Echo-1: Part 24
We were an interesting bunch:
The green lizard man with his pirate sword.
The Gila Monster with his bear tooth necklace.
The camouflaged giant muscle hulk wearing a samurai helmet, carrying a rusty leaf blower.
The two all-black assassins.
Two Greenpeace aficionados in rusty robot armor suits.
The naked tattooed woman with the green mohawk, she spiked it up for the occasion.
The skinny human-sized rust robot pilot and the huge square rust Sentinel droid with double electric battle axes.
A whale in a tank controlling a humanoid marionette, with a back up four-armed avatar at the ready.
A bunch of monkeys that were really lizard food.
A ferocious killer monster polar bear, to be used as a lizard horse.
And me, your humble narrator.
Blunt went back to the Brick. Everyone else boarded the transport ship. I walked onto the Sunshine scout and took the pilot seat. Styx was sitting next to me.
“Ready. For. Take. Off. Blikdrod.”
I had no idea what a ‘Blikdrod’ was. I hoped it wasn’t an insult.
We all must have got the next message as it came over my transmitter as well as over the scout’s communication system.
“Everyone will be disconnected from the Banga’s computer system. From this point on and until you are back inside the hangar you will have no communication with the Banga, nor make any reference to her or your affiliation with us. You’re on your own. No one will come for you if you fail. This mission was never ordered, and for all intents and purposes, never happened. Now, go get that little guy back. Vronsky out.”
I hadn’t heard from Vronsky in a while. I liked that whale. He kept things short and to the point. I was disconnected from the Banga’s network.
As soon as the scout’s door was closed the hangar’s airlock lights turned red. The interior door opened and the three ships all moved into the airlock. The airlock depressurized, the lights went green, and the outer door opened. We moved out into space. The Brick glided along next to the transport ship. The transport ship didn’t have half the speed or handling of the other two ships. I took up a position above them. We all set a course to loop around the outside of the Varan system and connect to with the Morning Star comet on the other side. We swung wide around the planets, moving at the transport ship’s top speed. We knew the Banga would be resuming its course to the wormhole immediately after we left. We’d have to catch up to them after and they wouldn’t be waiting. If we failed, this was a one-way trip.
We circumvented the asteroid belt and watched the two Varan worlds drifted by in the distance. I enjoyed the sunlight of the Varan star. It lit up the diamond scout ship. We were refracting light beams in all directions, a giant sun catcher zipping across the solar system. Traces of rainbows streaked the transport ship. I watched the dance of planets, a cosmic beauty to behold.
It was a short time until our destination came into view. Hurtling through the sky on its never changing trajectory, the comet trailed a shower of sparkling ice and gas behind it. It looked so peaceful and serene as it passed far above the Varan system. The planets seemed very distant from it. We moved closer and closer to it in our perfect triangular formation. Eventually, we were close enough to spot the Magus hanging in the wake of the comet. Unmoving and silent.
I had a moment of inspiration. “Mox, what do you think about me jetting ahead and testing the waters?”
Our transmitters were all working. There didn’t seem to be any communications jam.
X responded. “Let’s wait until we’re a little closer, dude. At this range, if you accelerate away from us, you’d be on your own.”
We proceeded on in silence. Closer and closer. It was slow to move toward an object running away from you in space. We had long left the outer edge of the Varan system and even its sun was reduced to a star in the distance, its planets no longer clearly visible. It seemed safe to assume there would be no way for them to know we came from the Banga. It would appear that we came from the Varan system. Which would be an obvious place for Mox to pick up a transport ship.
We got into scanning range and I focused the scout’s array on the Vedma ship. It was considerably bigger than us. A large-scale ancient battle cruiser covered completely with fighter crafts. It had one bay door on its underside. We could easy dock all three of our ships there. Inside the white tail of the comet, the nearly black ship sat. Unmoving. They must have known we were there.
“Klamgortist. Communications. Jam.” Styx didn’t like it. We were getting some kind of interference. We lost most of our sensor ability. Our ship to ship communications were gone.
“Transmitter check.” It came into my mind. It was Mox.
“Hands, loud and clear.”
“The Brick’s communications are still intact. I think Hands’ little recon plan would be a good idea right about now.” Blunt suggested.
The Magus had a strange allure. It lay ahead a dark spiky porcupine of death in the shadow of an interstellar snowball. I wanted nothing more at the time than to get closer and see it.
Mox via transmitter: “I concur, go.”
X from inside the Rust-a-gogo: “Yes, go. Werner, Forklift, and I have communication from inside our Robo units.”
I looked over at Styx. “You ready?”
He armed the weapons system. “Glime. Affirmative.”
I punched it and we pulled off ahead of the others. The Magus really came into view. It was somewhat oval shaped and covered in spikes. We were heading straight at her, full speed. No motion. No activity. No communication.
The comet was massive. It dwarfed the ship. It ever so slowly rolled as it moved through space. It began to fill our field of vision, the space around the scout being filled with drifting ion particles from the comet.
They activated the light beam. It was a bit like they shined a giant flashlight on us and it had about that much of an effect.
“Styx, is it getting into our systems? Is it affecting you?”
“Blorstag. Negative. The. Beam. Refracted. Off. Hull. Styx. Immune.”
I felt like firing a rocket at them.
Communications suddenly became unjammed. A visual message was being sent. I activated our cockpit display. It flickered to life and the screen was filled with the head of an expressionless humanoid robot.
“Greetings faithful pilgrims, the Vedma welcome you to the fold. You will first need to prove your worth.”
The Magus open fired. A volley of laser blasts shot out from unseen cannons.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is nothing like the handling capabilities of a Varan spacecraft. I swerved around, dove under, and dodged an impressive number of blasts before one hit us. The laser blast reflected off our hull. They blasted us several more times just to make sure. The bursts pushed us around in space a bit and forced correcting our trajectory, but with the navigation interface, I was able to regain control easily. The robot still on my screen turned his head slightly.
“Impressive craft pilgrim. You may prove yourself yet.”
For the first time I saw movement from the ship. I suddenly felt in the pit of my stomach a sense of being worried. A wave of fighters launched off the surface, like a porcupine firing off its spines.
The robot continued to pester us.
“The Mega Therion welcoming party comes to greet you. The Morning Star will be your everlasting resting place.”
The laser blasts broke for a second and I saw ten fighters barreling down. They all open fired. Their smaller blasters having little or no affect. I raced between them and looped around to face them. They spread out all around me and started with the missiles. I dodged the first three and the fourth slammed into our side. It shook the ship so violently it threw me out of my seat. I jumped back into my chair, strapped myself in, while simultaneously charging at the Magus. The lights on the dash were going wild. We had taken some damage and were tracking sixteen objects heading at us. I pulled up at a nearly 90-degree angle to the Magus and the first few missiles exploded on impact causing a chain reaction that drew the attention of the other missiles. I turned back toward the Vedma fighters and engaged my blaster cannon. I was able to destroy one. The others flew off in every direction; half running from me, the other half firing at me. Rockets exploded around us and we took another missile hit.
“Haqwauz. Fighters. Ineffective. Against. Us.”
Styx was right, but they would tear the transport ship apart. I fired and fired again. I held off using the diamond missiles. This was a test round. I disabled three more fighters. They floated helplessly in space. The others continued to attack. The dogfight consumed me. I caught a glimpse of the transport ship and the Brick. They had stopped advancing and orbited the comet, sitting a good distance away from the action.
I was on the tail of two more fighters. I took out the first with my cannon and the second I managed to wing and send spinning off into space. The others continued to hammer me with rockets. The Sunshine scout was beginning to show signs of strain. The impacts were damaging systems and they had figured out that aiming at the thrusters was a good idea. I flipped around got a missile lock on the lead fighter and fired. The light beam immediately came out of the ship and lit up the missile like a firecracker. It did nothing. The rocket hit home and completely destroyed the Vedma fighter. The other ships seemed to be enraged by this and they all turned and charged me, guns a blazing. A number of hits we took were uncountable and I was able to dodge two collisions. The next ship crashed right into us in a suicide attack. The proximity of the explosion and the impact was enough that I thought it might kill me.
If my ship was as hard as a skull, I felt like a soft brain inside it, with a concussion. I locked another rocket and destroyed another fighter. I managed to take four more out of commission before they got a new idea.
The robot on my monitor antagonized me further.
“Very impressive indeed pilgrim. Let’s see how your timid friends fair.”
The ten remaining fighters tore off in the direction of the Brick and the transport ship. There was no way the transport ship would be able to fend them off. I took down one with my cannon and missile locked two more and destroyed them. The transport ship fired its two front-facing cannons on the approaching fighters.
In an amazing series of angular motions, the Brick engaged the oncoming ships. First, it shot straight forward, then without physically turning, changed direction and moved to its left in another straight line blindsiding five of the oncoming Vedma fighters and destroying them on impact. It was like an oil tanker crashing into a group of paddle boats, they didn’t have a chance. The Brick stopped, remained stationary for a moment then moved directly to its right absorbing missiles fired toward the transport ship and delivering a destructive collision to the remaining fighters. There were no more functioning fighters.
X: “Hands, kick-ass piloting. Way to fuck em up!”
The bay door on the bottom side of the Magus opened. Two larger sized ships came out. They looked like construction vehicles, with large claws coming off the front. They raced toward me and fired the claws. I was able to shoot one claw down, but the other clasped across my entire ship. It was out of the path of my blaster cannon and when they retracted it, there was nothing I could do. It was as if a big metal hand plucked us from the sky.
I fired the engines and spun us and the claw ship around. The second claw ship came around and butted up against us like a tugboat. They were dragging us in. I gave the thrusters everything they had. They had pinned us between them and were using their engines to stabilize us.
Before I knew what was happening the Brick blasted past us, connecting with the ship that had its claw on us. The ensuing explosion lit up the entire diamond scout. I felt like I was inside a light bulb. The scratching sound of the Brick rubbing against our exterior was that of a million fingernails simultaneously dragged across a chalkboard. I pulled away from the tug on our other side and the Brick smashed into it with such a force that it tore the ship in two. I fired into the wreckage destroying it completely.
I was caught up in the battle, acting on instinct, moving and firing with deadly accuracy. Had the battle downloads changed who I was? Did they give me some kind of murderous mindset? I only had a moment to think these thoughts. The Magus moved. It angled itself just far enough away from the comet to send the beam out to the transport ship.
The transport ship lunged forward. Its engines ignited. It was gliding right toward the Magus, which had now repositioned itself back behind the comet. The Brick followed along. They didn’t even bother shining the beam on it.
Mox: “They got us in the beam. We’ve lost all control of the ship’s systems. Everything is gone. All systems show the virus language. We’re going in.”
I looked at Styx. He sat there a rusty motionless robot, his electric red eye glowed unwaveringly.
“I’m going to follow them in.”
Blunt from the Brick: “We’ll maintain position outside. They can’t do anything to us.”