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 😉

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