Chapter Six – Desperate Defence
The community was hard at work transforming the former experimental facility, renamed Cydon-1, into a well-defended fortress and base. Mobile disrupter cannon were placed at strategic points. Laser mines and molecular charges protected the turbo-car tunnel system and the approaches to the hanger. Semac explosive charges were fixed at all connecting doors, stairwells, and inside the turbo-lift shaft.
The hanger was a hive of activity as the two cargo-ships and the interceptor were pulled apart and rebuilt as fighting units. Each of the cargo-ships was armed with a re-worked disrupter cannon plus a couple of plasma torpedoes. It was not much in the way of armament if they came up against fighters or capital carriers. However, if they encountered ground fire from Drana troops at least they could do some serious damage. The interceptor, which had been named Mintaka at Khan’s insistence, was a different matter. She had been given a spare engine designed for use in a cargo-ship, which was far more powerful than her old one. For armament, she was fitted with quadruple particle cannon and twin plasma torpedoes. Mintaka would be tested tomorrow. The two former cargo-ships named Apis and Seti by popular demand were to be tested in a couple of days’ time.
Lemas took the surface crawler and disappeared into one of the workshops. Eventually he returned with twenty perfect copies of the original, fitted with armoured cabs protected by remote controlled twin-modified disrupter rifles, mounted in a turret on top of the cab, plus two fusion rocket launchers in fixed firing positions on each crawler’s front. Plasma grenade launchers were mounted at the stern of the vehicle. By now, Lemas had earned the respect of all the Drana in the community. Raman and Assan were the first of the Drana members of the community to shake his hand and call him friend.
Nefer, Amunat, and Iset set up emergency supplies of food, water, and arms dumps throughout the Hub. Qetesh selected a group of fit young men and women for pilot training. Besal put the skills he had learned as a hunter on Andras to good use by forming small squads of attack teams trained in hit and run techniques. It was imperative that everyone in the community was at least capable of protecting Cydon-1 and themselves.
Assan was glad when Hoetep took over the watch in the communications room. For the past nine days, nothing much had happened. There were occasional communications between the Drana base on Nazuur and passing ships. The sensors showed nothing of significance within five hundred thousand kilometres of the planet. It was as if the Drana had forgotten about the mine altogether. Hoetep stared at the sensor screen in front of him, occasionally flicking magnitudes back and forth, out of sheer boredom. Sekhmet, who had brought him something to eat and drink, like most young children, was chatting incessantly to him about nothing in particular, when the audible alarm sounded. The screen filled with incoming ships. The icons rapidly changed as the sensor’s recognition system identified each one in turn. Hoetep hit the alarm button on the console. The Drana were coming back in force.
Khan and Akhen looked at the sensor screen. “I count one Capital class carrier, one Battle class destroyer, and five cargo-ships,” Khan said, with concern. “This means at least two divisions of troopers plus five squadrons of Dreyga fighters. This time they really mean business!”
“Will we be able to hold out against such a force?” Iset’s voice trembled.
“We’ll find out in the next few hours,” Akhen replied, with a look of defiance on his face. Khan pressed the transmit button on the intercom. “Prepare for invasion!”
Those not operating the defensive positions immediately armed the laser mines and Semac charges and prepared the infirmary, while Besal’s attack teams took up their positions across the base in readiness. Qetesh and his pilots sat in their cockpits waiting for the order to launch. Lemas and his crawler crews assembled ready for immediate action. Amunat removed the children and the few who were too sick to fight into a disused inspection tunnel out of harm’s way.
Five hours after the fleet came within sensor range it assumed stationary orbit above the mine. Hoetep watched as attack formations of fighters descended into the atmosphere. They searched the planet’s surface around the ruined mining complex for over an hour before regrouping and returning to the carrier. Twenty minutes later one cargo-ship descended to the mine.
Shansur sat grim faced beside the door. He had been lucky to escape execution because of his blunder a few days before. This time there would be no mistakes! Jansha had been demoted to trooper and given five lashes of the discharge whip for good measure. If he ever caught up with Seti and Apis he would make them pay for his painful humiliation. The light changed to red as the outer door opened. The troopers rapidly followed Shansur outside and into the ruined mine complex. Following Shansur’s orders, master sergeant Manesh quickly divided the troopers into three-man units and sent them off to various areas inside the complex. Jansha was ordered to find a safe way down to the mining levels.
Master sergeant Manesh was a career soldier, veteran of countless successful invasions and battles across the empire under the previous emperor Dranaa Nazir. His scarred face bore testament to his courage under fire in the emperor’s name. Unlike commander Shansur, Manesh did not come from a ‘House’. His mother had been captured in infancy from one of the planets beyond the empire, before Nagesh toppled Nazir and the empire had shrunk. Sold into slavery, she had spent her life as a servant in the kitchen of one of the many palaces that Nazir occupied. Manesh never knew his father. As a small boy he often dreamt that his father was the greatest ever Drana warrior. The truth was his mother, like countless other female slaves, was simply there for the taking by any Drana male. Denied entrance into the officer class by his lowly station, Manesh had to prove himself worthy at every level within the army. He had to be better than anyone else to gain promotion. He had to be more Drana than all the Drana put together. His rise to master sergeant after one hundred and thirty-five years’ service had finally won him respect.
Shansur checked the plan of the mining complex. On the way from Nazuur, he had accessed the original survey maps from when the geologists first drilled for samples, centuries earlier. In the notes that accompanied the maps, he found references to natural tunnels beneath the surface. If he could find one of them, perhaps, he thought it might be possible to find a new way into the mine levels. A trooper returned and reported to Manesh that he had found a turbo tunnel. Manesh ordered him to tell Shansur what he had found.
“Master sergeant, take a team and explore the tunnel. Report to me in two hours’ time,” Shansur ordered, on hearing the welcome news. Manesh saluted and hurried off with the trooper. No mention of turbo tunnels was in any of the information Shansur had access to, but now every possibility had to be explored.
Manesh studied the rock fall, which blocked the tunnel. They had walked for over three quarters of an hour and found nothing. By the look of it, the tunnel had not been used for centuries. The rock fall ahead was recent but that could have happened when the mine blew up. Yet his senses told him differently. He picked up a piece of the rubble and turning it over in his hand, tasted it, smelt it, and then dropped it. Semac! The smell was unmistakable; the tunnel had been deliberately blocked with Semac charges! “You’re sure?” said Shansur, a little while later when Manesh reported back.
“Yes sir, the tunnel has been deliberately blocked to prevent anyone going any further!” Manesh replied.
The admiral listened to Shansur’s report. Shifting in his chair he stared at the viewer on his desk for a moment, then said, “Very well, commander, I’ll send down engineers to clear the tunnel,” and almost as an afterthought, added a reluctant, “well done,” before switching off. Shansur still had a long way to go before he would be forgiven…
Next time Chapter Seven