carpathia's foggy eyes followed the direction of Lillith's finger. What she saw made those same eyes balloon.
"SKIETRA!" Carpathia yelled. "WHAT ARE THEY..."
"Shush! Shhhhhh." Lillith quieted her surprised and still unfocused friend.
"But I don't allow warships." whispered Carpathia.
"I know, I know, me neither." Lillith said quietly as she continued to dig Carpathia out.
"They can't park here." scolded Carpathia weakly. That statement made Lillith stop work to think about it a moment. Finally, she just shook her head and resumed pulling rocks out of the way.
"Aw, Carpie, I think you got your bell bonged."
"It's a Terran expression."
"It doesn't make any sense."
"They never do, but they're cute." shrugged Lillith. "Come on, let's get out of these rocks."
A few more rocks were removed before Lillith pulled hard on Carpathia's arm. The extraction was faster than she expected and both women tumbled down the rockpile to the ground.
"PISTU!" exclaimed Carpathia when she hit the dirt.
"SHHHHH!!" hushed Lillith again as the two Velorians righted themselves. "I don't think they know we're here."
As if on cue, five blinding lights illuminated from random points along the bottom of the Arion ship. Four spotlights swung rapidly to bathe the two Velorians in painfully bright white light. The fifth swung around to illuminate the black glass circle on the canyon floor. Lillith and Carpathia both squinted, their eyes fluttering slightly in the harsh light.
"I could be wrong about that." sighed Lillith.
Carpathia held her hand above her eyes to see beyond the lights. A thought occurred to her.
"Lillith, you don't suppose they're planning on taking us prisoner, do you?"
Both women looked at each other incredulously just before they both broke into laughter. No Arion could be stupid enough to try to grab two Protectors at once. They laughed until the loudest bang either woman had ever heard jarred the canyon. The abrupt sound made them both sit down instantly and push back along the ground to the front of the rockpile. A long groaning sound, like rusty hinges on a giant metal door, shook the canyon for a few seconds before a second loud bang made both women flinch. Lillith's eyes were huge.
"Kinda spooky." she muttered.
"Yeah." agreed Carpathia, her eyes flitting back and forth along the bottom of the great ship. "You can't hear `em out in Space."
"Carpie, maybe we oughta go. You know, we could fly up top and go after their bridge or something."
"Sit tight, Lillith." said Carpathia without taking her eyes off the ship. "They're up to something. They could have attacked us anytime by now, so that's not it. They want something. Let's see what it is."
" `kay." Lillith shrugged, her agreement still a bit unsure. Lillith noticed some tiny, dark specks around Carpathia's cleavage.
"Carpie, you got something on your boobies."
Carpathia glanced down casually, but when she saw the specks, she became upset.
"Aw, pistu!" she groaned as she began to dig what was left of two out of three Tolan cigars from between her breasts. Pinching wads of tobacco with her thumb and forefinger, she removed the shattered bits rapidly until she came up with a prize.
"Hey! The last one's okay! A little flat, but it made it."
She winked at Lillith as she put the Tolan cigar in her mouth, clenching it in her teeth.
"Tough boobies, Lill." Carpathia said with a wink.
Lillith barely started to giggle when a distant, yet amazingly loud whoosh sound was heard. Carpathia pulled the still unlit cigar from her mouth to make a point.
"Thrusters. That was thrusters, Lillith. That banging sound must have been hangar doors."
"I know where that is!" chimed Lillith.
"You've been on an Arion hangar deck?"
"Yep. Will'm took me." Lillith sounded proud.
Carpathia raised her eyebrows as she nodded.
"Now there's a guy who knows where to take a woman for a good time."
"Yeah," cooed Lillith as she pleasantly swayed her shoulders a little. "He saved me."
"When was that..." Carpathia was suddenly interrupted by the same banging and groaning that they heard before.
"Hear that? Hangar door." Carpathia deduced. "They only launched one."
Lillith nodded, still peering up at the source of the sounds.
"They better watch out up there." warned Carpathia sternly. "The Red Wings are prowling around up there and they don't like intruders in their airspace any more than I do. A Warhawk can really do a number on anything the Arions have."
Lillith thought a moment.
"I didn't see any...."
"Look, Lillith! There!"
Coming around into view through the south opening, a single Arion shuttle swept slowly toward them from behind the mesa. Passing noisily through the canyon entrance, the shuttle slowed, lowering gently on a cushion of thrusters that raised clouds of dust and dirt. The roar shook the ground a bit beneath them - more of a vibration than the serious ground-shaking rumble of the battlecruiser.
Lillith attempted to rise to her feet, but Carpathia grabbed her arm gently, keeping her seated with a simple shake of her head. Finally, the shuttle came to rest midway between the two Velorians and the black glass circle and about midway toward the southern canyon entrance. The thrusters shut down as soon as the craft settled. In the blinding lights from the overhead Arion ship, the dust raised from their coming could be seen in the air as its swirling motion slowed. Soon the dust just hung motionless around them, giving the place a grayness that seemed to befit an Arion visit.
Carpathia leaned over to Lillith.
"Looks like they want to talk." she whispered.
"T'aye." whispered a still wide-eyed Lillith. Her heart beating so rapidly and so hard that she was sure everyone in that canyon could hear it. Carpathia certainly could.
"Easy, Lillith." soothed Carpathia. "Just stay seated and let them come to us. They can't hurt us, but we can sure do a lot of damage to them."
Lillith smiled warmly at her friend. Carpathia was so smart about these kinds of things.
"You're feeling better now, aren't you." said Lillith as a tease, but then she noticed that Carpathia wasn't sitting up like she was. Carpie was resting back on the rocks.
"Well," said Carpathia with a grin, "maybe you'll have to do the honors, Lillith. At least until some of these bruises heal inside and out." Carpathia still hurt badly.
Both blonde heads quickly turned toward the shuttle when the side-hatch facing them began to open. The hatch split laterally at the center, the top lifting upward while the bottom half rotated down. Embedded in the lower half were steps. When the two halves clacked loudly into place, the steps of the lower half continued to extended outward. The high-pitched whine of the step mechanism grated on Lillith's nerves until it ceased when the steps touched the ground. Then the only sound in the canyon was the subtle ticking of the shuttle thrusters cooling down.
For long moments, nothing happened.
Carpathia again clenched her cigar in her teeth before slowly shaking her head.
"Are they expecting us to come inside?" she wondered aloud.
"They're gonna be disappointed," said Lillith sternly, "cause I'm not goin' in there. I'm.... Look!"
At the hatch, an older Arion military officer in full uniform stood for a moment on the top step to glare menacingly at the Velorians before he descended to the ground. When he did, he placed his hand on a Gar pistol holstered at his side. Carpathia reacted instinctively, struggling to her feet. The indignant voice of the Protector filled the canyon.
"You will not draw your weapon! This is a protected planet and your warship is not welcome here. If you do not withdraw from Tolan airspace to beyond the orbit of this planet's moon, you will force me to react with deadly force. Do you understand this warning?"
The Arion didn't remove his hand from his weapon, but he didn't unholster it either. The look of contempt on his face was matched by Carpathia's expression of defiance. The Arion finally spit a few words at her.
"Kho twa dhe u foch!"
Lillith whispered to her friend, "Carpie, I think he just called you a ..."
"I know what he just called me, Lillith." Capathia's steel eyes remained locked into the Arion's. "But this guy didn't grow older by being stupid. He still wants something or else he would have started shooting or something. That was just the usual insult. Remember this, Lillith, always give the first insult to the Arion. If you do, they'll feel all Arion-like and get right down to business. If you don't, you'll only make `em try harder to be nasty. That might mean a fight."
"Hm," whispered Lillith, "what if they just keep insulting you?"
"Never happens, Lillith." said Carpathia with a wink. "The first one's free, but the next one costs `em. They know that."
Try as she might to put up a strong appearance, Carpathia's wounds were still overwhelming to her and dizziness returned quickly and unexpectedly. As she stumbled to the ground, the Arion seized the moment. The Gar had just cleared its holster when a loud voice from within the shuttle commanded him to stop. He hesitated just long enough for the voice to repeat the command, this time with a threat included with it. The Gar slid back into the holster and the Arion took a step back.
It was just as well, he thought, since the second Velorian had placed herself between the wounded one and himself. He wouldn't have had a clean shot anyway, although it would have been a glorious attempt. His pride became soothed sufficiently with this balm of reasoning.
Seeing the Arion back down, Lillith stepped back and leaned down over Carpathia. The exhausted Protector of Tolan was breathing rapidly, trying to speak.
"Oh, Lillith....I'm so sorry. I can't seem to....I can't...."
"Don't worry, Carpie. Don't worry about a thing." soothed Lillith. "You just rest a minute." Carpathia nodded and slumped back against the boulders.
Lillith looked back at the Arion shuttle in time to see a muscular female leg emerge from the ship onto the steps. A framework of brightly polished steel rods encircled the leg from the knee up to the hip, piercing the side of the leg at the top, bottom and center of the heavy brace. Tiny, whining actuators assisted the wearer with movement along the small staircase to the ground. Within two steps, Lillith could see the new visitor clearly.
Casan's green eyes pierced the distance between them without emotion. To Lillith, the red-haired Geheim warrior looked larger and more formidable than ever before. Casan spoke brusquely to the Arion without taking her eyes off Lillith, waving her hand once as if she were saying "Go and play." The Arion bowed slightly, turned, and walked over to inspect the remains of A'ya. With a subtle smile, Casan walked effortlessly toward the two Velorians. Her walk was as fluidly sexy as ever, assisted by microservos, some of which were embedded within her shattered hip.
"That's her, Carpie. The one who keeps wanting to fight with me all the time." Lillith's voice betrayed a hint of worry that kept Carpathia watching the approach of the Geheimite through tired eyes.
"Her leg's in a servo-harness, Lill. Do you know what happened to her?"
"Uh-huh. That was me."
Carpathia rolled her eyes.
"Oh, swell, Lillith. Alright, you better get on your feet and get ready to face her. She probably wants to pay you back for that."
Lillith sighed tiredly at the thought. There had been so much fighting and death, more than enough. Lillith didn't want to deal with a personal battle. Still, there were bigger things at stake - something Lillith had not forgotten.
"Carpie," she said to her friend with a deep intensity, "I'll protect you. I won't let them harm you or Tolan. I promise. I promise with my life."
Carpathia nodded in silence. The oath was real and, unfortunately, needed badly right now.
Still kneeling at Carpathia's side, Lillith turned her head to look up. Casan stood over the two Velorians with her hands on her hips. Her green eyes probed deep into Lillith's blue eyes, looking for something within the Velorian or perhaps just to confirm something that she had already found. Casan's ruggedly beautiful face was passive, without a trace of emotion until she slowly began to smile and held out her hand to Lillith.
"You are," Casan said evenly in perfect Velorian, "a proper warrior."
Lillith blinked twice, unsure what to do. Her mind wasn't telling her so she went with her heart and took Casan's hand in her own. It was an amazing moment that left Carpathia gaping in disbelief as Lillith stood to stand face to face and hand in hand with her enemy. An enemy showing a profound new respect for the young Velorian Protector. A respect learned in battle.
"You do not abandon your own." Casan said firmly. "Your loved one was never lost with a heart so brave as yours to take him home. You fight well, young one. You fight well and you fight with the honor of right and reason. You are....a proper warrior....and I am not diminished for having fought with you." Casan bowed slightly.
Lillith glanced nervously down at Carpathia who only responded with a shrug. Who knew what to do or say in such an unusual situation? There was a vague notion in Carpathia's mind that slowly developed into a coherent thought. She raised her hand and pointed at the proud red-haired woman who now looked down upon her.
"You are Section-5, aren't you." accused Carpathia. "Are you the one called Casan?" Casan's mouth formed a wry smile.
"T'aye," Casan confirmed, "I am Casan. I am all that exists of Section-5 now. The others are gone, yet I remain. I will always remain, Velorian."
"Skietra, Lillith!" exclaimed Carpathia. "She's Section-5! She's going to try to kill us!" Carpathia struggled to get to her feet, but Lillith placed her hand on Carpathia's shoulder and stopped her. Lillith smiled slightly and shook her head slowly.
"No, Carpie. I don't think that's why she's here." said Lillith calmly. Lillith looked toward Casan. "Is it."
"No." said Casan through a subtle, yet warm smile. "No, I do not wish you harm today. Today you are the enemy of my enemy."
"Enemy?" asked Lillith. "I thought you were partners or something."
"We were much more than partners, Lill'th'a Veloor. She was my savior, my doctor, my mentor, and my lover. She was all these things and more." Casan peered at the black glass on the canyon floor. "Much more."
"Then why did you destroy her?" asked Carpathia, still not sure about this woman. Casan's head snapped back in Carpathia's direction, her expression as hard and cold as her voice now sounded.
"She abandoned me. I do not accept that."
"On the ship?" asked Lillith.
"T'aye, leaving me made everything else between us nothing but lies. As I said," Casan's voice lowered as she looked back at the black spot, "I do not accept that."
Lillith and Carpathia glanced at each other as if asking the other for an opinion. Carpathia raised her eyebrows momentarily.
"Sorry `bout the leg." murmured Lillith as she stepped forward to Casan.
"It is an emblem of our battle. Yours was a good tactic, do not feel otherwise. The electromechanical assistance provides sufficient motion until I no longer require such a contrivance. It is merely temporary."
"How did you get all this stuff?" asked Lillith as she motioned upward at the great ship overhead.
"The Antwe is a good ship. I am Section-5. I rank even a ship's commander in the field." All three women looked at the solitary Arion Commander of the Antwe who noticed the sudden attention. Annoyed, he turned his back to them. "Of course, a little physical persuasion convinces even the least cooperative." Casan made a fist, curling her arm slightly to expand her massive bicep. "The Antwe Commander wanted to kill her just as much as I. I convinced him that I could give him his vengeance. A deal of sorts."
"So now you both got what you wanted."
"No," said Casan, traces of hatred filling her voice. "I will not have what I seek until I leave this place."
"Not until you leave her behind." murmured Lillith. Casan stepped closer.
"T'aye," Casan whispered. "You do understand. You fight for what is yours and for what is taken from you. You do not abandon, you do not toss away what feels for you."
Carpathia stood unsteadily.
"Look," said Carpathia, "you can have your revenge any time, the sooner the better. I'm the Protector of this planet and your ship violates my protection. You have to leave now before the Tolanai attack. Then I'll be forced to act."
"There are no Tolan Defense Forces in the area." remarked Casan cooly.
"There are no Tolan..."
Carpathia pushed by Casan without waiting to hear the repeated statement. Staggering toward the south entrance, Carpathia could see miles of undisturbed flatlands to the south. When she reached the entrance, she fell against the stone wall and looked around the corner toward the southwest.
Her heart broke.
The same flat landscape was filled with the wreckage of multiple Tolan Warhawks. Plumes of burning planes rose into the still air of the Tolan sky for miles into the distance. Everywhere, pieces of Warhawks littered the space between the burning wrecks. One still-burning wreckage of a Tolan Warhawk was not more than a few hundred feet away. On the red upswept wing, a large "1" could be seen. Carpathia's lips parted in shock, her eyes glistening with tears.
"How....many?" Carpathia whispered, her emotions tearing at her. "How many made it out?"
Casan stepped up to her side to answer without emotion.
"None of them."
The sound of those words slashed Carpathia's heart, forcing her to close her eyes to take the pain. A single tear ran slowly down her cheek.
"We saw the battle from low-orbit. So many brave warriors. Their attack interfered with A'ya and saved your life. They would not leave you."
Carpathia leaned against the cold stone as if it gave her solace.
"Please," Carpathia strained to speak through her tears. "Please leave me."
Casan bowed slightly as she backed away from the troubled Protector and joined Lillith watching from a respectful distance.
"Why do you Protectors become so emotionally attached to the species you protect? Carpathia is not Tolanai."
"She is today," said Lillith quietly as she watched the scene of a Protector cry openly over the dead of her planet. "Today more than ever."
Casan nodded slightly. She understood a little, but not deeply. That form of loyalty and love were not a part of her life. Perhaps someday, but not today. Her leg whirred as she turned toward Lillith, taking the young Velorian's hand once more.
"I leave you now, Lill'th'a Veloor, but listen to me. We must never meet again. One of us will cease to exist if that ever happens. Do you understand?"
"T'aye, I understand." Lillith was saddened by the thought. A quick nod from Casan was the only goodbye before she turned and marched quickly toward the shuttle. A loud snap of her fingers got the attention of the Arion Commander. Casan barked quick orders to him to embark which he grudgingly followed.
"Casan!" called out Lillith. Casan stopped immediately and turned around to face her. "Why must we be enemies?" The simple question made Casan smile.
"Because, little one, we have power. Only the powerless have no need for enemies."
Casan nodded, her eyes falling to the side for a moment of thought.
"Perhaps, but our universe is based on that lie and I have a place in it. So do you. Be watchful, Lill'th, be very watchful. Our next meeting will mean death."
The thrusters of the shuttle were already building in power when Casan reached the steps of the hatch. A final look toward the remains of A'ya and she stepped inside. The two halves of the hatch closed quickly as the shuttle raised from the surface, turned slowly in hover toward the south entrance, and accelerated toward the open sky.
The bright lights of the Arion ship extinguished simultaneously just as Lillith reached her friend to place her arm over her shoulders.
"Lean on me, Carpie. Let's head back."
Carpathia nodded once as she wiped away a tear. The loud bang of the Arion hangar door rumbled the canyon again as the huge thrusters of the ship came alive.
"Let's see these guys out of the atmosphere, Lillith. Then we can head home."
"Okay." agreed Lillith as they left the surface for the sky.
The Arion heavy cruiser, Antwe, rose slowly from the mesa as the two Velorians hovered nearby. The main engines came to life, remaining just above idle, more than enough power to propel the giant ship forward and upward toward the more familiar surroundings of Open Space.
The sun was well up in the Tolan sky and all traces of the morning fog had faded long ago. Small fires still persisted here and there, but most of the charred remnants of two Tolan Warhawks now cooled where they had settled in the sand along the northern coast of the Delvrin Province.
All that remained of the tower light was a mere twenty of the original sixty feet, measured from the sand to a high, jagged, and crushed edge. The wooden door remained closed and the remains of the building stood like a scarred island in a sea of rubble.
Slowly, the door swung open, its hinges squealing and creaking loudly. Into the sunlight stepped Arin Cao. Still shaken from his early morning experience, Arin Cao hesitated to go any further than the step before the door. He held his broken right arm with his left making it difficult to wipe away the blood that flowed from his forehead into his left eye. His hair was scorched in places, as was his clothing, but he lived and for that he felt grateful.
A great roar from the direction of the Beldrahar Canyons finally pulled Arin Cao from the step to investigate. A massive black spaceship rose into the hazy distant sky, escorted by two blonde beings flying arm-in-arm or so he thought there were two. Arin Cao doubted his eyes this day as he would doubt what may have happened in the darkness over his beach. In a way, he did not want to know. In a way, all he wanted to know was how he was going to return to the life he had before, before his world ended in a steel rain from a dark sky.
Arin Cao stood alone, exhausted and hurt, unsure what to do next. From the beach road, he heard voices calling out to him, but he could do no more than simply look toward the sounds. There were Tolanai soldiers and rescue medics coming toward him, stumbling through the sand to help him live, to help him grow to be a very old man. It was then that he heard a creaking followed by a bang from his home. The wooden door had been blown easily closed by the sea breeze and it now rattled freely against the latch.
"Well," he thought out-loud, "at least the door is fixed."
The Fallen continues....
and suggestions are always appreciated!