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The Secret Adventures of Glitterthorn: Wreck Of The Nemesis – Chapter 3

“Don’t think for one second that we’re just going to leave her out there!”, snaps Jonlan as we meet in a secondary control room to plan our next steps. “We have to go out…”

“Absolutely the worst thing we could do”, I intervene. “The ship is still some time from being operational, and it’ll be some time more if I end up working on my own again. All our efforts have to be directed towards restoring the ship’s functions.”

“You cannot be serious…!” Just the reaction I’d be expecting…

“I am”, I respond bluntly. “Totally. Recall your people’s findings concerning these ‘Juggernauts’. They are essentially walking tanks, intended purely for wholesale destruction – they aren’t designed to combat ground troops, let alone a single person. As long as your friend doesn’t engage them in combat, they won’t even acknowledge that she’s in amongst them.”

“You’re… right”, murmurs Jonlan. “Crazy, but right…”

The Squad Leader pauses, then adds a most pertinent question: “So, why are they coming here…?

“We’re a constant power source, something their world now lacks”, I reply. “They sense that, and like moths to a flame, they come.”

“As will the rest of them – the intelligent ones”, observes Jonlan.

“Eventually, but their intellects work against them in this situation”, I tell him. “The Juggernauts are acting on instinct, while their masters have forsaken instinct, and are now trying to wrap their ‘advanced’ minds around the impending annihilation of their world. Concentrating on trying to preserve what they had, they are losing their grip on what they have – a chance to survive, which we represent. By the time they realise the truth, we will, hopefully, be gone from here.”

“All three of us?”

“All three of us”, I answer. “Now, shall we get back to work?”

Jonlan doesn’t seem entirely convinced, but he gets on with the job, and that’s exactly what I need from him. He calls his team-mate, letting her know what we expect from her and the aliens, firstly the big ones, then the others who are yet to get involved. “If you see any other types advancing”, Jonlan tells her, “then holler, and we’ll see about getting you a quicker extraction…”

There’s a round-about threat if ever I heard one. Help me get my friend to safety or else, he’s saying – and I will. That still depends on getting the ship operational. “Nemesis, can you give us an approximate time before flight operations are possible, based on current attempts at restoring systems?”

“Projected completion of systems reactivation is estimated at three point two hours.”

But do we have enough time to reach completion…? “A number of local life-forms are approaching our present location”, I continue. “What would be their most likely arrival time?”

“Life-forms registering on peripheral sensor gird”, the computer responds. “Approach vector confirmed. At current speed, life-forms will reach this location in two point eight hours.”

That means we have a deficit of twenty four minutes. Almost half an hour before we can even attempt to launch, the Juggernaut stampede will arrive, and very likely crush us.

If they can catch us.

We need to reduce our workload – but what can we do without?. Both Jonlan and I have suits with life-support gear installed, so the relevant capabilities of the ship are hardly a priority – that’s a start, if not a very convincing one. “Nemesis, which systems can be left off the reactivation cycle in order to allow us to launch before the aliens arrive?”

The list isn’t a long one. Waste reclamation comes pretty high on that list, along with all but the most rudimentary navigational gear… it doesn’t look as though we can possibly trim down our reactivation sequence by anything like twenty four minutes. We are going to have no choice but to fight.

“What is the status of our weapons systems?”

“Weapons inventory as follows: Arc-plasma lance – inoperative; Forward turrets – minimal power, cool standby; Aft turrets – minimal power, cool standby; Forward pulse-phase torpedoes – inoperative; Aft pulse-phase torpedoes – inoperative…”

Torpedoes certainly sound like a bad idea, and the same can probably be said for the “arc-plasma lance”, whatever that is. Turrets are a much better option, but our field of fire will still be limited by the chasm in which the ship is currently trapped. Perhaps we can do something about that…

“We have an emergency situation developing”, I tell the ship’s computers. “We need to at least get the ship into interdimensional space – navigation and such we’ll worry about later. We are, however, going to come under attack soon. Can we get the ship level, so that we can make use of the weapons turrets, to defend ourselves long enough to make the dimension jump? Both current crew have access to their own independent life-support systems.”

“Gravitic lifters are designed only for launch operations, and cannot be employed for extended periods…”

“Only a few minutes, I’m hoping. Now, can we defend ourselves long enough to carry out a transition to interdimensional space?”

“Primary propulsion power can be redirected to gravitic systems and weapons. Defensive force fields will be limited…”

We have a chance. The odds aren’t exactly in our favour, but we can do this – if we leave our energy expenditure to the very last minute. That makes this a bit more close a race than I’d like, but that’s how this one is going to go…

Fate seems prepared to snap its jaws shut, but fate and I have a… complex relationship. I’ve faced the worst it has to offer, and even that wasn’t enough to stop me…

- o ( O ) o -

With one hour to go, our preparations look to be on course for an explosive last few minutes, when we get an unexpected interruption, courtesy of Jonlan’s team-mate, Mishihara. “I can see you!”, she cries out. “Damn, what is that thing…?”

“Our ticket out of here, if we can get it working”, replies Jonlan. “Now get in here, and lend us a hand!”

There’s a look of unquenchable wonder on Kate Mishihara’s face when she comes aboard, and takes off her helmet to breathe fresher air than her suit has allowed her over the last few hours. She seems entirely out of place, her head peeping out from inside a suit that’s less advanced technology than Jonlan’s gear, but a scar on her neck that could be an acid burn says she has seen her fair share of action against an hostile eco-system, dedicated to imposing itself upon the earth my guests call home. “Damn, this is pretty sweet”, she murmurs, looking around while Jonlan tries to get her armour back into more proper working order. “So what is this thing – some kind of submarine…?”

“An ‘interdimensional submersible’”, explains Jonlan. “It ran aground, apparently.”

The woman’s gaze shifts to me, and the look of amazement persists. “And who’s your… friend?”

“Agent Red, Miss”, I respond. “I have salvage rights…”

“I don’t think so”, says the Earth-woman, her mood shifting abruptly. “We outnumber you, and I’m claiming this vessel for Earth…!”

I place a fingertip on her scorched and dented breastplate. Just enough force to knock over a house of cards is sufficient to topple her over, her armour’s mechanisms frozen by an electromagnetic micro-pulse delivered by my glove making contact with her suit. Before she can cry out in outrage, I have a high-heeled foot on her throat, and an energy whip crackling on the deck next to her ear.

My ship, my rules”, I declare. “Either you abide by my commands – in which case I will guarantee to get you home – or you can go back outside… and that’s not exactly going to be good for your health. Not with… how many Juggernauts out there?”

“At-at least twenty”, replies Mishihara. “Me, I’d say closer to thirty – some were hidden by the dust they were kicking up.”

“Lieutenant, please”, begs Jonlan. “We don’t have time to argue…!”

“I’ll allow you to download the technical diagrams, and any other data you want”, I tell Mishihara, “but that’s my final offer. Play by my rules, or… play with your ‘little’ friends outside…”

Mishihara tries to move, and finds her armour is still powerless metal and plastic composite. “I’d offer you my hand, but it won’t surprise you that I can’t”, she says. “I agree to your terms – but with one condition.”

I release my deadlock over her armour, and Jonlan and I help her up. “And what might your condition be?”, I ask her as she finds her feet again.

The Lieutenant glances downward. “You just have to tell me where you got those boots…

Thirty minutes to go, and we’re close to being ready. Mishihara is going to man the weapons, stationed in a subsidiary control room with her suit’s visual display system hooked up to the targeting systems of the four weapons turrets, two in front of the vertical “fin”, two mounted on the short “wings” at the rear of the ship. Jonlan stands ready to control of the anti-gravity motors, once he’s finished helping me with the final preparations, whilst our launch will be under my guidance, along with general damage control.

“Dimension core powering up”, report the ship’s computers. “Redirecting power from environmental maintenance, and all other non-essential systems.”

“Go to your own life-support”, I instruct my colleagues. “We need to save every scrap of power and processing capacity that we can…”

With fifteen minutes until our systems are ready to carry out our escape manoeuvres, the computers pick up ground tremors, feeding through the targeting systems. A few moments later, some dislodged rubble tumbles onto our hull, sending harsh, rumbling echoes up and down the internal corridors – but it’s the silence after that sends a chill down your spine.

I’m closing up the last of the systems access panels when, at launch minus nine minutes, the quiet is shattered by the voice of Mishihara. “I have a target!”, she calls out. “Cresting the ridge to starboard…!”

“Our starboard aft turret is powered up and ready”, I tell her. “It’s all yours.”

I think I hear a mutter, a soft utterance that might be a prayer… no, the words “This is for Miki“, then there are three distant, thunderous sounds as the Lieutenant opens fire. I link my head-up display to the ship’s weapons, and I see what Mishihara sees: a massive monstrosity, almost as wide as it is tall, multiple eyes of armoured stalks, four short, powerful arms ending in blunt pincers, an energy pulse flying wide to the left, then another low to the right, before the third shot strikes the beast squarely in the chest – and the roar of pain is something you can almost hear through the hull.

A second volley is more fruitful. The first shot hits the giant in the chest again, causing it to stagger backwards. The second takes advantage of that momentary disorientation, and blasts the head clean off the Juggernaut. The monster collapses into the dust stirred up by its approach, and there’s a curious, strangled sound over the comm-link; part an exclamation of triumph, part the sound of someone choking on their own tears…

… and once again, and this time I’m sure of what I hear, the words “This is for Miki…!”

It’s crazy to think that the following calm is the end of it, but two minutes of peace is two minutes of peace, with no drains on our power reserves. All too soon, battle is joined once more as two more Juggernauts come clambering up the ravine towards us, pincers tearing car-sized chunks of rock from the walls of the rift as they climb – right into the line of fire of the forward turrets.

The first of the living war-machines takes several rapid-fire energy-charges directly in the face. Wounded, blinded, it loses its grip, and falls into the path of the Juggernaut behind. Both go tumbling down the ravine, and out into the air as they go bouncing down the mountain-side.

Chalk up another two for “Miki” – clearly someone deserving to be avenged with blood and fire…

To our left and right, the ridges come alive with Juggernauts, several at once. Mishihara doesn’t lose her focus, commanding both rear turrets at once, and she hardly wastes a shot. I honestly couldn’t have done better myself; the Lieutenant is where she needs to be, just as I’m where I need to be, my razor-keen mind and senses tying together the last connections needed to make use ready for flight. Everything else lies in Squad Leader Jonlan’s hands, but when he speaks next, he does not have good news to deliver.

“I have another energy signature on my board”, he reports. “Something under the desert. Trying to resolve its point of origin…”

“It’s a ship”, growls Mishihara. “It has to be!”

“But we destroyed their fleet, their ability to create more ships!”, exclaims Jonlan.

I know – I was there”, replies the Lieutenant. “I don’t believe it either – they shouldn’t be able to launch anything!”

I send power from my suit to the main sensor grid… and there it is: a shallow, dome-like object, rising from a newly-formed pit in the desert, trailing what seem to be great roots. This appears to be something the defenders of Earth had not prepared for – something older, perhaps forgotten, maybe dating back beyond even the memories of the alien invaders…

“Looks like a battleship”, gasps Jonlan. “But what could possibly be powering it? The power core is dead…!

I’m sure Earth scientists will debate this matter for years – but first, someone has to actually survive to get home to tell the tale. “We have to get out of here” are quite redundant words, but I utter them all the same. “Computer, we need to launch as soon as possible!”

“Dimension core is at seventy seven per cent of critical level”, the ship responds. “Time to critical level, three point one minutes.”

“Do we have sufficient endurance on the gravitic drives to stay airborne until then?”, I ask.

“Affirmative.”

“Mister Jonlan, take us up!”, I shout over the comm-link. “Lieutenant, you’re about to get every weapon we have available – make your shots count…!”

The ship’s nose rises, and the deck tilts beneath us, the gravity generators donating all their power to the gravitic lifters. Slowly, the Nemesis rises from her resting place, bringing all her weapons to bear on the Juggernauts massing around us, and Mishihara does not disappoint.

All the time, however, that great, ominous disk is moving closer, the ash of ages falling from its edges, and the great “roots” dangling from the centre of its underside. Its advance is oddly hypnotic – I think I feel something, although not that sensation from before. A psychic aura permeates throughout the entire vessel, a single presence, but not one entered into freely, for desperation and the threat of extinction has forced the aliens to undertake what is, to individuals like us, unthinkable.

The last alien warship is being powered by the psychic essences – the minds, if you like – of thousands of their kind, sacrificed to achieve flight. A race burns, in the cauldron of its own need to survive…

The Juggernauts fall back, retreating to allow all that remains of their kind to achieve whatever fate awaits them – they either live on, or die, but first, they must feed.

“Eighty seven per cent…”

The alien craft starts to pick up speed, the “roots” starting to come to life as an upside-down forest of tentacles. “Computer, status of other weapons”, I enquire. “Do we have torpedoes?”

“Projectile systems disabled” is the reply. “Power available for diversion from turret weapons to arc-plasma lance system.”

I call up the specifications of this particular weapons system, and find myself pleasantly surprised. Here may be our salvation, but here, too, there’s a price. The Arc-Plasma Lance should only be used with extreme caution, as its use may cause unshielded systems to experience temporary shut-down. These systems include communications, life support, gravitic lifters…

“I’m taking us out of here”, I inform the others. “Mishihara, stand down your weapons – we’ll need the power.”

Warning – gravitic lifters are not designed for extended atmospheric flight operations“, the computers announce, but we have no choice but to gain altitude. Every second, every metre, could mean the difference between a lucky escape, and absolute and spectacular disaster.

“Ninety one per cent…”

The Nemesis soars, even though she was never intended for such “extreme” manoeuvres. The alien ship mirrors our actions, and surpasses them, being more suited to flight through air – which is exactly what I need them to do.

The computers report “Ninety three per cent”, and the alien vessel picks up speed once again, moving in to engage us…

“Prime the arc-lance”, I instruct the ship. The window for firing is very narrow, and closing rapidly. Hopefully, I won’t end up “clipping our wings”.

“Ninety five per cent…”

“All stations, brace for firing!”, I shout over the comm-link. “Hold onto something…!”

The visual displays flicker… the lights dim. The energy conductors lining the firing chamber running along half the length of the ship roar into life, and launch all the power we can spare at the alien ship, in the form of a beam of solar-hot energy… including the power currently flowing through the gravitic lifters. Briefly, I see the fruits of our sacrifice as the beam punches clean through the heart of the disk-ship, and then, together, we start to fall.

“Ninety seven per cent…”

The great expanse of the dark ash-desert fills my view-screen. In one corner, an altitude gauge changes so quickly, the digits threaten to blur into illegibility. Within seconds, we are falling vertically, and possibly too fast for us to jump into interdimensional space before impact.

Unless…

“Open the blast shutter for the arc-lance”, I instruct the Nemesis. “The air that’ll pass through it has to generate some power…!”

“Ninety eight per cent… ninety nine…”

The dark desert, waiting to engulf us, suddenly becomes bright. Instead of hitting ash-sand, and ancient basalt beneath, we slide effortlessly from one reality to another – from the “real” world to somewhere else entirely, a “somewhere” that is also… everywhere. The Interdimensional.

“It… worked?“, I mutter to myself – but I should know better than to ever doubt myself. “It worked.

In the background, there’s another voice. Over and over, Mishihara repeats her litany, softly: “This is for Miki… this is for Miki…”

I have my ship, we all have our lives, and someone has revenge. All in all, it’s been an acceptable day, on the vaguely annoying side of good. Right now, that suits me just fine.

Coming Next: The Epilogue…

TSAG101-3 (4/100)
For Gerry…