The Starship Boldier fell helplessly towards the worm hole. The captain was long dead and what remained of the crew was in complete disarray. Communication with earth was lost, as were the navigation systems.
—– ~ —–
It had been nothing like Captain Davitt Rhane had ever seen or imagined. He knew it would be big, he’d seen the schematics and computer models, but they didn’t prepare him for this. The colossal octahedron towered over his small shuttlecraft, almost one thousand times its size. As the docking clamp approached, the warning to return to a seat and fasten the safety straps came over the communication system. Rhane returned to his seat and pressed the button, which locked the safety straps in place.
The mission assigned to the Boldier and its crew had been to head toward earth’s out-stations. They were space stations positioned on the outer rim of the solar system. These were strategic stations that contained a large military contingent, but housed some of the overflow of Earth’s growing population and food was running short. The Boldier was to transport emergency food and medical rations to the stations and to assist in any way possible. After this, they would replace the Starship Loki in its duties in that area. The Loki had been destroyed in a surprise attack by forces from Mars. Mars has been declared an independent planet over six years previously and ever since they had become increasingly aggressive toward any Earth space traffic. Earth had broken off diplomatic relations with the RMAC (Republic of Mars and Associated Colonies) after this, the situation had gone from bad to worse since.
The small ship jolted slightly as it slid into the docking clamp. Once docked, the straps disengaged themselves, the Captain, along with the three other members of the crew boarded the Boldier for the first time. Once aboard they were instantly met by the chief engineer.
“Captain Rhane, we’ve been awaiting your arrival,” he held his hand out and the captain shook it warmly.
“Are all the crew all aboard now?”
“Yes, you three were the last to board.”
“We should prepare then, the scheduled departure time is only half an hour away.” The captain strode past the engineer and headed for the command room. Although this was the first time he had seen the ship from the inside, he knew the layout like the back of his hand.
The command centre was positioned directly in the middle of the giant octagonal ship. Surrounding this were the sub-command and engineering posts. Engineering was the nearest to the command centre, positioned so that the engineers could use the matter transporter to move around the ship quickly. Surrounding the sub-command posts, on the outer rim of the ship, were the weapons and navigation posts. Despite its size, the total crew of the Boldier numbered only thirty, comprising of the Captain, his sub-commanders, the engineers, navigation and weapons officers. Most of the space that the mammoth ship afforded was occupied by supplies and munitions.
Upon reaching the command centre, the Captain positioned himself in the command seat. He was a tall man with a smooth, dark complexion and a short crop of black hair. Once seated, the command seat hissed closed about him. It was less of a seat and more of a chamber as it completely encased the Captain, providing independent life support. If it became necessary the chamber could function outside of the ship, providing an escape pod. The command controls were positioned at his fingers and although they didn’t give him direct control of the main ship they allowed him direct contact with each one of his 4 sub-commanders.
As the departure time approached he issued instructions to Navigation Sub-Commander Kramer to begin departure.
—– ~ —–
They had been only two days into space when they encountered their first problem in the ill-fated mission.
A small Mars freighter carrying valuable minerals had tracked the ship. The Captain had asked to speak with the commander of the freighter but his request had been refused and the freighter had opened fire. This had probably been as much in defence as anything else, as it was not unheard of for Earth ships to pirate valuable cargo freighters from Mars. Rhane immediately ordered his weapons and navigation officers to plot a guarded retreat. A brief exchange of fire ensued, crippling both ships.
The Boldier was brought to a safe distance. Damage reports were coming from all areas of the ship; the worst affected being the navigation systems; sub-commander Kramer had requested all available engineers and bots be transported to the damaged areas of navigation to repair what they could. In the meantime the ship was left blind and almost immobilised. The situation was dire and the Captain had already sent a distress call to Earth, however the communication systems had also been damaged and it was impossible to tell whether the signal had been successfully transmitted.
After almost two hours of virtually blind drifting, the guidance systems were brought back on-line and their position was plotted and reported to the Captain. The news was unbelievable, whilst they had been travelling at almost no speed they had travelled quite an amazing distance and were nearing the edge of the Solar system – which was where the space stations were positioned. The Captain immediately redirected every engineering resource to the communication systems, as he urgently needed to open a dialog with the station commander.
—– ~ —–
The communication systems on the Space Station Skadi were not powerful enough to communicate with Earth; they knew a ship was coming but not when. They had tracked a ship for almost four hours before it entered weapons range. The commander, a small, frustrated man called Trent had attempted to establish communications with the ship. The giant ship had not responded but seemed to be heading straight for the station. The station had detected that the ship had been damaged and the commander assumed this was probably due to a recent battle with an Earth ship, possibly even the one that was on its way to replace the Loki. They didn’t have visual contact and so to them, the ship approaching could be friend or foe; the commander was not a man that liked to take risks – especially with his own life.
“Sir, the ship refuses to respond to any of our communication attempts!” The communication officer of the Skadi reported.
“Can we even tell if they are the enemy?” The commander asked. He’d been in command of the Skadi for a long time and was very tired and nervous. Mars had been progressively attacking each of the Earth out-stations one by one and only five remained of the twenty that had originally been deployed; Trent did not intend to be the next casualty.
“Sorry, Sir. There’s no way to tell. We can tell that they have recently been in a battle and that they sustained damages; there’s radiation leakage,”
“It must be the RMAC come to finish us off! Well, we wont go down without a fight!” The commander declared, a frightened expression on his face. “Weapons, what have we got left?”
The weapons officer, a young man of little more that twenty answered, “We have two warheads and one kamikaze!” He had arrived on the station as a trainee engineer and had been progressively promoted through the deaths of his superiors; his face reflected the rapid ageing that occurs when you get promoted in this way.
“Fire a warhead, show them we’re serious!”
—– ~ —–
“Captain!” The report came from Rhane’s weapons officer, “The Station appears to be tracking us!”
“Sir, they are preparing to fire on us!” The Captain, a man of only nine months space experience froze. How could an earth station be firing on an earth ship? The only conclusion he could reach was that after one of the recent attacks by Mars they had seized the station for their own. “Sir, what do you want me to do?”
“Sir! I need a decision!”
The Captain knew that if the enemy invaded any station it was the duty of the commander of the station to destroy it. He had met the commander of the Skadi and on reflection it occurred to him that it was entirely possible he had surrendered or abandoned his post.
“Are the warheads functional?”
“Yes, we have ten left, Captain,”
“I said fire!”
“But, Sir…” protested to officer with a look of confused dread.
“Sub-Commander Mann, either you carry out my orders, or I will relieve you of duty and have you set adrift in space!”
The commander fired the warheads.
The Starship hung in space, almost squared off against the Space Station. Once the firing began it didn’t last very long. The first exchange of warheads had destroyed almost half of the space station and had crippled both the communications and navigation systems of the Starship. Casualties were suffered on both sides, the Skadi had lost almost a third of its remaining crew and the Boldier had lost twelve men, mostly engineers. The second and last exchange was almost simultaneous, the Skadi dispatched its last warhead and before it even reached it’s target the Skadi was completely destroyed by the reply coming from the Boldier.
When the Skadi’s warhead did reach its target it exacted horrendous revenge, though. The resulting blast destroyed what was left of the communication and navigation systems, it also damaged the propulsion systems, sending the ship spinning into space. Captain Rhane saw the warhead approach through his forward viewing screen. That was the last thing he ever saw. The blast started a chain reaction in the ship’s electrical systems, which in turn, caused the command post to explode, the captain was killed instantly.
—– ~ —–
The Starship Boldier fell helplessly towards the worm hole. The captain was long dead and what remained of the crew was in complete disarray. Communication with earth was lost as were the navigation systems.
—– ~ —–
Kramer was the last surviving commanding officer and therefore was now in command of the Boldier. He had not been able to repair any of the systems damaged in the battle, this was primarily due to the fact that all the engineers were either dead or dying. Only three men had escaped death or fatal injury in the blast, Kramer had assumed command and had tried for some time to restore the systems, to send a distress signal and in the end to abandon ship. Even the attempt to abandon ship had failed as the escape pods had all been badly damaged or destroyed. The discovery of the worm hole they were spinning towards had further panicked the remaining men and all efforts to do anything but pray had been put on hold.
Shaun Kramer was a small man, with a battle hardened face and a strange, one-sided grin (the result of a previous encounter with a Mars Freighter). He had seen his share of battles, both on earth and in space and each one was engraved into his face. He stood with the last two survivors and looked out of the forward viewing post in one of the navigation posts. They stared at the worm hole, watched as it slowly approached, sucking them in like a giant, starved space monster.
The mouth of the worm hole came closer with ever increasing speed, looming larger and larger over the ship until they felt like tiny specs of dust on a giant black carpet of space. When it came, it came faster than they had expected, pulling the ship in, the ship began to shake violently and shudder, almost with fright.
The Boldier entered and was sucked through.
—– ~ —–
When Kramer came to, he glanced around. He was still in the Navigation post, and it took him some time to recall the events immediately proceeding him losing consciousness. He remembered seeing the worm hole envelop them, the ship shuddering violently, and then nothing. He glanced around for the other two survivors of the crew. He saw only one of them, crumpled near the navigation console, he also noticed that the escape hatch had been opened.
—– ~ —–
Navigation Officer Graham Hunter could recall right up until just before they entered the worm hole. He awoke to find himself lying next to the escape hatch, looking around he saw the other two still unconscious. He could hear a sound coming from what was left of the navigation console and pulling himself to his feet he staggered over to investigate. The display panel was telling him of a ship-wide system failure, including life support. A life support failure in space would mean instant death. It occurred to him that if he wasn’t already dead then the atmosphere outside must be breathable.
As he stumbled back to the escape hatch he considered the situation they found themselves in. They appeared to be on a planet, but they were on the other side of a worm hole. If they were indeed on a planet capable of supporting life then it was probably doing just that, although he had no way of telling whether the inhabitants would be hospitable.
On releasing the escape hatch the door fell outward, tipping him headlong into a lush, green field. There were trees scattered around, full with green leaves, so tall they seemed to touch the clear blue sky. The air was clean and the sun, so bright it seemed it would blind him, bathed everything in a warm, crisp glow. He looked around to see a lake surrounding this paradise oasis.
For a minute he considered he may be back on earth, or maybe he was dead after all. He began to explore a little further from the ship, noticing that all the tress contained some type of fruit, similar in shape to a pear, but with a strange skin most reminiscent of a tomato. He reached for one, hypnotised by the smell and gentle warmth of the place, it reminded him so much of home, of his wife and his young boy. He felt as though he was back there, he almost expected to see his son come running up to him at any moment.
When the blast came he didn’t even see it and even as he fell to the ground, he still had a smile on his face.
—– ~ —–
As Commander Kramer left the ship, the first sight he was greeted with was the site of Hunter’s body. He was no more than a fifty yards from the ship, he had been shot from behind. He was laying on his front and his back showed where the blast had hit. It almost appeared that something had scooped away most of his back, the scorch marks on the uniform surrounded the wound which sloped smoothly inward until at its depth, you could clearly see Hunter’s spine glistening through the flesh. Kramer couldn’t believe he had been there long, but already, whatever passed for scavengers on this planet had obviously taken what they could. Some of his scalp had been picked clean and the rest of his body was riddled with bite marks and wounds, which oozed with blood and what looked like large insects. His eyeball lay just next to his head, the retinal cord was still attached and a green slime which looked vaugely like larvae was seeping from the socket.
Commander Kramer turned away in disgust and pulled the escape hatch closed.
He sat back against it and began to quietly cry.
When Weapons Officer Peters awoke it was to see sub-commander Kramer leaning over him, shaking him vigorously.
“Peters! Wake up!” Peters wondered what had happened for a minute. He remembered standing in the navigation post, staring at an approaching black hole.
“We’re alive?” the confusion was almost comical. He almost sounded disappointed by the statement.
“Not for long if you don’t get up! Come on!” Kramer’s face was dirty, bloody and streaked with a combination of tears and sweat. He was a man who could take a lot, he’d been a marine before joining the space core and had seen a lot of battles but he was nearing his endurance limit now.
“Dead” Kramer didn’t see any point in elaborating.
Peters climbed to his feet and immediately fell again, clutching his leg and growling with pain. As he did so, Kramer could see the reason, his leg was clearly broken, there was a tear in his uniform around the knee and the broken leg bone could clearly be seen poking through the gap, glistening and damp with blood.
It was just as Peters was testing his ability to walk that the first blast hit, rolling the ship sideways and knocking Peters to the ground. The ensuing scream made Kramer wince despite himself. When he had got to his feet he saw Peters had passed out. He moved over to the forward viewing screen, which was still, apparently working. Through the interference he saw the source of the blast that had shook the ship.
Stood all around the ship he could see alien beings. They looked like netherworld demons to Kramer. They stood around seven feet a piece, their skin was light, but harsh – almost scaly. They seemed to have the basic structure of a humanoid body. Their eyes were long slits, which seemed to droop toward the ends, toward the centre of the face they almost touched what seemed like it could have been a nose. The noses were little more than small vents in the face and were positioned slightly above what could only be described as a sucker, a large circular section of the face which seemed to gradually expand and then contract. The hands were also, almost scaly, with only four digits. Each of these beings held a small knife like object in one hand and the other what seemed to be a short metal cylinder.
It was only when one of them pointed the cylinder at the ship and Kramer was knocked against the opposite wall of the ship that he realised what the cylinder was.
Kramer gave up on Peters, he had regained consciousness and was holding his leg, wailing. He began typing into the navigation console, he was attempting to access some of the short range weapons stored on the ship. He was interrupted twice in his efforts, the first time by a third blast, which knocked him back and caused a malfunction in the computer system. The second interruption came from Peters who had begun to crawl towards the escape hatch, Kramer caught him just before he managed to open the escape hatch.
Peters began to sob.
It took Kramer over half an hour to bring the short-range weapons systems back on-line. By this time the hull had completely ruptured and the alien beings had begun systematically firing volleys to destroy the ship completely. He initiated the firing procedure, selecting auto-target. The ship fired the first laser, firing straight at the nearest alien and ripping him almost in two. Kramer watched through the screen as the alien twitched like a worm that had just been cut in half.
Taking his cue from the painful death of his comrade, one of the aliens began pressing some buttons on his belt. He hadn’t quite finished before the laser fired again, this time not a direct hit, but still depriving one of the aliens of his right leg. After this, a force-field came up, evidently whatever the alien had done with his belt had appeared to raise the shield. The next laser blast hit the shield and was dispersed along its length. Kramer left the ship on automatic firing while he prepared to leave. Once he had gathered what he thought he could use, a gun and some rations, he walked over to Peters.
“Peters, we have to leave!”
“Peters… Leave! Leave!” Peters was completely incoherent – half-unconscious and half-mad.
“Peters!” he shook his head and said softly, “Sorry, Peters.”
Kramer walked to the console and pressed a few buttons and then scurried over to the escape hatch. Just before he left, he heard the warning come over the communication systems “Self Destruct, two minutes and counting!”
When the explosion came, Kramer had made it only a hundred yards from the ship. The blast threw him to the ground. He may have made it further, but Peters had made it out of the escape hatch and was calling to him. Like some insane zombie reaching out to him. As he had looked round he saw the explosion, slowed for him into a perfect clarity action replay by his conscience. He saw as the fireball, originating from the engine of the ship, spread outwards; He saw as Peters, just clear of the hatch was picked up by the blast, almost sitting on a giant fireball; He saw the expression of fear and pain across his face; He saw as the aliens winced from the blast, as the force-field failed under the pressure and as two of the aliens were incinerated where they stood; He saw as Peters was thrown towards him by the blast; Finally he saw Peters not ten yards from him, burning alive and moaning in pain, dying but not dead.
Kramer stood, looking at the burning, writhing body of Peters, almost fixated. It was only the blast, narrowly missing his head, which brought him round and started him running, as much from instinct as from fear. He was running into what appeared to be a forest, as he ran he found that the woodland grew thick around him very quickly. He could hear from the shouts of his pursuers that they were lagging behind and he was gaining ground with every step. Even so, every so often he would hear a blast and see a tree burst into flames, dangerously near his position.
He had been running for over half an hour when he began to tire. He wasn’t sure which way he was going, but seemed to be almost guided by the alien guns. They appeared to be flanking him on both sides and each time he had attempted a deviation he had almost been caught with a barrage of shots. He still had the gun he had taken from the ship, he selected a particularly big tree the make his stand. He leaned back against the tree and cocked the gun. Then, kneeling down, he rolled out and siting the nearest alien, he fired. He rolled back just in time to miss the retaliation.
He hadn’t killed the alien that he’d hit, but he saw it thrown to the ground and heard it scream. The attack had also given him time to assess his pursuers and taking into account the alien he had just hit, he counted four left standing. The aliens seemed to be firing directly at the tree he had taken refuge behind, constantly barraging it with shot after shot, it wasn’t long before the tree caught fire. Kramer crawled a few feet away from it and then began to run again, staggering along at a point just beyond exhaustion, he had made some distance before the aliens saw what he had done and resumed the chase.
As he ran through the wood, the trees grew thicker and the woodland more and more dense. The trees seemed to grow taller on every side of him, towering up and blocking most of the light. Amongst the fire from the aliens and their shouts, he could occasionally hear a forest animal, various howls and squawks, which gave him some small comfort that he wasn’t the only poor creature in this godforsaken wilderness.
Because the forest had grown so thick, it was too late that he saw the marsh and ran straight into what was very soft and thick mud. The alien fire was still coming and was getting closer all the time, but now he found he was stuck. Every time he tried to move, the thick mud seemed to just get a better grip on him, already it had taken his feet and he was completely stuck.
Kramer was just stood there, looking almost comical in the light of his situation, when the aliens came into sight. They had obviously realised what had happened because they held their fire. Their guns were pointed in his direction, a clear warning that should he attempt to use his own weapon he would be killed where he stood. The futility of the situation became immediately clear to Kramer, if he did nothing then they would stand and watch him sink, if he tried to kill at least one of them he would still sink, but as a corpse.
At that moment he decided that he didn’t want to drown and raised his gun.
Shaun Kramer would have died that minute, he expected to and was well prepared. He would have been shot where he stood just like Hunter, he thought again of the parasites and scavengers that had so quickly had their fill of Hunter. After his carefully aimed shot put the first alien down he closed him eyes and waited for the retaliation, it didn’t come. He heard shots, but felt no pain. Kramer tentatively opened his eyes to see the aliens quickly retreating and exchanging fire with something, or someone else. He saw the shots firing back and forth but couldn’t see his champion, or at least the attacker of his enemy.
The firing had stopped when the trolls appeared. He thought trolls because that is exactly what they looked like, small trolls. They were green, but scaly like the others, with what appeared to be a snout and razor sharp teeth. They stood no more that four-foot a-piece, but had outnumbered the larger aliens by at least four to one. They had dispersed if not destroyed the bigger aliens. They scurried over to the edge of the marsh and arranged themselves in a semi-circle around the edge, beginning to chatter. He couldn’t understand anything of their language but he saw they kept pointing at him, they seemed almost confused.
“Help,” Kramer tried, weakly. He held his hand toward one of the trolls, which caused havoc. The troll immediately stepped back in fear, tripping over one of his compatriots and in the confusion firing a shot in the air. At this point they all raised their guns and pointed them at each other, ready to fire. The guns they held were not like those of the other aliens, they were not cylindrical in design, but more similar to the gun he had, they did fire the same type of laser burst that the guns of the other aliens.
The troll who had fallen lay down his gun and stepped back, followed shortly by the creature he had fallen over. They suddenly began to fight each other and the crowd of trolls moved to encircle the two and the chattering rose to a much higher frequency. Kramer watched, half in fascination, half in desperation, as the creatures he thought would be his saviours had turned out to be little more than savage animals who walked upright. He was beginning to think he might have been better off with the first set of aliens. In a final act of desperation he shouted at them and fired his gun in the air. The ensuing confusion made him wish he hadn’t. The trolls, unable to distinguish where the sound came from all began firing on each other and running in different directions. Within just a few minutes the band of trolls had reduced it’s number to only three. They ran in different directions.
By this time, Kramer was up to his waist and, if the preceding events were anything to judge by, was destined to sink into the marsh and die where he stood. As if for his entertainment, some more of the trolls appeared to his left. They seemed to be holding another troll, who was struggling violently. The trolls then threw their prisoner into the marsh, head first. Kramer watched as the poor soul splashed a little with muffled screams and shrieks, finally a large bubble was all that remained of the poor creature. The grim foresight of his own fate prompted him to try to escape, dispensing of his gun he grasped for the reeds and plants, which grew at the side of the marsh. The struggling only succeeded in quickening the sinking process and it wasn’t long before only his head and arms were above the ground. He lost consciousness just after his head went under and subsequently never felt the arm or heard the voices, which pulled him out of the marsh or the trip, which followed.
Kramer awoke thinking he was dead, indeed, by this time, wishing it so. His arms felt stiff and his hands were numb. He realised he was cold. He died there, still wondering if he was already dead and in hell or if he had died before he even landed on this cursed planet and wondering why it was so very cold in hell.
The bodies of Hunter and Peters hung either side of Kramer. Both men were stripped of their clothes just like Kramer and, like Kramer, they were suspended in a crucifix position to a rock wall. Strung up by their arms, each in their separate sections of the wall. Hunter hung, long dead and still the macabre smile he had died with was visible on his disfigured face, which at this point had no eyeballs, and shiny bone could be visible on one half of his face.
Peters’ body barely had any skin left, most had been burnt off in the blaze and if you moved very close to him, very close indeed, close enough to smell the crisp, burnt flesh, you could just make out the deluded mutterings of a tortured soul.
Moving back you could see that all around these three were other creatures, also strung up in the same manner. Some of the trolls that Kramer had encountered were there, along with other strange creatures, obviously indigenous to this planet and some, which obviously were not. In fact, some of the bones that hung there looked distinctly human. Most of the bodies had decayed to just skeletons by now but each was strung up by the arms in the exact same crucifix position and each had, chiseled into the stone beneath them some alien writing.
The writing that indicated when and where they had been captured and by whom.