Chapter Thirty-Four – Voyage to Revenge
Nusaan was routinely scanning the communications bands when he came across what sounded like a distress beacon. “Got a fix on its position yet?” Shansur asked, from where he sat looking at the tactical sensor display.
“Somewhere ahead; it’s weak; thats all I can tell you,” Nusaan replied, while trying to improve the quality of the signal.
Seti rechecked their course to the next way point, one hundred thousand kilometres past Uranus. “Might be from a derelict ship,” he said, fixing the coordinates.
“Don’t think so,” Nusaan said. “Sounds like some sort of personal locator beacon, and anyway the frequency is too high for a ship.”
“Any other communication signals coming in?” Khan asked, as he entered the flight cabin.
Nusaan shrugged his shoulders. “Just bits and pieces. We’re too far off to pick up the signals properly; we’ll have to wait until we get near Jupiter in about five weeks from now.”
“Sensors picking up anything, Shansur?” Khan enquired, as he sat at the navigation station looking at the course Seti had just entered.
“Plenty, but it’s mostly the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It’s like trying to look through a sand storm!”
“Humph, keep trying, brother,” Khan chuckled.
“Anything from Earth by any chance, Nusaan?” Max casually inquired while standing in the doorway.
“Sorry Max, we’re still too far away to pick up local transmissions, and anyway, the radiation belts around the planet seem to be particularly active for some reason,” Nusaan said.
“How do you know?” Max asked, as he came over to where Nusaan sat.
“Listen to this.” Nusaan changed the direction of the enclosed dish antenna by feeding in the coordinates for Earth, and then turned up the volume and switched on the speaker beside him. A steady white noise signal filled the ship. “See what I mean?” he said, changing the antenna’s direction back to locate the distress beacon once more.
“Sounds more like sunspot interference,” Max said. “I was hoping that we might have been able to hear some music. Funny the things you miss out here, isn’t it.”
“Max, it’s been over three years since we left Cydon. We don’t even know if anyone is still alive on Mars, or Earth for that matter,” Akhen replied. “And anyway I never understood why humans liked that noise you call music.” He smiled at the face Max pulled in answer to his gentle dig.
“You want music? Then you should listen to an Andrasian love poem – truly wonderful,” Besal added from behind Akhen.
“Your all Philistines!” Max exclaimed, and went back to the cargo bay where Apis, Akkad, and Manesh were arguing the benefits of the Golal nut in their diet. “If we don’t land soon we’ll all go nuts, cooped up inside this floating tin can!” Max muttered to himself.
The fact that no signal of any kind was making its way through space from Earth bothered Akhen. “In the old days when I was a child on Cydon, my father and I built a receiver to pick up signals from Earth Khan. We used to watch the people in those shaky visual transmissions, wondering if all humans looked and behaved in the ridiculous fashion shown on those ancient broadcasts. In the three years it’s taken us to get to the solar system, Shu has had more than enough time to destroy a lot of planets inside this galaxy. Maybe she’s already destroyed Earth.”
“We’ll know soon enough my brother,” Khan softly replied.
The shuttle passed the gas giant Jupiter. Apis took control for the tricky path ahead through the vast asteroid field, which separated the outer planets of the solar system from the smaller planets of Mars, Earth, Venus, and Mercury, the hottest of them all, closest to the bright yellow star giving life to its system of planets – the Sun. The outer hull of the shuttle was pockmarked with millions of tiny scratches and indentations from the relentless bombardment from Nusaan’s ‘sandstorm’, but thanks to its Nazpa layer, the toughest known material in the cosmos, the hull maintained its integrity. Four weeks later, the shuttle landed outside the small Martian settlement of New Boston, five hundred kilometres to the south of the great stone face carved by the first Nephile settlers, eons before. The signal from the distress beacon was coming from somewhere inside the sealed settlement, growing weaker by the hour. Nusaan constructed two hand held transceivers and gave them to Manesh and Seti.
Khan, Seti, Besal, and Manesh, donned breathers to help them in the poisonous atmosphere of the planet. The settlers had never managed to transform the planet’s atmosphere equivalent to that of Earth, consequently everyone outside the sealed safety of the dome enclosing each settlement, needed assistance to get enough oxygen into their respiratory systems to survive the harsh conditions. Nusaan plotted their signals in an attempt to triangulate the source of the beacon, as the two teams systematically searched the abandoned settlement. With each two man team following Nusaan’s directions, they gradually converged on a small area on the south west corner of the settlement, close to the hydroponics gardens, the source of fresh food for the colonists. Nusaan’s voice rose in excitement over the team’s headsets. “The signal’s coming from your location. Khan; you’re literally standing on top of it!” Swords drawn, the berserkers spread out to search the overgrown jungle of edible plants that now occupied the area. Besal picked an apple from a heavily laden tree, bowed down by the weight of fruit on its branches, took a bite, and spat it out. The fruit was riddled with some kind of caterpillar leaving a bitter taste in his mouth.
“Over here!” Seti shouted, after he found the source of the signal.
Semiconscious on a warm bed of compost, a berserker warrior lay mortally wounded with his large right hand holding his intestines in place. His eyes were the same colour that Hoetep’s eyes had been. His sword and shield bore the same embossed markings. His loincloth was made from the same material. But unlike Hoetep, this warrior had no cloaking staff to protect him. In its place, he wore a leather belt that had a large buckle made from the same metal as the sword and shield. And at its centre, securely held in place by a filigree cage, a white crystal slowly pulsed. Removing the belt, Khan took it well away from its owner and placed the transceiver beside it. “Is that the source of the signal Nusaan?” he asked.
“Yes, and it’s getting weaker.”
Khan picked up the belt and secured it round his own waist. Instantly the crystal’s colour changed to yellow and began glowing strongly. “What about now?” he snarled.
“What did you do?” Akhen shouted in alarm, over the headset.
“I put it on; why?”
“Remove it quickly, brother!”
Khan undid the belt. “Well what do you want me to do?” he asked, calming down as it dropped it to the floor.
“Bring it back here but make sure no one wears it!” Akhen commanded. Khan returned to where the berserker now lay dead. The four brothers held their swords above their heads in silent salute to the fallen warrior. He may have been one of Shu’s army of murderous marauding thugs but they still somehow felt an affinity towards him. In a way, he was their kin. Sheathing their swords they returned to the shuttle.
The brothers gathered around Akhen as he studied the crystal buckled belt. Whenever he touched the crystal, it turned from white to the deepest yellow, sending surges of anger coursing through Akhen’s very being. Nusaan tried to find the natural frequency of the crystal, to determine not only what type it was, but also why it had such a violent effect on whoever touched it. Every one of them touched it in turn. In each case, the result was the same blinding fury. There was something else about the crystal which puzzled Nusaan. Besal had a mild stomach complaint and a sore throat from swallowing a tiny piece of the caterpillar from the infested apple he had bitten into. When he touched the crystal, its deep yellow colour lost some of its intensity as if it was acting as a kind of barometer, indicating the health of its wearer. “It still doesn’t explain why the berserker was here alone and why he was mortally wounded.” Shansur said, shaking his head. “We found no evidence of any struggle. The entire settlement looks like it was abandoned in a hurry.”
“Perhaps Shu captured the colonists for some reason,” Manesh added.
“Hmm, let’s try the marine colony to the south. Maybe we might find some answers there,” Akkad angrily suggested. “Anyway there might be weapons we can take with us to Earth,” he said, after he put the belt down.
Six hours later the multi domed Mars Marine colony of Kelno appeared on the shuttle’s tactical screen. The red, rock strewn desert of the southern polar plains of the planet surrounded it. The colony stood close to the tiny icecap, a mere fifty kilometres away, which marked the planet’s south pole. Apis brought the shuttle safely down inside the huge dispersal hanger at the entrance to the largest of the domes. This was the former home of Eugene Maas and his marines. It now lay empty, a vast redundant monument to Man’s obsession with arms and warfare. Over the thousands of centuries since the first ape like bipeds began killing one another with clubs and stone tipped spears, encampments like this trained men to become warriors and sent them off to battle. The brothers stayed for eight weeks, systematically exploring the colony. Seti briefly returned to his old habits, scavenging through countless cargo containers and lockers always returning with some treasure or other, saying, “It might just come in handy someday.” By the time the shuttle had left Mars to head for Earth, its interior was bursting at the seams with explosives and other equipment, courtesy of the Mars Marine Corps.
Next time – Chapter Thirty-Five