Chapter Eight

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Chapter Eight – Cydon 1

The stereo speakers inside Shansur’s helmet were silent. “Master sergeant, report,” he commanded. There had been no response from Manesh for five hours. “Lieutenant, have you cleared the blockage yet,” he barked into the microphone.

“Yes sir—it’s clear.”

“Trooper Jansha, report to the command centre at the double!” Shansur was uneasy. It was unlike the master sergeant not to report in. Jansha appeared at the door out of breath after the arduous climb back up the turbo-shaft ladder. “I need you with me, old friend. There’s been no response from the recon team in the turbo-car tunnel. Grab anyone you can find and meet me down by the blockage,” he said, hurriedly running past the trooper into the corridor. Jansha started recruiting ‘volunteers’ immediately. It was good to be needed once more.

Shansur and the lieutenant were deep in conversation when the sound of running trooper boots echoed all around them. Jansha called “Halt” and reported to Shansur with a smart salute. “Volunteer party is reporting for duty sir.”

Shansur smiled. “Very well, sergeant, lead off.” Jansha’s chest swelled with pride. He was back and now it was time for a little revenge!

~~~

Mentep watched the icons begin to move. Pressing the send button he said, “Akhen, more Drana in the tunnel.”

“How many are coming?” Khan asked.

“I count one fifty—one five zero,” Mentep replied.

“How far have they come?” Besal inquired.

“They’ve just passed the original blockage—why?”

“Then it’s time to go to work once again,” Besal replied. He and his team quickly climbed aboard the turbo-car and headed for the junction. Without a word, on arriving at their destination, they split into pairs to begin laying molecular charges back to where the turbo-car stood. Besal placed Semac charges inside the workshop in natural weak points in its structure. The turbo-car moved back along the tunnel for half a kilometre before stopping once more. Three tonnes of Semac charges were packed in a ring around the tunnel with Lemas’ special laser mines liberally spread in front and behind the ring. Nothing would get through this time – nothing alive that is.

Soon afterwards Mentep listened as Assan switched from his headphones to the speakers on the wall. The sound was unmistakable: the Drana were getting closer. This time they were coming over land. Assan raised the alarm. “Tracked transports approaching – from the north-east; from the sound of the tracks I estimate at least one hundred,” he reported.

“Which means at least a division,” Manouf said, over the intercom.

“How far away are they Assan?” Khan asked.

“Hard to tell,” Mentep interrupted. “I’m showing nothing on screen at present except for one crawler eight kilometres from here, coming this way at breakneck speed.” Lemas fired up his crawler and left the relative safety of the hanger, ready to confront whoever it was.

~~~

Seti was thrown across the cab as the crawler worked well beyond its design capabilities, bouncing and swaying across the ice. “For pity sake Apis, slow down!” he screamed, picking himself up from the floor yet again. Apis took no notice of Seti’s pleas, concentrating instead on his one objective, to get them both home at all costs. The crawler careered down a steep incline narrowly missing a large block of ice at the bottom. As he drove like a man possessed, the crawler rammed its way through a formation of ice stalagmites at the bottom of a large ravine. Seti made a mental note to kill him if they ever survived this suicidal trip. The crawler roared up another steep ice incline and back onto the wide valley floor. The engine screamed in protest as Apis’ boot rammed the accelerator pedal hard to the floor.

Suddenly the crawler came to a skidding, bone jarring stop. Armed crawlers surrounded them. Plumes of snow erupted into the air instantly freezing into ice particles, which rained down noisily on the crawler’s roof. The next salvo of fusion rockets straddled the cab. Seti screamed. The sweaty odour inside his suit rapidly changed its pungent composition, wafting up inside his helmet.

“Surrender Drana or die, come out with your hands up!”

“Lemas, thank the gods,” Apis yelled, tumbling out of the cab and waving his arms.

“Come towards me, Drana,” Lemas ordered.

“It’s no good, Apis, they’re using a different communications system,” Seti yelled, limping quickly toward the lead crawler. Lemas’ troops bundled the pair into the back of his crawler and the squadron returned to the safety of Cydon-1. Once safely inside, they were taken at gunpoint to where Khan and Akhen were pouring over a map of the immediate area surrounding the hub.

“Remove their helmets,” Akhen said, while continuing to concentrate on the map.

“Hello cousin, we’re back.” Apis and Seti related their entire trip over the next hour. It was good news that the Alliance was sending a fleet to stand guard over Jalnuur. But would it arrive in time to help them out of their immediate predicament!

~~~

Major Ganash had his orders: ‘At all costs find and destroy any rebel held areas.’ The Armin type 49 transporters rumbled on, carefully picking their way along the narrow mountain path. Ganash had packed the dimly lit interior of the transporters with the empire’s finest assault commandos. He was determined to win a glorious battle for his emperor or die with honour. His House over the millennia had produced some of Dranaa’s most fanatical soldiers. Ganash was untried in battle. If nothing else, the renown of his ancestors combined with his arrogance would ensure the loyalty of the fanatical commandos that he had the privilege to lead. Taken from their mothers’ breasts at an early age they were quickly turned into suicidal warriors who only loved three things – platoon, corps, and the corps flag in that order. Ordinary Drana armed forces personnel distanced themselves from them. Terrified Drana civilians and my cousins ran whenever commandos were near. To get in a commando’s way, or try holding any kind of friendly conversation with him, was inviting death. The corps had only suffered defeat once in its long history, on an insignificant speck in the far off Milky Way galaxy called Earth, at the hands of Human-Nephiles over eight hundred years earlier.

The driver quickly brought the big tracked transporter to a sudden stop. Ganash looked at the driving screen. Part of the track had slipped down the side of the mountain causing a five hundred meter long gap, which blocked the transporter column’s progress. It would take hours to backtrack. Ganash issued orders for scouts to be sent ahead to try to find another route, while teams of commandos started to bridge the gap. Seven hours later, in total white-out conditions, the transporters were slowly on the move once more. This time Ganash rode in the central transporter; there was no honour in being killed in an accident.

By the early hours of the following day, the column had reached the top of a mountain range which protected the head of a vast valley. Ganash leant against the front of the leading Armin on the treacherous ice-covered trail, sweeping the valley below with his stereo-imagers. The range and altitude scales changed rapidly as he panned across the valley, only stopping to study a particular ice formation or snow hump. The magnification systems zoomed in automatically, bringing anything up to fifty kilometres away, into focus with such clarity he felt he could just reach out and touch it. The planet’s two suns were still below the horizon. They would soon climb above it in a couple of hours, and then the valley would give up its secrets to him. Satisfied, he returned to his command vehicle and ate from his ration pack.

The first rays of the twin suns slowly revealed the snow-covered mountainsides in all their majesty. Sunlight chased the shroud of darkness away from the valley below, turning the thick layer of snow into a jewel-encrusted carpet. Ganash once more searched the valley. There, far below him, the carpet was scarred by the tracks of crawlers. He traced their path along the valley floor until they disappeared behind a large snow covered mound. The magnification increased to maximum as he looked at the mound intently in the early morning light. The glint of sunlight on a row of viewing ports was unmistakable. He had found the rebel base.

~~~

Jansha climbed to the top of the pile of rubble and broken bodies and looked through the narrow gap between the tunnel roof and the rubble into the darkness beyond. “Nothing—no one,” he said, shaking his head, as he returned to the waiting group below. “The tunnel is still in one piece beyond this mess,” he added, wiping the dust from his visor.

“Get it cleared, sergeant,” Shansur ordered, while turning over the shattered body at his feet. The troopers began removing the rocks, all the while checking the bodies of their fallen comrades as they went.

“Commander, over here sir,” called a trooper. In the concentrated beams of the troopers’ helmet lights was the unmistakable badge of rank of the master sergeant. Jansha cleared the debris from around Manesh’s helmet and wiped away the thick layer of dust with his gloved hand. On the inside of the visor, a small patch of condensation expanded and contracted simultaneously with the barely perceptible movement of Manesh’s chest. He was badly injured. But he was alive. The makeshift stretcher with its shattered cargo was gently lifted as the stretcher party moved off back down the tunnel.

“We can get through now, commander,” Jansha said, already crawling over the remainder of the rubble. The volunteers quickly reformed on the other side of the pile and moved on into the tunnel.

~~~

“They’re down on the valley floor, Khan,” Mentep said, looking up from the sensor display.

“Huh, Armin transporters,” Khan replied. His face betrayed his concern. “Imperial commandos—death and glory fanatics,” he added.

“That’s not all!” Assan said, with a note of fear in his voice. “Listen to this!” He switched on the loudspeaker. Across the entire Cydon-1 base, the unmistakable rumble of a Bellem tactical fighter-bomber shook the very foundations of the ancient complex.

“If you believe in a higher being, pray. If you don’t—pray anyway!” Manouf said, over the intercom system.

~~~

The column drew up line abreast, five kilometres from the hub as the bomber slowly flew toward its target. The bombardier checked the fuse settings once more as he watched the changing scene ten thousand meters below. “You have control,” the pilot’s voice crackled in his earphones. Carefully adjusting the speed and angle of attack for the deadly payload lying in the bomber’s belly, the bombardier pressed the bomb-bay door release. The giant doors slowly opened revealing their contents. The reflected light from the snow and ice below was sucked up by the matte painted surface of the tactical missile. The guidance system locked onto its target making continuous adjustments for wind and temperature. In the tiny warhead compartment, the spring fuse, which would separate the small orb from the missile sat like a snake, coiled for action. Inside the orb, ten billion tiny particles of unseen energy lay in wait ready to devour everything they met.

The bomber slowed to attack speed and levelled off as the bombardier carefully made the final adjustments. Seconds ticked by as he watched the launch-point move towards the centre of his screen. The pounding of his heartbeat in his headphones drowned out all other sounds as he began steadying himself for the task ahead. The launch point icon glowed, and then merged with the cross-hair on the screen. The missile dropped below the bomber’s hull and swung out its wings. The vapour trail from its engine exhaust inscribed a spiral in the sky above the planet’s surface, in its death dive toward the glistening snow mound below. The bomber’s engines screamed while it banked sharply and sped away to the safety of the mountains at the head of the valley.

Ganash and his commandos sat inside the relative safety of the Armin transporters, in silence. At five hundred meters, the spring performed its function perfectly, releasing the orb from the missile’s nose-cone. The polished surface of the orb changed colour from silver to a dull cherry red as friction increased its skin temperature. The stillness of the valley was barely disturbed by the orb’s almost silent entry into the snow mound. For a few microseconds peace returned once more. Then the whole valley disappeared from view as millions of tonnes of snow and ice were thrown into the atmosphere by the violent collision of the orb’s contents with Cydon-1, deep beneath the planet’s surface. The rapid implosion ended the ancient facility’s existence in the blink of an eye.

The transporters slowly moved forward in the white-out conditions of the valley floor then Ganash called a halt. A deep shaft occupied the position where the snow-covered hub had once stood. Its sunlit vertical walls descended into darkness. Ganash stood at the edge of the shaft peering into the gloom hundreds of meters below. Everything that had formally occupied this space was gone forever. Nothing moved or made a sound. Disappointed not to have fired a shot, but satisfied at the outcome, Ganash returned to the Armin and sent in his report. The experimental anti-matter orb had proved itself. The scientists were right—it could be controlled after all. This was a great day for the empire.

~~~

Next time, Chapter Nine

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