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.