Chapter Thirteen – Allies
“I never knew about this place.” Khan said, as the group explored the spacious interior of a long forgotten supply room.
“It must have been on the surface originally,” Delal murmured. The windows now looked out onto solid rock.
“Seti, go to work—check everything,” Akhen ordered, while the rest took it easy.
“Manouf, go with him, and take Tosar, Hoetep, and Raman with you” Khan ordered.
“Besal, Nemaar, see where that shaft over there, leads to,” Akhen added, as he sat down exhausted beside Nefer and closed his eyes.
“You’re not going to believe it; you just have to see it for yourselves!” Besal said excitedly, when he returned. He led the way along the shaft. Twenty minutes later, Akhen and Khan stood looking up at the night sky through a small dome high above them. Nemaar beckoned them to follow as he disappeared up a ladder. Reaching the top, Khan walked around a large old abandoned freighter, which sat facing a force field sealing the entrance to a hanger carved from the rock. Akhen looked out at the cloud-covered mountain range bathed in moonlight stretching off into the distance.
In the valley far below the mountain, three Armin transports ground to a halt on their way up the steep incline to a high dangerously narrow pass in the range. By this time, my cousin Pashtek had long ago left the safety of the Armins and was now close to the survivors, following them and hiding in the roof of the hanger, watching their every move. The surviving commandos were on a collision course with Levene’s raiders.
“So, Seti, have you found anything useful?” Manouf asked, as they worked their way through the stacks of containers and crates.
“No, nothing much here; what about you?” Seti replied, from inside the container he was in.
“Maybe, I’m not sure.” Manouf dragged a long purpose-built sealed carrying case out into the main room. “What do you think?” This drew a larger crowd of onlookers.
“Let’s get it open.” Seti began fiddling with the tamper-proof locks. With two faint clicks, the old locks gave up their secret.
“It’s a core driller using a plasma-meridium source as the principal cutter, guided by these three adjustable lasers,” Tosar explained, as he lovingly turned the tool over in his arms. No one could remember Tosar getting quite this excited before.
‘Not to worry about it,’ Besal thought. ‘It was probably the rarefied air or something.’ Hoetep came across some food and medical supplies in sealed containers inside an old exploration vehicle, buried behind crates of drilling equipment, while Raman, checking some lockers inside a caged off enclosure, found what looked like pressure suits and helmets.
Poor Seti came up empty handed for the first time in his life. Iset sat beside him with her arm around his neck trying to console him. He could not believe he had found nothing. He always found something! “I must be losing my touch,” he said glumly.
With the medical supplies, Nefer, Iset, and Jamal went to work on Shansur’s broken leg. The operation was done in less than clinical surroundings but it was successful. In a few days, he was able to take a few tentative steps across the supply room aided by crutches made from core sample rods.
Akhen and Khan spoke to Shansur at length over the days it took his leg to heal. His older brother had served under Khan in the old imperial guard years before. When the guard was broken up, he had been killed while serving on Andras when the Nephile were sabotaging Drana depots and observation posts across the planet. Khan and Akhen sat in silence, reminded for a brief moment that their people had at one time been mortal enemies, and given the chance, would have killed each other without a second thought. Now they were the seeds of a new beginning. Shansur watched the way in which the survivors helped and cared for each other. It went against everything he had been taught but here they were Nephile, Drana, and Andrasian, Baktarr, even Selian, all one people working together. Although he still found it strange that he should have been shown mercy by his former enemies, and restored back to health by them, he felt that he somehow belonged now, and that he was part of this embryo new multicultural nation.
Orz drove the transporter at a snail’s pace through the blizzard on the path that took them through the foothills of the mountain range. Temo scanned the bands on the transceiver trying to make contact with the fleet above, but the storm had cut them off for the moment. Kapinski peered out of the turret then climbed back inside the warm red-lit belly of the transport. Manesh was propped against the hatch snoring peacefully. Levene and Mdjat were making the final adjustments to some home-made explosive charges. The transporter’s engine roared as Orz shifted to a lower gear ratio to negotiate the incline under its tracks.
On the other side of the range, the lead Armin pushed steadily through the blizzard along a high pass. Inside the three transporters, the commandos sat expressionless at attention with disrupter rifles at the ready. In less than twenty-six hours from now, both sides would meet on the treacherous mountain track, three thousand meters below the forgotten hanger where Khan stood looking out at the storm. In twenty-seven hours, the track would be gone forever. In twenty-eight hours, there would be peace once more in the high mountain valley.
Khan looked at the track through brief gaps in the thick cloud. He was sure he had seen movement but it must have been a trick of the light caused by the blizzard below. Tosar checked the plasma-meridium source of the core driller. The targeting lasers needed a bit of work but they would soon be serviceable once more. The power source was still fully charged despite the centuries since its manufacture. Its containment field showed signs of leakage but he could fix that. The tripod support was in bad shape. Most of the hinges and locks were worn out. If he were going to put it back in full working order, he would have to manufacture a completely new support frame. With this tool, he could carve out enough rooms in the surrounding rock to give everyone a space of their own. Khan had a different use in mind for the old drilling tool. “See that, Shansur—what do you make of it,” Khan asked, handing the battered mechanical stereo-imagers to him and pointing to the mountain pass.
“Looks like Armin transporters,” Shansur replied. Panning along the valley wall, he saw the makeshift bridge that had been built weeks before where the track had slipped. Switching his gaze to the other end of the valley, several kilometres away the glint of sunlight on metal caught his eye. Changing the magnification, he could just pick out the slow movement of another vehicle heading towards the Armin transporters. “Seems as if the commandos aren’t the only ones out for a drive,” Shansur said, handing the imagers to Akhen, who had joined them.
As he looked at the slow progress of the other transporter, Akhen finally recognized its outline and unmistakable dome turret. “They’re going to need our help,” he said. “The Armin is better equipped for battle!”
“Yes, but the track is so narrow they’ll have to travel in single file making the other two redundant in a fire fight,” Shansur replied, taking back the imagers.
“Where are you going Khan?” Akhen yelled, as Khan ran toward the ladder.
“I’ll be back,” was the reply, as he vanished from view.
Tosar shook his head at the idea. “I don’t know Khan. It may be possible. It would mean narrowing the field to a pinpoint. It was never designed for what you have in mind—and I’m not sure it’s powerful enough to do the job.”
“They need our help. In a few hours from now both sides will be directly below the hanger. Come and see for yourself—please!” Khan pleaded.
Tosar had never seen Khan act this way before. He was actually showing concern for others. Khan had changed. “Alright I’ll look.” From where Pashtek hid he watched Tosar read the distance and angle scales as he focused on the makeshift bridge, writing down the results before handing the imagers to Shansur. “How long have I got?” he asked.
“At their present speed—eight hours before they sight each other,” Shansur said, checking the progress.
“Six hours—you have to have it up here in place and ready to go in six hours, Tosar!” Akhen declared.
“I’m going to need help.”
“You’ll get it. Grab anyone you need,” Khan said, now back to his old self once more.
Next time – Chapter Fourteen