Chapter Five

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Chapter Five –  Flight For Help

“No wonder no one has heard from the mine in weeks, sir,” said the sergeant, as he and the commander searched the ruins. Shansur’s recent field promotion to commander still made him a little uncomfortable. Being called ‘sir’ by his old friend Jansha took some getting used to. They had been through a lot together during their time in the service of the emperor. They had saved each other’s skin more than once. In a tight spot, you rely on the man next to you to act instinctively to protect his fellow soldier. Shansur and Jansha in the past four years became closer than brothers.

“Sir, over here—two survivors,” the third member of the team, a young trooper, said, waving his disrupter rifle.

“Hmm, they’re Nephile. Must have been prisoners here,” Shansur replied. “Are they dead, sergeant?” he asked, prodding the smaller Nephile with his fusion pistol.

“They’re breathing, sir,” Jansha replied, examining the suits for prison identity marks.

“Sir, they should have tattoos on their necks,” the young trooper pointed out.

“He’s right! They all have bar code identification, sir,” Jansha agreed.

“Trooper, go back to the ship and bring me the bar code reader—quickly now, on the double!” Shansur barked.

While the young trooper ran back to the ship, the two friends sat on a rock a little distance away from the two unconscious Nephile. “That should take him at least two hours,” Jansha laughed, “These damned suits were never designed for ease of movement.” Because of the design of the Drana helmets, Jansha could not easily see the grin on Shansur’s face from where he sat.

“Remember when we were his age?” Shansur smiled, turning to face Jansha.

“Seems a long time ago now,” Jansha replied, shifting his disrupter rifle on his lap. The two Nephile began to stir as consciousness returned. “Get to your feet Nephile scum!” he ordered.

“What happened here?” asked Shansur.

“A terrible explosion down in the mine, commander, that’s what happened!” Seti spat the words out.

“Insolent dog,” Jansha yelled, hitting Seti between the shoulder blades with the butt of his disrupter rifle.

“Easy sergeant, remember our orders. We have to take anyone found alive back for interrogation.” Shansur continued his investigation. “What are your names; don’t worry, my sergeant won’t hit you again,” he assured them.

“My name is Seti, sir, and he is Apis.” Seti replied, still wincing from the blow.

“Where did you get the suits from?” Jansha growled.

“Fortunately for us we were cleaning the guard’s barracks when the explosion destroyed the mine, sir,” Apis said. “Everybody else was on duty in the mine. The fireball from the explosion incinerated everything in its path as it climbed to the surface. We put these suits on and ran for the stairwell.”

“That’s right. The next thing we knew we’re waking up here sir,” Seti chipped in.

~~~

The young trooper was just leaving the ship when Shansur and Jansha returned with Seti and Apis. “Put these two in the brig. Whatever you do, don’t let them out of your sight trooper,” Jansha ordered.

Shansur climbed into the pilot’s seat and prepared for take-off. Jansha slipped himself into the co-pilot’s seat as the ship lifted off. A course was laid in for Nazuur. Once the ship left the planet’s atmosphere Shansur switched the autopilot on. At sub-light speed the ship would be in orbit around the planet in fourteen days from now. Plenty of time to question their guests some more.

While the young trooper’s back was turned, Seti began working on the door mechanism while Apis kept watch. Reaching inside his suit to his shirt pocket, Seti pulled out a micro-cutter. He knew it would come in handy someday when he had picked it up in the hanger days earlier. He soon had the panel off and went to work inside the mechanism. Apis felt the door to the brig move with the faintest of clicks, as Seti released the electronic bolt. Apis quickly overpowered the young trooper. When the unfortunate young man regained consciousness in a few hours’ time being locked inside the brig would be nothing compared to being punished for his inattention.

~~~

With Seti training the trooper’s disrupter rifle on the commander, Apis seized the sergeant by the scruff of his neck and hauled him backwards over the seat, dropping him down the steps to the bay below.

“Stay at the controls if you please, commander,” Seti insisted, pressing the disrupter’s muzzle into the back of Shansur’s neck to emphasize the point. Apis locked Jansha in the brig and returned to the flight deck. Having relieved Shansur of his fusion pistol, he took over while Seti checked the course and destination, just as Khan had instructed back in the hub.

Nazuur was a ‘Star Class’ strike base at the edge of the empire. Seti scrolled through the information on the screen in front of him. The movement schedule soon caught his eye. The list included ship arrivals and departures. And yes, there was one hyper-drive ship in orbital dock! She was in for an overhaul of her collision avoidance systems, not due to be put back into service for at least two weeks! Apis pushed Shansur into the brig along with the others and welded the door shut. There was nothing to do now until they arrived at the orbital station.

~~~

The arrival of another ‘Denash’ class cargo-ship went unnoticed. Its ferry shuttle joined dozens of others as they moved from one part of the station to another. No one took the least bit of notice when it docked with the ‘Minaas’ class hyper-drive ship. However, when the ship left dock without clearance, all hell broke loose!

Following Manouf’s precise instructions to the letter, Apis fed the coordinates for Opaal in the Suron system and hit the execute button. Before the Drana garrison realized what was happening, the ship leapt into hyperspace and disappeared beyond sensor range. At hyper-speed, they would be within communication range in less than three days. Even if the Drana found their drive trail, the course Manouf had plotted would keep the pursuit ships busy for a month or more as they travelled back and forth trying to follow the myriad of way points.

From the reports sent by my cousins, the cautious welcome from Chief Minister Degan over the com-link, once they were in range of Opaal, did not come as too much of a surprise. Lemas had filled them in on the background of the Suraa. They were distant cousins of Lemas’ own race, the Andrasians. There was not much to tell except that the Suraa were loyal to the Alliance, tending to stay out of others’ affairs. The one thing Lemas emphasized was, “don’t ever take them for fools. While they’re not an aggressive people, backed into a corner they’ll fight like demons by whatever means necessary.”

When Degan heard of the Drana intrusion into Alliance space, he was livid. Jalnuur, while uninhabitable, was still well within the Suron system, therefore undisputed territory. He listened as Seti told him about the illegal Negan mine and to what use the Drana put the final product. Now they had his complete attention! Degan invited them to stay with him while he contacted the Alliance and the rest of the Suron system Chief Ministers. This time the empire had gone too far!

~~~

Next time – Chapter Six

Chapter Four

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Chapter Four – Fight For Life

The communications officer was puzzled. “Captain, there’s no response from the planet.” “Try them again, they’re probably asleep,” said the pilot, as he placed the ship in orbit above the planet. “This is cargo-ship Nishta requesting landing clearance—respond.” The receiver remained silent. “Perhaps the storms on the surface have destroyed the antenna,” the pilot offered. “Let’s give them a couple of hours. They already know we’re here; we’ve been spotted by their automatic sensor system,” he continued, confirming his observation by pointing to a conspicuous flashing red light on the console above his head. “Better tell our passengers we have to delay landing—blame it on the storms.”

Commander Naja was an intolerant man. The news of the delayed landing made him more twitchy than usual. It was bad enough he had this duty thrust upon him; now he was trapped above this godforsaken planet with the scum of the empire for guards, and that damned Khaz breathing all over him! Why the emperor put up with the Khaz was beyond his ordered military mind. They achieved nothing and stunk up the place! Having to take orders from one of them went against everything Naja believed in.

~~~

Belak was relishing the thought of his new ‘Command’. His loathing for Sobek and Serket was well known among our Khaz high council. His career up until now had been slowed by Sobek’s rapid rise in the ranks. And of course where he went Serket tagged along, basking in Sobek’s glory. Belak could not wait to see the look in Sobek’s eyes when he made him hand over control! Sobek could do nothing! The order was quite specific—the mine production under his administration was unsatisfactory. Progress reports of the mine’s production had gone through Belak’s hands ‘with alterations’ before being delivered to the Imperial Command. He had waited a long time for a chance to put Sobek in his place. His black eyes gleamed in the red light of the cargo-ship’s cavernous belly. The ‘new miners’ would be glad to get out of the cramped hot containers in which they had been locked up for the last fifteen days. Perhaps the mine was not so bad in comparison…

~~~

Naja ordered the pilot to land. The sooner his feet are on the ground the better! The ship landed unchallenged and moved slowly into the hanger. Belak and his assistant, Oktek, scurried off to their private turbo-lift while Naja’s guards herded the miners out of the cargo-ship and onto the hanger floor. Belak and Oktek entered the turbo-lift and descended to the first level. The guards marched the miners towards the stairwell leading down to the second level. Belak opened the control room door and they quickly locked themselves in. The surveillance monitors stared blankly back at them. There was no movement throughout the entire complex. Where was everyone? Naja led the way to the dormitories where his guards released the miners. Tomorrow they would begin the first day of their life sentence. Leaving two guards at the entrance to the dormitories, Naja ordered his sergeant to get the men settled in the barracks, and then went back up the stairs to report to Belak.

As he reached the first level stairwell, he heard a muffled explosion. Naja hurried towards the control room. The force of the explosion had blown the door across the passage, embedding it in the wall opposite. Smoke billowed out from inside the control room. Everything in the confines of the room was incinerated. Belak’s first ‘Command’ had ended before it had begun. A second, violent explosion in the hanger above made Naja jump as it shook dust from the panels of the ceiling above him.

The crew of the Nishta had gone to the lounge on the mezzanine floor for a well-earned break while they waited for their passengers to board for the return journey. When Naja broke through the debris at the entrance to the hanger, choking clouds of smoke rose from the wrecked mezzanine, which had now come to rest on the cargo-ship, smashing it beyond repair. The explosion had weakened the hanger’s force field. The air inside the hanger was leaking out into the poisonous atmosphere of the planet. Soon the air supply of the entire mining complex would be depleted. The hanger floor shook violently beneath Naja’s feet. Deep in the bowls of the mine, a chain reaction was under way. The unfortunate miners and their guards were the first to be incinerated, as a fireball expanded through the dormitories and out into the turboshaft. The flames fed on the Negan dust, setting the entire mine on fire. The molecular charges had done their work well…

~~~

Akhen and Khan watched the glow on the horizon from the observation lounge on the roof of the hub. The mine would eventually burn itself out. In a few days, a recon team would be sent to investigate. Now was the time to revise the original plan and spread the rebellion to other parts of the empire.

Seti sat up in bed and ate the meal Iset had brought to him. She had taken charge of his welfare as soon as he was released from the infirmary. He had to admit he enjoyed the attention. It was nice having someone running round after him. He lay back and closed his eyes, drifting off to sleep.

Apis knocked on Iset’s door. Akhen’s cousin was a gentle giant of a man, loved by all who knew him. Iset beckoned him in and took him to Seti’s bed. “Wake up you lazy dog!” he barked. Seti opened his eyes. For a brief moment, he thought he was back in the mine. “You’re well, friend?” Apis inquired, patting Seti on the shoulder. His heavy handed touch made Seti yelp in pain. Iset pushed Apis aside as she checked Seti’s shoulder. Satisfied that all was in order she left the two friends together and went into the kitchen.

“You should try this life sometime,” said Seti, grinning. “You would love it.”

Apis frowned as he looked at his little friend’s scars, which were healing nicely thanks to the medics and Iset’s tender loving care. “Not for me,” he said. “I’m a warrior; no time for such things.”

“You’re scared, aren’t you?”

“Nonsense! I’m scared of no man.”

“Not men – women.” Apis avoided Seti’s stare, embarrassed by the way the visit to his friend was being turned against him. Seti swung out of the bed and hugged Apis. “You big idiot, you know I was only joking!” From inside the kitchen Iset could hear the laughter. It made her happy that Seti was almost back to his old self again.

“As soon as you’re fit,” Apis continued, “Akhen has a job for us. How long will it be before you’re once again annoying everyone?”

“Tomorrow soon enough for you?” Seti asked, as he looked for the whereabouts of his clothes.

“I’ll come and get you in the morning—farewell,” Apis replied as he left.

~~~

The next day Seti and Apis found Akhen in the hanger inspecting the interceptor. “With a little bit of work this could be converted for use in space,” Akhen muttered to himself. “Hey Seti, Apis – get over here!”

“What’s the job, cousin?” Apis asked. They followed Akhen over to a workbench covered in star charts. “The nearest planet from here is two days away by cargo ship,” Akhen said, pointing out its position.

“Kallorn – never heard of it,” said Seti, as he searched the work bay.

“It’s in the Linau system on the outer limit of the empire. Which means this planet we are on is just outside!”

“So what?” Seti’s interest in planets was practically non-existent.

“So, the empire has no legal claim to this planet or any other outside its border. Nagesh stated as much when he seized power!”

“I still say so what?” Seti replied as he pocketed something shiny.

“I don’t understand what you’re on about either, cousin,” Apis added as his brow furrowed.

Akhen sighed, and taking a long breath, he began to explain the situation in simple language. “Since Nagesh became emperor, the Empire has never expanded. In fact, the opposite is true. It was reduced in size to keep the peace with the Planetary Alliance to put an end to the wars along its borders. After the Drana defeat on Earth in the Milky Way system, in my great grandfather’s time, planets outside the empire from all the neighbouring galaxies got together and formed the Planetary Alliance. So here’s my point! Does the Planetary Alliance know the Empire is illegally mining here inside its sovereign territory?” Akhen directed his question toward Seti, having grown more exasperated with him than his cousin. Turning to Apis he said, “You wanted to know what the job is. I’ll tell you. I want you and Seti to travel to the nearest planet within the Alliance and find out if they are aware of what’s going on here!”

Apis looked at the chart. “But Akhen, the nearest is at least forty-five light years away. We don’t have a ship capable of hyper speed to get us there.”

“Even if we did, neither of us are pilots,” Seti frowned; now beginning to look worried.

“With hyper-ships you don’t need to be a pilot. All you need are the coordinates for your departure and destination. The rest is taken care of by the on board computers,” Akhen said, with a grin.

“Oh no – no way!” Seti’s eyes grew wider as he realized what Akhen wanted them to do. “You want me to steal a hyper-ship from under the noses of the Drana? You’ve been breathing Negan dust for far too long! Anyway, how are we supposed to get to a Drana base that has one?”

“Thanks, Seti, I knew I could count on you. Apis will go with you as your backup and bodyguard,” Akhen rolled up the charts. “We’ll work out the details tomorrow. See you at dinner tonight – thanks.” With that, Akhen disappeared down the stairwell.

“Apis for the god’s sakes say something!” Seti moaned. “How are we going to get off this planet, and more to the point, why us?” Apis sat in silence, gloomily looking around the hanger. He loved his cousin like a brother, but there were limits! What he was asking of them was suicide.

A spontaneous round of applause broke out as they entered the dining hall that evening. Apis nervously pushed Seti ahead of him. Khan came over and shook their hands. Raman insisted they sit at his table. While Manouf went to collect their food trays, Lemas poured them drinks. Nefer kissed them both on the cheek, making Apis blush to the amusement of everyone. Iset wrapped her arms around Seti’s neck and hugged him.

“A toast to our two heroes,” said Hoetep, raising his glass. Akhen caught the murderous look from Seti’s eyes and smiled. Now they could not back down even if they wanted to!

Chapter Five tomorrow.

😉

Chapter Three

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Chapter Three – Preparations

With the mine now in their hands Akhen and Khan’s plan changed rapidly. The cargo-ship was going to arrive in a couple of days’ time. How to defeat the fresh guards once they get here was the priority now. Hoetep and Raman were in the communications room monitoring all the broadcast channels: Raman sat back in his chair and dozed while Hoetep scanned the bands. Switching the receiver back to standby, he decided to copy Raman. Soon both men were dozing in the warm room.

The receiver suddenly burst into life. “Cargo-ship Hantha requesting clearance for landing. Come back?”

Raman leapt into action. “Recognition code,” he ordered, giving Hoetep’s chair a kick.

“Sending code now,” the pilot replied.

“Who are they?” asked Hoetep. “Check the code—quickly now!”

“Found it—it’s the arms payload,” Raman replied.

“How many in its crew?” Hoetep asked, anxiously.

“How should I know? Look it up!”

“Three — pilot, engineer and load master.” Hoetep replied with a hint of relief in his voice.

“Clearance to land granted Hantha,” Raman transmitted.

Hoetep pressed the intercom switch to alert the rest of the rebels. “Attention, the cargo-ship is on final approach.”

 ~~~

The load master opened the hatch and climbed out of the ship. He looked around for someone to give him a hand but the hanger was deserted. “Damned guards, never about when there is work to be done,” he muttered. He climbed aboard the power loader and began removing the arms consignment from the belly of the ship, while the engineer began his routine maintenance checks, and the pilot carried out his prelaunch procedure. With the last container stacked on the hanger floor the engineer caught sight of some Drana guards marching over from the other side of the hanger.

A sergeant came over to the load master while the other guards stood at ease beside the ship’s hatch. “Manifest!” he barked.

The load master handed it over. The sergeant handed it to one of the guards to check the consignment. Inside the cargo-ship, the pilot did not notice the guard behind him. The butt of Mentep’s disrupter broke his neck. Akhen and Khan quickly overpowered the engineer and load master, and Manouf threw them into a holding cell withing the hanger.

The containers were opened revealing their contents. Mobile disrupter cannon, laser mines, plasma grenades, disrupter rifles, fusion pistols, and enough explosive charges of various types with detonation devices to blow the entire mine complex apart.

“Khan, take a look at this. What is it?”

He sprinted over and gently took the explosive from Akhen’s hand. “Make sure that no one touches any of these charges!” he said, carefully placing it back inside its shielded container, replacing the lid to seal it.

“Why—they’re safe without the detonator, right?”

“Not this one; it’s molecular!” Khan answered, pushing him away.

“What’s so special about it then?” Akhen asked when they were on the other side of the hanger.

“It’s highly unstable! Yes, it’s safe while shielded in its container. But once removed, it begins to alter its molecular structure and take on the appearance of whatever surface it comes into contact with.” Seeing the look on Akhen’s face, Khan grinned and reassured him by saying, “don’t worry; it needs to adjust to its new environment first.”

“How long does it take?” Akhen asked, quickly rubbing his hands on his Drana uniform.

“About a minute—you’re in no danger,” Khan chuckled. “And no, it doesn’t need a detonator,” he added. “Once the molecular change is complete, it lies dormant, and unseen until any life form comes too close. Then, boom!”

“Can it be detected?”

“No,” Khan said.

“Then how do you know if it’s around?”

“You don’t. When we conquered a city or town, we use to use them to make it uninhabitable for a very long time after we had moved on.”

~~~

The meeting in the hanger was Nefer’s idea. Since the takeover, she had been busy checking their inventory. Now, with the addition of the weapons plus the ship, someone was needed to coordinate supplies, and Nefer was the right person for the job. “What do we do with the cargo-ship?” asked Raman. “We need to hide it for now, but where?”

“What about the abandoned experimental facility south of here?” Khan suggested.

“What facility?” Assan enquired, from the back of the gathering.

“The one set up when Negan ore was first discovered. It hasn’t been used in centuries. It was moth-balled soon after mining began. There is a connecting turbo tunnel on the first level. I don’t know if it still works but it’s worth checking out.”

“Mentep, Kasim, take a recon detail to the turbo tunnel,” Akhen ordered, “If it still works, check the facility out and report back.”

“On our way,” Kasim replied, choosing the recon team from among the assembled miners.

“Until they report back, there’s nothing to do now, but wait,” Nefer added. Amunat stepped forward and announced Mintaka had just died. She had one bit of good news from the infirmary, however. Seti was making a full recovery.

~~~

After the mine was sealed off from the rest of the complex, the quality of the foul dust-laden air improved in a few short days. The rebels now lived on the first level in luxury compared to the dormitories in the mine. The infirmary had been set up in the former Khaz quarters. The old animosity between the Nephile and Drana had vanished now they were one people. The miners from other parts of the empire were happy to obey orders from their self-appointed leaders, Akhen and Khan. In the coming days, the two warriors would be tested to absolute breaking point.

~~~

Mentep leant against the tunnel wall. With no turbo-car available, the recon unit was forced to explore the tunnel on foot. They had been walking for hours and needed to rest. Lemas opened his pack and handed out some food bars. Raman and Assan still could not bring themselves to sit beside the Andrasian. Before his arrest, Lemas was a farmer. Like many others, he questioned the increasing demands placed on the Andrasian population. More than once, he had brought himself to the attention of the Drana authorities in the capital city. Branded a troublemaker, he was subjected to a quick trial and imprisonment for life in the Negan mine. Lemas was the first non-Nephile to speak to Mentep. The two men soon became friends in the harsh world of the mine. Lemas’ practicality and problem solving skills made him many friends among the miners. Despite the new circumstances they found themselves in, Drana like Raman, still classed Andrasians as inferior beings.

The team pressed on along the tunnel. After five tiring days, they arrived at a junction in the ancient system. While the rest of the group took a well-earned break, Assan went off on his own to explore the junction. He returned a little while later with good news. He had found a large maintenance workshop. The energy system that tapped into the planet’s core was still supplying power to the workshop and turbo tunnels, and there was a turbo-car at one end of the workshop. Lemas inspected it and reported that it was still serviceable. Raman checked the storage areas at the back of the workshop while Assan and Mentep searched the upper levels. In the living quarters, Assan discovered sealed food packs that were still edible. In the workshop manager’s private quarters, Mentep found a cache of weapons and communications equipment. Back in the workshop, they loaded their finds aboard the turbo-car. With Lemas at the controls, the car moved out into the tunnel. In less than an hour, they reached the experimental facility.

Covering several hectares, the facility divided into quadrants. The Drana scientists and their support staff had lived in the north east quadrant. The northwest housed research laboratories while the southeast and southwest quadrants contained maintenance and storage areas. All of them were linked to a central hub by communication tunnels. The hub was the only part of the structure visible on the surface of the planet. At the top was a large landing bay and hanger, sealed off from the elements by a force field with an observation lounge on the roof. The first of the lower levels housed the administration centre. The second contained accommodation and a medical unit. The third was the terminus and workshop for the turbo-car system.

Mentep and Raman went to investigate the hanger while Assan and Lemas explored the rest of the levels. There were two old ‘Ghanis’ class cargo-ships parked in maintenance bays, plus a ‘Mantha’ interceptor, which should have been in a museum. Raman investigated the mezzanine at the back of the hanger while Mentep checked out the rooms off the main floor. When the facility had been abandoned centuries earlier, everything was left where it stood. In one of the rooms off the hanger, Mentep found a surface crawler used for maintenance outside the building. Its pressurized cab was still in good order. Raman found enough spare parts to maintain the old cargo ships down on the hanger deck, plus a few for the interceptor.

Assan and Lemas started their exploration on the admin level, finding nothing of immediate use. On the second level, inside the accommodation area, they found personal items left behind by the former occupants. In the medical unit was a fully functional operating theatre and recovery ward. Back on the terminus level, they explored another well-stocked workshop. There would be more than enough room for all the miners in the facility. The sooner they moved everyone here the better!

~~~

Khan and Akhen listened as Mentep, Raman, Assan, and Lemas delivered their individual reports of their exploration. Moving the entire community via the turbo-car would be a long operation. One of the former Drana guards named Qetesh knew how to fly the cargo-ship, so he and two of the miners were put in charge of ferrying people to the new base. Akhen had been busy while Mentep’s team had been away. The mine had been booby-trapped from the lowest level up to the processing area with molecular charges. The turbo-lift was packed with explosives with a contact detonator on its roof, and sent to the bottom of the mine. The turbo-car tunnel was blocked. The last area to be booby-trapped was the first level, with particular attention focused on the control room and accommodation areas.

As the cargo ship gained altitude on its final run to its new home, Akhen and Khan watched the mine grow smaller, then vanish from view. The new guards were in for the shock of their lives when they arrived a few hours later…

~~~

Just fifty-nine more chapters to go now folks😉

Part Two of Chapter Two

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Rebellion – part two

Sobek, the senior Khaz in charge of production, sat in his command center on the first level looking at the security monitors. His senses told him something was not right, yet all appeared normal. His large black eyes remained expressionless. The Drana guards noticed the fetid stench from his frail grey body. (To be in the same room with a Khaz when we are worried is an experience definitely to be avoided!)

Our species make up for our physical weakness by planting fear into the minds of others. But, of all the miners, the Drana and Nephile prisoners were the only two species my brothers were unable to influence, so other means of persuasion were used. Spontaneous crucifixions and the copious use of discharge whips, plus expulsion onto the planet’s frozen surface, for now kept them in check. Since Sobek had assumed the role of leader of the Khaz guards, things had been tightened up. His predecessor Nemet had been too soft! The stench was now so bad Sobek’s two guards quietly left the room. Guarding one of us was just as easy from outside the door!

~~~

Hoetep had been busy clearing the debris in the ever-growing cavern on level eight. Watching the guards’ movements while he threw the heavy rocks into a large trolley, he noticed the security cameras were unusually active. As the cavern expanded, places to dodge out of view for brief moments were rapidly decreasing. Looking for a niche to store items there was impossible now the sides of the cavern were smooth. Nevertheless, Akhen and Khan would need any intelligence he could get his hands on. Gradually he worked his way over to the nearest Drana guards. Maybe he might pick up a snippet of information. He was in luck! They were both standing with their backs to him. The sergeant was talking about the consignment due on the next cargo-ship. (The Drana were going to turn the cave into an arsenal!)

Seti was on his way up to level five in the turbo-lift. He had been sent to collect more picks and phosphor lights. When the door opened, in his haste he knocked Serket to the floor. Serket’s screams brought the nearest Drana guards running. When Seti woke in agony on the floor of the punishment cell, he knew he was in big trouble. Sobek had seen the entire incident on the security monitors. While he knew it was an accident, he could not let it simply pass. It would be seen as weakness on his part to forgive and forget. The unfortunate Nephile’s fate was inevitable. The entire mining population would witness Seti’s punishment.

The large cavern on level eight was filled to capacity with miners and guards. Sobek and his personal guard went to the hastily erected platform in front of the assembled crowd. Akhen gave Khan a questioning glance. Khan shrugged his shoulders in response. Sobek raised his scrawny hand for silence as two guards dragged the manacled prisoner towards the platform. Mentep let out an anguished cry as he saw Seti’s broken body being dragged onto the platform. The miners stood in stunned silence as Sobek handed the discharge whip to Serket. The guards tied Seti to a frame and ripped his shirt, baring his back. With the first dozen strokes, the flesh on Seti’s back began to melt. With each successive stroke from the vicious whip, he entered levels of pain beyond imagination. Serket was quickly exhausted and dropped the whip. Sobek motioned to the guard to cut Seti down, and pointing to a beam overhead, he ordered the guards to crucify him. An angry murmur arose. The nervous guards aimed their disruptor rifles at the nearest ranks of miners. By now, the murmur reached a full-blooded cry for revenge from the miners. My brothers, Sobek, and Serket, and their personal guard, quickly retreated from the cavern and headed for the control room on the first level.

With a rallying cry, Khan launched the attack. The guards fired at the advancing ranks of miners, killing many, seriously wounding countless others. In the confusion, Mentep gently picked up Seti’s body while Akhen, Manouf, and Hoetep stood guard. By now, a bloody battle had broken out. By sheer weight of numbers, the miners drove the guards back. The revolt had begun! The miners seized disrupter rifles from fallen guards and began a struggle for control of the mine. It took thirty-six hours to liberate all but the first level of the mine.

My brothers barricaded themselves inside Sobek’s control room. His personal guard panicked and disappeared on the way up to the first level. Kasim and Mentep gained control of the communications centre cutting off any hope of reinforcement or escape; for the first time in his long evil life, Sobek felt alone and vulnerable! By the time Akhen and Khan arrived outside the control room, the battle was over. Many were dead on both sides. The end had come with the surrender of the remaining guards.

The last remaining act of the rebellion was about to begin. Akhen shot out the door control panel with his disrupter. The miners forced the door open and dragged the terrified occupants out into the corridor, where an angry crowd baying for blood surrounded them! “Take them back to the punishment cell,” Akhen ordered, as the last of the Khaz on the planet were rounded up.

The next day the whole population of the mine assembled in the cavern on level eight. Khan stood on the platform and called for order. The former guards were marched in and stood to attention awaiting their fate. Akhen sat for a long time on the edge of the platform then slowly dropping to his feet; he walked along the ranks looking at each former guard in turn. By now, an eerie silence had descended on the cavern. Joining Khan on the platform, Akhen issued an ultimatum. “Join the rebellion or die!” To a man, the guards swore allegiance to the rebel cause. Despite their oaths of allegiance, it would take a long time before the miners would fully trust them.

“Bring in the Khaz!” Khan ordered. The newly sworn rebels quickly returned with my brothers in manacles. The assembled rebels had only one sentence for the unspeakable treatment meted out by the Khaz—expulsion to the outer surface of the planet! The sentence was duly carried out. Sobek looked out across the barren surface of the planet for the last time as the effects of hypothermia and the poisonous atmosphere overcame his frail grey body. All around him lay the lifeless corpses of his brothers.

 

Part One of Chapter Two

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Part one of Rebellion

Khan sat and listened closely to Akhen’s plan. Despite the age-old conflict between their planets, the two men respected each other. Khan was the unchallenged leader of the Drana prisoners; what he said was law. The rest of the Drana sat and stared with loathing in their eyes at the Nephile talking with their leader. But for any of them to challenge Khan over his actions meant broken bones at the very least. The two men conversed for hours while the rest slept. “You’d better return to your dormitory, Akhen; the guards will be coming soon. I’ll sleep on your plan and meet you tomorrow night,” he said, as they parted company.

Khan had been commander of the Imperial Guard before his fall from grace. His outstanding service to the empire had been rewarded many times. On two occasions, he had foiled attempts on the life of the new emperor Nagesh. In gratitude, he was promoted to Imperial Grand Marshal of the Drana armed forces. Khan had problems coming to terms with the political life he found himself caught up in. His blunt manner did not go down well with those at court. He hated the intrigue and downright lying, which was the stock in trade of the politicians and advisers surrounding Nagesh. His wife Shantha worried for her husband, wishing he had stayed just a simple commander. The handsome young soldier she married twenty years earlier had turned into a battle-hardened, intolerant veteran. He did not suffer fools, and as for liars…

What Akhen said made good military sense to Khan. Between them, they would hatch a plan, with a number of alternative options, should it prove impossible. The young warrior impressed him. He came from a good house. The great grandnephew of the legendary Hor was a force to be reckoned with. Better for now to keep him onside. Besides, he liked the plain speaking young Nephile. Tomorrow would soon be here; then the fun would begin.

~~~

The long shift in the mines followed its usual dull dangerous path and eventually the workforce was back in the dormitories. Akhen, Mentep, and Seti were sitting in silence over their meal when Hoetep appeared. For the moment, they did not see Khan hanging back in the shadows.

“Brother, I’m back,” Hoetep announced. Mentep hugged his young brother. “Put me down you big oaf,” Hoetep said, through gritted teeth. Akhen and Seti welcomed their friend. Seti passed across Hoetep’s food bowl. As he attacked the contents of the bowl, he began to tell them about the work now in progress down in level eight. The Negan veins had petered out and the mine tunnels were being expanded for storage. “The Khaz and Drana down there are keeping quiet about what it is they’ll be storing,” said Hoetep, between mouthfuls.

Khan chose now to make his appearance. Mentep spun round and bowled him over. “Let him up Mentep, he’s a friend,” Akhen said, trying to free Khan from Mentep’s vice-like grip.

“You call this Drana filth a friend?” Mentep snarled, as he tightened his grip. By now, Khan was succumbing under the pressure of the big Nephile’s hands. Hoetep knocked his brother sideways with a stool and dragged the nearly unconscious Drana away. Seti was sent to fetch Nefer and the women, while Hoetep went to invite the Drana. Once Khan had recovered, the two men presented their plan. Its success depended on cooperation between the age-old enemies.

With Akhen and Khan presenting a united front, the time for old quarrels was now past. Word quickly spread around the dormitories. A system of couriers under Khan’s lieutenant, Manouf, was set up. Seti initiated a group of ‘thieves’ to steal anything and everything useful. Hoetep and Raman, another Drana miner, would look for disused or unsafe tunnels to hide their finds. Mentep and Kasim, Raman’s cousin, would gather intelligence. Any information, no matter how insignificant, was a potential weapon. The entire mining population now had a purpose for their otherwise mundane existence. So long as nothing aroused the Khaz guards’ suspicions and no one was caught, the first part of the operation would succeed.

~~~

Part two tomorrow.

😉

 

Part Two of Chapter One

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Here is part two of Jalnuur – Chapter One, where the action begins…

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Akhen opened his eyes and looked about him in the dim light of the dormitory. All around him, the others were beginning to stir for another long shift in the mine. He shook his neighbour’s shoulder to wake him. Mentep lashed out in his drowsy state, missing Akhen’s face with his fist, yelping in pain when it struck the rock wall beside him. “Come on man get up!” Akhen said, as he went through the routine of binding his hands and feet with the stinking rags from under his bed. The two friends sat in silence eating the meagre breakfast of hard bread followed by fetid water, liberally laced with Negan dust.

“Where’s Hoetep?” Mentep asked, dipping his mug into the water barrel.

“How should I know? He’s your brother, not mine,” Akhen replied, pinching a piece of crust from Mentep’s plate while his large friend’s back was turned. “He and Seti were sent to the eighth level yesterday. Perhaps they’re still there,” he added, as he swallowed the stolen morsel.

Across the darkened passage in the women’s dormitory Nefer was stirring the women from their slumber. She had been awake for what seemed like hours. By now most of the occupants of the two Nephile dormitories were awake, or at least on their feet. Nefer’s best friend, Mintaka, sat on the bed coughing up blood. She had been there the longest of all the Nephile inmates, nearly five months. One could be forgiven for thinking there was a large age gap between the two lifelong friends, but in fact they were born within minutes of each other. They had grown up together and it seemed as if they just may die together as well. The Drana guards marched the weary band of men, women, and children from all parts of the empire and beyond towards the turbo-shaft, passing below the latest ‘example’ who had been temporarily crucified on a beam above them. The guards averted their eyes not wishing to see their disgraced Drana brother.

The turbo-lift stopped at the lowest level of the mine. Akhen and the rest made their way to the equipment bay, a small disused mineshaft close to the turbo-lift, and were each issued with a pick and a phosphor light. Dividing them up into work crews, the Drana guards sent them off to the Negan veins. Down there, time meant nothing. The only way to tell its passage was when the food break occurred. Those too sick to do the hard physical work at the mine-face delivered the food. The sharp pain from the Khaz discharge whips on their heads and backs signalled the resumption of mining.

Children were used to push the heavy trolleys back to the turbo lift where the Negan ore was sent to be processed on the second level of the huge underground complex. Being sent to work in the crushing facility absolutely guaranteed an early death. The dust created by the process hung in thick choking clouds in the foul air of the huge cavern. Just walking around the place made life unbearable. Many tried to prevent breathing in the dust by covering their mouth and nose with a piece of torn cloth, but the rags quickly clogged up making breathing practically impossible.

Akhen and Mentep worked together at the face while Nefer and Mintaka loaded the Negan ore into the waiting trolleys. Amunat and Iset were responsible for shoring up the shaft, and laying the tracks for the trolleys as the shaft extended deeper into the planet’s surface. Both women struggled with the large pit props and heavy trolley rails. The raw Negan ore prevented the Nephile from using their natural powers, in this case levitation. Since Hoetep and Seti were sent to the eighth level, the two women were forced to take their place in the crew.

After the shift, the group of friends collapsed on their bunks totally exhausted after the day’s work. Nefer washed Mintaka’s face and hands, wiping away the blood from her mouth and nose. She was getting weaker by the hour. Nefer knew her friend would not survive much longer. Amunat and Iset helped to make Mintaka as comfortable as they could. Young Sekhmet brought a bowl of food over, holding it while Nefer fed Mintaka. Children like Sekhmet should never have to be in a place like this! When her parents were taken, she was arrested along with the others. The Drana officer had his orders and when it came to Nephile, there were no exceptions. If one was guilty, the whole family shared in that guilt. Besides, just being Nephile was justification enough in the Drana’s eyes.

Across the passage, Akhen and Mentep were deep in conversation when Seti arrived. “What have you stolen this time?” Akhen asked, as Seti sat down beside him on the bed.

“Found—not stolen!” Seti laughed. He opened the rag bundle and produced a Drana passkey.

“They’ll miss it,” Mentep said, inspecting it.

“They’re always losing things,” Seti replied, tipping out the remainder of his ‘finds’ onto the bed. “Take a look at this,” he said holding up a charge unit for a disruptor rifle.

“Seti, one of these days you’ll be caught!” Mentep growled.

“So what are they going to do? Throw me into prison?” Seti replied, sarcastically.

Akhen carefully inspected the charge unit, turning it over in his hands. In the dim light, his friends did not notice the smile slowly creep across his face. “What else have you found my friend?” he asked, searching the rest of the plunder. Maybe there was a way out of the mine after all!

It would not be easy. The problem was the Khaz had eyes everywhere, thanks to the surveillance cameras. In comparison, the Drana could be evaded. They were bored out of their tiny minds most of the time, considering their deployment in that godforsaken place as an insult and punishment.

Akhen thought that one particular prisoner might be interested in what he had to say. But could he be trusted? After all, he was Drana…

~~~

Next time – Chapter Two – Rebellion

😉

Part One of Chapter One

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Here is the first part of Chapter One in my science fiction space opera Onet’s Tale.

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Chapter One – Jalnuur

An escape pod sat alone in the vast hanger deck after it was detected on a routine patrol above Dranaa. Its battered outer hull bore scars from countless impacts from micrometeorites and other space debris. The barely legible identification letters indicated its mother ship and battle fleet. The recovery caused great excitement on the orbiting base. The base commander reported the find to the Imperial Council on the home planet.

Technicians conducting a routine scan of the escape pod found a body in stasis. When the stasis unit was opened, the body was found to be desiccated due to the damage to the unit, caused by micrometeorite bombardment. A forensic medical team worked for hours on the lifeless mummy. DNA tests revealed the house it belonged to, and after contact was made with the family, funeral rights were carried out with a small delegation from the family as witnesses. Finally, the house of Hanseer could bury its long lost son Shanath. After several days of analysis, the audio recording made by Shanath all those centuries ago, before he placed himself in stasis, was played to the Emperor and his Imperial Council. Together with his family, he grieved for both their revered ancestors. A statue to honour Commander Shanath Hanseer was erected in front of the Imperial Palace. A lot had happened since he and the imperial fleet had disappeared.

Hanseer’s descendant, General Nagesh, had led the imperial guards uprising on Dranaa. Rumblings of discontent throughout the conquered planets had escalated into open revolt. The house of Ashah, led by Dranaa Nazir, collapsed once the imperial armed forces led by Nagesh surrounded the Imperial Palace. Dranaa and its people had a new ruler—Dranaa Nagesh.

The Negan mine on the barren planet in the twenty-sixth sector of the disputed outer reaches was the birthplace of the miners’ rebellion. The frozen surface of the planet, together with its extremely thin atmosphere, forced both the miners and their Khaz and Drana guards to live and work beneath its inhospitable surface. The mined Negan ore, once processed, was used to construct the outer hull for ships in the imperial fleet. Its shielding effect enabled the ships to survive most impacts from meteorites and weapons. People making up the mining community came from all parts of the empire that had fallen foul of the impossible rules and regulations imposed by the former Dranaa Nazir, and adopted by Nagesh.

Each planet paid tribute in the form of men and boys conscripted for military service, young girls destined to become servants or concubines, plus food, textiles, and raw materials, which were sent to Dranaa. When anyone protested, he or she, were immediately banished to the mines. The miners greatly outnumbered their Khaz and Drana guards, but because of the cruel punishment regime, remained docile. Those who tried standing up for themselves were flogged mercilessly with discharge whips, administered by the Khaz, encouraged by the Drana guards. Occasionally a miner was chosen at random and made an example of to the community, which meant he or she would be flogged then taken up to the surface and cast out into the frozen wasteland. The only escape from the mines was death. The average lifespan of a miner was six months. Combined with the harsh working conditions, Negan mining produced toxic dust particles that entered every pore of a miners’ skin, attacking all vital internal organs. The Khaz and Drana guards wore protective environmental suits, rotating every month when the cargo-ships made a call, bringing more victims to their frozen, poisonous new home.

Within the ranks of miners were many young Nephile from the warrior houses of Cydon in the far off Andromeda galaxy. Akhen from the house of Horus was fiercely proud of his ancestor Hor. When Lord Hor and his family returned to Cydon, the whole planet rejoiced. Hor’s brother-in-law, the Human-Nephile Tom, was made welcome and honoured by the ruling council. Tom’s wife and sister of Hor, the Lady Auset, had written a history of the Human-Nephile defence of the small blue planet where I live, called Earth, here in the Milky Way galaxy. Auset and Tom’s daughter, Auramooth, was of greatest interest as the first true Human-Nephile. It’s from her that Akhen was descended. Auramooth had inherited her mother’s beauty and her New Zealand father’s ways. Many young Nephile men vied for her affections. Only one young warrior serving in the guard, responsible for the safety and security of the ruling council, stole Auramooth’s heart. Akhet and Auramooth were married, and in time, a son was born of the union, named Horus in honour of his great-uncle Hor. With his birth, the house of Horus began. While Auramooth, Akhet, and their son Horus remained on Cydon, visiting Earth from time to time, Auset, Tom, and Hor returned home to the valley at the bottom of New Zealand’s South Island.

Akhen and his men were captured two months prior to being sent to the mine, in an abortive rescue attempt on the planet Andras, a thorn in the side of the empire. Nephile led underground units continually sabotaged Drana installations and armed camps across the planet. Right from the start, things were going wrong for the latest incursion on Andras by the Nephile warriors and their underground units. The Drana stepped up security by imposing curfews on the local inhabitants. More and more Drana commando patrols were put in place to ‘discourage’ local support for the Nephile troublemakers. Security pass checks were carried out at random, day or night. Anyone found to be in breach was taken away by the Drana, never to be seen again. Whenever a sabotage operation was successful, the Drana carried out reprisals by rounding up the nearest group of inhabitants and executing them in public to discourage local participation. Inevitably, the population caved in under the pressure. The identities and location of the underground units were revealed. Akhen and his men found themselves trapped by a carefully laid ambush thanks to information given under torture by one of his own men. Outnumbered fifty-to-one, he had to surrender. He and his gallant team of Nephile found themselves in the hell-hole that was the Negan mine.

~~~

So there you have it – the first part of chapter one. The story proper, begins in part two of the chapter.

More later

😉