Part Three – Orion’s Belt
Chapter Forty-Four – Preparations for Escape
Welcome back dear reader. Forty-five years have passed since I told you how Akhen and his brothers set out to defeat Shu, the evil monster created by my cousin Hesket. And how Akhen finally exiled himself to a lonely planet, far from his brothers and the other survivors, after killing Shu, and absorbing her evil essence. In the intervening years, the saga has now taken another strange twist. I sense another evil in the cosmos now, more powerful than both myself and the one I thought I was seeking!
My mind as well as my eyes grows cloudy with my great age dear reader. I can no longer clearly sense who or what it is as I begin writing this final chapter. The only thing I am certain of is that we shall meet soon and I will take the evil with me on my own journey. Until it arrives here in the Atlas Mountains, I have only a few weeks to finish writing this saga, knowing that my time here grows short, so we shall continue…
General of the Marines Eugene L Maas sat smoking his cigar, watching his construction crew at work. Twenty years had passed since he and his marines found themselves stranded on Janus Omega in the former Drana Empire, when Akhen and his brothers destroyed his fleet. Eugene had celebrated his sixty-sixth birthday and was impatient to get back to Kelno at the southernmost tip of Mars before he was too old to carry out his plan. His stasis chamber was fully functional; all it needed was a ship to transport it. Janus Omega was the one place Eugene did not want to be. Since their enforced exile, his remaining marines had sired a completely new species with the unwilling cooperation of the captured female slaves from the former Drana Empire. The new species arose from a mixture of Humans, Drana, Andrasian, Baktarr, Nephile, and Suraa, plus less well-known races from the farthest reaches of the cosmos also trapped on Janus Omega. When the time came to select a crew, Eugene knew he would have problems finding any true humans left to accompany him on the journey.
The general was one of the last of his racist human breed on Janus Omega. His men were as old or older than he was, and because of the life they led, were now unfit for the rigors of space travel, too old to serve as functioning marines. Eugene’s dream to return to Mars, and eventually to Earth, to re-colonise the planet with what Eugene described as ‘guaranteed one hundred percent true humans’, rapidly disintegrated before his ageing bigoted eyes. When the time eventually came, he would reluctantly select his crew from the new species. The DNA bank to create a fresh supply of humans on Earth was stored in a cryogenic unit retrieved from the ruins of Pranash. He had seen to it that his men donated to the cause, usually under the threat of immediate execution if they disobeyed, before they grew too old and debauched.
The ship slowly taking shape in front of him was constructed using thousands of salvaged parts from the wrecked Drana home fleet across Janus Omega. There were plenty of materials to build the hull of the ship and enough spare parts for the majority of functions necessary to support life on board. A hydroponics system was being installed in the nose section of the ship to supply fresh food for the crew. A hydro generating unit also found its way on board as a primary source of fresh water. Eugene’s stasis unit was finally installed. The collision avoidance system was doubtful, but appeared to be operational. Their communications unit tested successfully, but its transmission range was limited to only a thousand kilometres. The ship’s sensors were finally working properly after months of experimentation and adjustment. In addition, the ship was armed with twin ion cannon and plasma torpedoes, which should take care of anything they may encounter on the voyage.
The biggest obstacle for Eugene’s workforce was finding an engine capable of getting the ship back to the Milky Way, reliable enough for the long journey. All the old Drana fleet engines were now beyond repair. After months of searching, one of the salvage crews found schematic drawings for an ancient ion-ram engine in the ruins of the research and development building inside the former ship construction yard, south of Pranash. Most of the parts could be manufactured from existing supplies around the yard. But the containment vessel for the charged ions was another matter entirely.
Even if they managed to construct a working engine, it would still not get them off the planet. So a rocket sled assembly capable of lifting the ship into space was designed and built. The launch area swarmed with workers putting the final touches to the sled assembly and the launch ramp, as Eugene made his tour of inspection. Tomorrow the ship would be lifted in sections and attached to the massive sled.
He had hoped the problem of the containment vessel would soon be solved. No amount of abuse or cajoling by Eugene helped the situation. After he had deliberately executed two of the leading designers in a fit of uncontrolled rage, things sped up for a time, but there were very few engineers left in his workforce with the necessary knowledge to complete the task. Even he realized he could not afford to lose any more people, so reluctantly he left them alone to get on with the job. Eventually, a prototype containment vessel emerged from the workshops, and was carefully fitted into the ion engine’s ram system on board the ship. Testing it would have to wait until they were in orbit above Janus Omega.
The motive power for the rockets was a primitive explosive mix of hydrogen peroxide and liquid oxygen, with each volatile fuel ingredient stored separately in large double skinned Thermos-like tanks inside the two rockets. Just getting it to ignite safely without blowing up was fraught with danger. Once the burn began, it could not be turned off. Whether or not it would propel the sledge’s payload was another issue entirely. According to the engineers’ calculations it had sufficient power to perform the task. If it did not work, the engineers need not fear for their lives because Eugene would be dead anyway. The launch ramp was over ten kilometres in length and towered six kilometres above the ground. The whole damned thing would probably blow up in a gigantic fireball. But Eugene did not care. One way or another, he was getting off this goddam alien rock even if it meant dying in the attempt!
He finally selected his crew from the least alien looking members of his community. He chose a young Human-Nephile named McCall as the pilot. He would only be needed for the initial takeoff and in case they ran into trouble. Once they were under way, the ship would be on autopilot for the long journey. For his engineer he chose Odesh, a Drana-Human who proved himself repeatedly during the engine’s construction by his lateral thinking, when all the conventional ways of problem solving failed. Miorr the Bhakturian born ex Drana commando and weapons specialist, was taken on by Eugene for his expertise with anything explosive, and his uncanny knack for making something out of nothing for every eventuality. Between them, they would maintain the ship while Eugene remained in his stasis unit for the lengthy journey. McCall spent months plotting the dangerous path back to Mars, through all the new debris fields created by Shu, when she completely destroyed whole planetary systems. The best estimate he could come up with for the entire journey, using the ion-ram engine, was twenty-two years, seven months, and three days.
To keep his crew amused, and more importantly, to provide the necessary initial breeding units to create his new army of humans on Mars, Eugene finally selected just three women out of the thousands available from among the multiracial population of female slaves. Aisha, formerly a concubine of Dranaa Nagesh, came from noble Drana stock. She was striking, arrogant, scheming, and extremely intelligent, all the right qualities needed to breed Eugene’s successor when the time came. Dena, Aisha’s Andrasian house servant, was plain, quiet, kind, and a natural when it came to looking after young children. And finally, Heqet, the beautiful young Nephile from a prominent ‘House’ on Cydon, sold into slavery after she was captured at the age of five, who had spent the rest of her life working in the royal kitchens across the Drana Empire. She was strong-minded, intelligent, and because of her genetic make-up, the closest to the new human race Eugene so desperately desired. He rejected the rest simply because in his eyes, “all they’ll breed are more lizard-breath goddam aliens!”
The final preparations for the journey were under way. All the equipment and supplies had been loaded on board, and the three women were securely locked into the small cell they would occupy for the journey, close to the engine room. Eugene, McCall, Miorr, and Odesh spent the night going over all the procedures one last time before the launch in the morning. Security had been stepped up. Eugene posted guards at ten meter intervals around the entire launch area with strict instructions to shoot anyone not directly connected with the trip. Nothing was going to get in the way of his final escape from Janus Omega.
Next time – Chapter Forty-Five