* * * * * Chapter 4 continued
"Later. You can tell us later." He looked concerned, as well. The arm Yenne was using to push herself up shook involuntarily, and her elbow joint snapped shut. She collapsed once again. Then the world went black.
Anto looked around the underground room. Aside from Yenne, all the others were sitting uneasily, or, in David's case, pacing. Yenne herself slept deeply, in a warm bed, bronze skin strangely pale. She had been like this for seventeen hours, when Shaylor had come across her repairing the ship. At three in the morning! Anto's deep respect for Yenne only grew at hearing this. Suddenly, she stirred. Anto felt relief wash over her. She would not sleep forever.
"You're awake. I wish one of us was a medic. The Nu were little help." Bantu Basha looked remarkably cool. David, his Terran friend, shot a look that spoke of daggers at the Krigoni. He would have to ask David about what was going on there. The grave look on Yenne's face brought him of his thoughts with a start.
"I had a vision." She stated simply. Anto had heard that Aravillians had a strange talent for seeing the future in prophetic visions. At least most of them could. Yenne told them everything, starting with Dantu, and ending with the shattering. She told it starkly, almost sketchily, but Anto heard the fear, and the pain, in the beautiful Aravillian's voice. She finished it with, "The most peculiar thing is that me, I did not seek out this vision. The vision, it was forced upon me." Anto thought it sounded like Yenne had been raped. "Visions are not supposed to be doing that."
Shaylor squeezed her bronze hand comfortingly, and she smiled at him in a grateful fashion. "Do you know what any of it could mean?" He said softly.
Yenne shook her head uncertainly. "I know little, perhaps I am knowing nothing. Blood means many things, among them lost, death, and lust. The large black bird, perhaps it was meaning evil. Also, the way I feel for Dantu may have influenced what I saw." She stated this all very simply, but her accent was strong, and Shaylor had told him that that was a sure sign that she was distressed.
"Maybe it means that Dantu is evil?" David tried.
Yenne made a noncommental sound. "Perhaps it was meaning that."
When no one else moved to support David, he muttered something darkly. Anto's eyes widened as he caught a little of it. Out loud, the Terran said, "I wish visions were so damn poetic. Are you sure you know nothing?" For an answer, Yenne simply nodded not a touch exhasperatedly.
"There is more." Yenne continued. "While I was out, I heard many voices, ours included, saying the phrase sho'gan vin over and over. The phrase, it is the nonsense to me. But I have heard of this happening. The trauma of the vision, if it is too great for the Prophet to be handling, and the vision fails to show itself entirely, will show itself to the Prophet slowly the next time she is having the sleep. The phrase, it is familiar to me for some reason." Yenne sounded disturbed. She looked around the room to see if anyone else recognized it. Blank stares looked back. Anto thought is was familiar too, but he would not call the familiarity disturbing. Puzzling, perhaps.
_ Bantu spoke in his icy tones, his crystalized voice. "It is a Krigoni phrase, of the ku-pon type. Ku-pon phrases must be deciphered syllable by syllable, taking in the context and pronunciation of each letter to gain the phrases full meaning." The pale blue Krigoni was silent for a few seconds, apparently thinking. Finally he spoke, voice not altering a whit. "Translated, it says volumes. Icy black hands that moves through the shadows to control those who control the masses. Or perhaps, evil hands of death that rules from the unknown, moving invisibly to greatness. I could go on." He recited the whole thing in as normal a voice as he possessed. Bantu might as well have been reading aloud from his favorite bookpad.
Suddenly Anto noticed David had gone pale. "You recognize it?" he asked his Terran friend simply.
"I just realized why this phrase is so familiar. Think back a few days." A few years to the rest of the universe. "Remember Dantu's words. He mentioned something about the sho'gan vin as he closed the door on us." Tight, cold anger filled David's voice as he spoke the last sentence. Anto was glad that at least some of the rest of the group felt as he did for Dantu. As for the rest... maybe Dantu didn't act alone. Was he just a pawn for greater forces? Was Dantu... evil? Anto had always thought that evil didn't really exist, but maybe he was wrong. And if an Explorien, one sworn to protect everything right and good, could be evil, then anyone could. Whom could they trust, if not an Explorien? Whom could they trust?
The next five days past quickly for all of the cadets stuck on Nu. Yenne of clan Valavan spent most of her time finishing the repairs on StarRunner, and mulling over her frightening and disturbing vision, and what it had revealed so far. In her training to be an Explorien, she had learned that the Nu were friendly and hospitable, but the ones she encountered seemed shifty, almost afraid and trying to hide it. She had almost been cheated when buying supplies many times. At least the acquiring of supplies was going well. Due to Nu's isolation, prices here were low for native items and high for imports.
Bantu Basha tried to immerse himself in the Nu culture completely. Most Nu seemed and were unwilling to help him in his endeavor, however. Shaylor McConnor worried him, as well. The boy did not take his responsibility as a Krigoni seriously. As long as the blood of Gha flowed in his veins, he should take his blood inheritance seriously. Flaunting his emotions like that! And without the slightest sense of honor, of na'vo! He should take the boy under his wing. Shaylor would appreciate it one day.
Anto was bored. The Nu culture did not interest him in the least. He had no feel for mechanics, so helping with the repairs was out. He basically tried to get to know the three other members of the crew he had not know previously. He was curious about why David Morrison and Bantu Basha struck so many sparks off one another, but David only glared at him and changed the subject when asked, and Bantu would only say "Some people find odd things irritating." In his placidly cool voice. It was a puzzle that was beyond Anto. By the end of the third day he gave up trying to bridge that gap!
Yenne was what worried Shaylor McConnor. His best friend still seemed very weak from her... experience. A Prophecy was not supposed to behave like that, or leave such after effects. Added to that, Shaylor had noticed that Bantu Basha was eyeing him very strangely whenever he was in sight. Shaylor made it a point not to let Bantu get him alone.
David Morrison wanted to scream in frustration. Bantu Basha, the wait, Anto, and Yenne's inability to be clearer all weighed on his mind. Bantu was calm. Always calm. The five of them would be together for a very long time, and he still did not trust him enough to let any emotion show! Stupid Krigoni and their stupid honor! It seemed that Anto wouldn't let in alone. The last thing that David wanted was trouble with Anto, but if the Velexian did not shut up about it soon, something had to snap. David was afraid it would be he that did the snapping. Yenne's disturbing vision was another source of intense aggravation. It would have been ten times better for David's peace of mind if Yenne's eyes had popped open and she had announced, "We will all be sucked into a black hole and die horribly ten days from now." Why could she not be more clear?
On the evening of the fifth day, they all met in the Nu kin hall to finalize plans for their morning departure the next day. All the supplies had been obtained, and stored aboard StarRunner. Bantu Basha was saying, "How are our food supplies? I do not wa-" when everything shook. Bantu waited for the mild tremor to abate, then began again, only to be stopped by another rumble. This one was perhaps fifteen times as strong, and it threw Shaylor McConnor to the stone floor violently. The kin hall rattled, and pottery smashed to the floor as the tremor ran its course. Finally it was still once more.
Pushing himself up shakily if hastily, Shaylor bit down fear. He had bad memories of earthquakes. Miraculously, everyone seemed unhurt. Then the ground shook once more, less this time. It was still, then shook again, then again once more, with the regularity of a beating heart.
Running outside, Shaylor saw swarms of circular ships zooming around Nu's clear sky. Bright beams of ions flashed, leaving black patches of scorched earth smoking where it struck, or a pillar of black smoke if it connected with a building. Shaylor gave thanks that so many of Nu's buildings were subterranean. As it was, panicked Nu ran through the streets of the Hamalei with arms held upright, the Nu sign for complete panic. Baby Nu cried out for Oolar and Nek-nek, or mommy and daddy. All young Nu were either one or twelve, because Nu bred in a twelve-year cycle. David Morrison yelled over the din. "We have to leave! Now!" no one argued with him. "I'll give us ten minutes to run and get our things, then we take off!" With a final "Move!" the Terran took off running, following his own advice.
Somehow Shaylor's feet carried him, stumbling, to the ormquale he had stayed under. The Nu were peaceful. In eighty years of recorded history, they had never had a war. What was happening? Who would attack Nu? What could they possibly hope to gain?
The female Nu and her three one year olds who he had stayed with were in the basement, where Shaylor had slept. "Nu, nu nu! Hurry! You leave, now!" It said. Shaylor wasn't about to stay and argue. Bundling up his new clothes, uniform, journal pad, and translator, he ran up through the cave house, through the ormquale, and sped towards the clearing they had landed in. For once he was glad of the Krigoni blood pumping in his veins. Krigoni, having such long legs, could run very fast.
The sky was filled with the strange ships when he reemerged. In all of his studies, Shaylor had never seen them. He was the second person aboard the ship, after Bantu. "Hurry!" he yelled as two others burst from the trees at the edges of the clearing. Quickly, he manned his Communications station. Bantu was already at the Main Computer terminal. Yenne and David, panting and red-faced, took their stations, Engineering and Piloting respectively. Where was Anto Klarisen? Shaylor hoped David would not be too strict about that little ‘ten minutes' speech. Anto was the Terran's best friend! He wouldn't abandon Anto... would he? Terrans were the most puzzling creatures in the Universe. StarRunner shuddered, a horrible feeling for those aboard. Finally Shaylor spotted the bulky Velexian. Anto burst into the ship just in time. Even as he took his Defense/Weapons station, David lifted StarRunner off the ground. The ship lifted off far too slowly for Shaylor's liking and comfort. Every now and then the ship shook as lasers struck it. "Yenne! I need more power for the engines!" David called out.
"No! Shields are at 40%! We can't spare them!" A panting Anto Klarisen protested. "Make that 30%!"
"We can't fight them when we're so outnumbered! Do it, Yenne! I can avoid them once we get up! Once we clear the mountains, you had better strap yourselves in!"
Shaylor didn't think they'd need Communications at a time like this. He strapped himself in.
"Maybe we can't fight them and win, but I want to take some of those bastards down." Anto said through gritted teeth. On the view-screen, StarRunner's own ion pulsers shot their blue orbs of energy. Three ships fell, like swatted flies. If anything, the attacks on StarRunner increased in intensity.
"We're going to have to outrun them!" I'll try to lose the three directly on our tail through the mountain canyon!" David almost sounded happy at the opportunity to fly through a tight canyon at high speeds. All Terrans were mad!
Shaylor was neither happy nor mad. Suddenly the ship jerked right, banked left, and held. For a second everything was on its side. Then they turned 180 degrees to the right. Shaylor felt sick as he realized that David was avoiding rock columns and cliffs. He felt worse when he realized that David was playing a game of "Chicken" with the pursuing ships, daring them to follow him, hoping to crash them against the stony canyon walls. Suddenly the climbed, then dived sharply. The ground rushed up to meet them. This was it! This was the end! The fool Terran was going to kill them all! The ship jerked out of its dive at the last second. As Shaylor put his hand up to wipe the sweat from his brow, the move in a very complicated fashion. Letting the sweat drip down his face, Shaylor pressed a few buttons on his computer, patching into David's. Shaylor was no tactician, and his piloting skills were average at best, but he recognized the maneuver they were preforming. "The Cobra," designed for use against Vorgons. In space. Not in a narrow canyon! Shaylor squeezed his eyes shut as StarRunner did things that Shaylor would have never thought a ship could do. David was an excellent pilot, if insane. The sound of two explosions, one right after another like gunfire, popped his eyes back open. "Yes!" David almost hissed. Shaylor had never thought of humans as primal before. The ship rolled and dived, and Shaylor forgot everything. He wanted to throw up. The final pursuing ship just wouldn't give up. "Persistent little son-of-a-" David began, but was cut off by a violent shaking.
"Shields are at 10%" Anto yelled. David only gritted his teeth harder. StarRunner shook again. Anto turned as pale as his olive brown complexion would allow. "One more hit and we're goners!" His voice was still the same, however, stolid and accenting, if with a slightly more frantic tone.
"Come on, come on..." David muttered as he piloted StarRunner through the canyon, past rock columns and cliffs with no regard for safety.
"I am not knowing if you have thought this." Yenne began. "But the end of the canyon, it may come at any second!" Her high, clear voice rang throughout the Control Center with the sound of horrible truth.
"I'm counting on it." Shaylor began to wish the Terran wouldn't mutter so much. The canyon wall appeared so suddenly Shaylor almost disgraced himself enough to scream. The end of the canyon! Death! Shaylor expected the David to pull up right away, but StarRunner only streaked towards the cruel barrier of rock ever faster. Finally, StarRunner pulled up, flying past the clouds. Shaylor quickly patched into Anto's computer. He saw just as soon as Anto spoke.
"We made it! The last ship crashed!" Anto's tone was jubilant. Shaylor felt weak with relief, like the release of worry had taken the strength from his limbs. As StarRunner broke free of Nu's atmosphere, Shaylor sent a brief message of thanks to the Nu government, and prepared to give David Morrison a piece of his mind.
Bantu Basha had been so sure that they were safe. They had escaped a raid on Nu by hostile unknown aliens, had set in a course for distant Ingor, and had relaxed. That was when Anto's computer beeped like crazy. The bulky, muscular Velexian cursed in his native tongue, the language that Bantu always thought sounded like a chen. "David, there's a whole fleet of those ships on our tail. More then thirty."
David Morrison cursed in his own language, and said. "Yenne, open a portal into Trans-space." That was how space-faring races traveled, by... shifting... slightly out of reality into a place where physics was... different. Bantu was no physicist; he had once attended a physics lecture, and had left with his head spinning after five minutes of inter-dimensional vibrations and space-time continuum, and the like. "How much speed can you give me, Yenne?" David continued.
Yenne grunted, to Bantu's startlement. "Not much. Light Factor 3.5, 4 if I take other systems offline." Bantu was not sure how fast that was, although he was aware that Star Cruisers could travel at up to Light Factor 50, although that was mainly because of their immense size.
"Do it. Shaylor, send the standard greeting to these aliens. It's obvious that no one has ever encountered them before." Bantu definently did not approve of how Shaylor had vented his emotions at David. In front of all the others like that! And without any sense of honor, of na'vo!
Like Bantu had said, that was all three days ago. At first the chase had been tense, but after it became clear that StarRunner could not outdistance the alien ships any more then could the aliens catch StarRunner, the chase quickly became mind numbingly boring. On the morning of the third day, Bantu awoke, showered, dressed in proper uniform, and walked quickly into the deserted Control Center. He was the only on time.
Several minutes later Yenne walked into the Control Center wearing what most Aravillians wore off planet- not much. Her chapong, or upper clothes, was made of a gauzy green material, and it left both her arms and abdomen bare. Her chopong, a garment much like pants, was also green, but baggy and definently more decent. It was still not in accordance with dress code, however. She carried a stone mug filled with steaming chiapemme, the Aravillian drink Bantu always though of as heated nectar. She smiled at him sleepily, yawned, and said. "Hi Bantu. You're here early." And then she yawned again! As if nothing was wrong!
"Greetings, Yenne. I regret to inform you that I am on time, not early, and that you are in violation of three cadet codes." All cadets will be on time, All cadets will follow proper dress code, and No food or drink in a Control Center.
"Bantu, we don't have an Explorien looking over our shoulders. I, for one, want to enjoy what freedom I can be having." Yenne explained herself in that sleepy tone. "Besides, it's stifilingly hot." The Aravillian laughed. Bantu believed that was as good a reason for Yenne's state of dress as any. Aravil was a very cold planet in comparison with most others. Yenne's brown, lidded gaze moved towards the Viewer Screen. "I see our friends are still being with us. These Chrarkae, they are certainly the persistent ones." That was what Shaylor's greeting had been answered with- ‘We are the Chrarkae. Submit or be destroyed.'. When Bantu remained silent, she continued. "You don't have to be going all icy until David gets here. You told me that you trusted me enough to show me emotions."
Bantu sighed, then raised an eyebrow in surprise. He had agreed to show Yenne emotion. "I was not aware that you knew of our... difficulties."
"Oh, come on Bantu! Me, I am not the blind one, yes? Anto, Shaylor, and I have considered betting on which of you will explode first." Yenne said. Bantu opened his mouth to reply, but all though fled from his head as StarRunner shuddered to a stop. A bare instant later, a huge, mantis-like creature appeared in the Control Center. Yenne's mug of chiapemme crashed to the floor, Bantu could see it fall slowly, as if time itself had slowed. The mug was perhaps halfway to the floor when the mantis-like creature peered at them. Bantu saw death in its compound eyes, death it its gleaming claw. The mug shattered on the metal floor.
Anto stumbled down the corridor towards the Control Center. It seemed as if the metal floor kept tripping him. Insomnia should be cured in this day and age, Anto thought to himself. All thoughts of the warm bed he had left behind were forgotten as he saw the scene that was unfolding in the Control Center.
Yenne and Bantu were staring, dumbfounded, a giant insect-like creature that was somehow in the Control Center. The insect hissed, evil downward turned sickle claws gleaming in StarRunner's artificial light. Anto acted without thinking, never asking why or how this thing got here. That could be dealt with once it was gone. Training to be a Defense/Weapons officer, he had also learnt of psychology. His two new friends were shocked the way a predator's prey was shocked when ambushed- they were too terrified to even move. Anto threw the computer pad he had been carrying at the mantis-thing. It clunked against the hideous head of the creature. The only visible result was a snarl, and a quick turn of the head to view Anto. In that instantaneous turning of the head, Anto yelled out. "Run!" The two other cadets shook their heads in surprise, then followed Anto's advice.
Anto wasn't so sure that he shouldn't join them. The insect made a horrible noise of frustration as Yenne ducked into an Engineering Tunnel and Bantu leaped into a ventilation duct. The insect-thing, almost twice Anto's height, leaped towards him. Anto barely ducked as those sickle-claws cut the metal wall behind him. He darted into the open, and the alien pursued, if slowly. To Anto the pursuit seemed almost leisurely, for the insect at least, but Anto knew it was because there was almost no chance he would survive this encounter. He had to get to the weapons locker. He was the only one on the ship who could open it, but he was sure that the instant he turned his back to run, the alien would kill him.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * Yenne didn't even wait to catch her breath as she burst into the familiar surroundings of the Engineering Room. "StarRunner, intruder alert code one!" she yelled out, panting. What were those things?! Yenne suspected that they were the Chrarkae that had been following them, but how had the boarded the ship like that, or how had they stopped StarRunner dead? She had to think! Not blabber to herself. If anyone could beat those bug things, it was Yenne of Clan Valavan.
She was so startled when the ship's lights went out that she jumped. Cursing herself as a fool, Yenne reminded herself that she had ordered an Intruder Alert. The lights were supposed to go! Idiot! Looking around in the emergency lighting for something useful, she spotted her circuit charger, plasma sealer, and a wrench. Clutching all three, she climbed back down into the Engineering tunnel.
Saucer Ships were small, only a Control Center, Engineering room, and six cabins. Not to mention the networks of Engineering tunnels, running underneath the living level, and the Ventilation ducts, running above the living level. Yenne had no problem finding her way back to where she had come from. When she finally burst into the Control Center, she had a rough plan hacked out. She threw her wrench at the insect's head. It hit with a satisfying ‘clunk', but the thing only responded with a snarl. "Anto, go! I have a plan!" Sort of. To the insect, she stamped the metal floor and yelled, "Hey, ugly bugs! Yeah, you!" She had to get its attention so Anto could open up the weapons locker and blast the intruders to smithereens. "Come on!" she yelled at it, and stomped some more. It finally turned to regard her with cold, compound eyes. Its claws glinted dangerously. Now that Anto was away, Yenne found herself trapped. But she had expected this. Getting as much distance between the thing and herself, she ran for the Engineering Room. As she approached the halfway point of her sprint, she looked back over her shoulder. Stars and Moons, the things could run! And now there were two of them! Yenne thought she just might make it. Or maybe not.
She burst into the Engineering Room with both deadly insects practically on her heels. Without slowing, Yenne jumped down the shaft that led to the Engineering tunnels. It was a five-metre fall, and she hit the ground hard. All the air whooshed from her lungs, and even as this happened one of the bugs leaped down atop her, and bent to chew at her bare abdomen. With a yell, Yenne reached into her belt and removed the circuit charger. Jamming it into the things thorax, she pressed the button. Sparks flew as the beast tasted ten thousand volts, and the thing screamed. It was a sound that was horrible beyond imagination, one that made fingernails on chalkboards seem musical and pleasant.
Yenne hoped she would not throw up, but it was in vain. Just as the things noise stopped, she heaved and brought up the little chiapemme she had managed to drink. Wiping her mouth, she pushed the unconscious, or dead, insect off of her. Once she was standing, she frowned. She had thought that there were two things chasing her. A snarl rang out in the blackness ahead of her, and she never had a chance to scream as the thing pounced.
Bantu Basha felt less then useless. After Anto had saved he and Yenne, all Bantu had done was cower in a stupid ventilation duct. While he had sat and watched, Yenne had saved Anto and injured one of their foes. Muttering a few curses, he moved away from the vent where he had been watching Yenne. The Aravillian women had moved off into the blackness of the inner Engineering tunnels. That was foolish, a thing that Bantu had never seen Yenne be. He crawled forward to the vent that showed the Control Center, which was now deserted. Or so Bantu thought.
At first Bantu had thought he must ne hallucinating, but when he finally had a good view he saw six of the insect things- Bantu had reasoned out that they were the Chrarkae - he saw six Chrarkae being led by a Myren, of all things! Bantu had no time for reason, for they stood almost beneath him. Then they passed underneath him. Bantu began to breathe again, but stopped when a jagged sickle claw jabbed up through the metal of the piping like it was hot jen'meg! Guttural growls came from beneath him as the claw was removed more slowly. Bantu somehow got thought through his head. He had to avoid the claws. They knew he was in the piping. He concentrated, listening. Krigoni had exceptional hearing. A click sounded directly beneath him. He darted forward. The sickle-claw pierced the metal directly where he had been only seconds before. Bantu prepared to dodge again, but he heard a voice bark commands, not a voice of a Chrarkae, then two claws stuck through the metal, but it was not a jab. Rather, it had a porpousful feeling. The claws cut out the section of piping he had been on. Bantu plummeted to the metal floor, still clinging to the useless piece of metal. He slammed against the floor hard. Silver and black flecks danced in Bantu's vision as he struggled to regain breath, to regain thought, to regain anything.
He found clarity of mind when a foot twisted into the small of his back. Finally able to see, what Bantu saw was not anything he wanted. The Myren he had so incredulously witnessed lead the Chrarkae was standing above him, a contemptful smirk on his pale face that never touched his dead, all grey eyes. Making it one lithe motion, the Myren knelt, grabbed Bantu's collar with a fist, and lifted him smoothly into the air. Moving with fluid, deadly grace, the Myren brought an Ion Pulse rifle to Bantu's skull. His blank grey eyes regarded Bantu as he prepared to squeeze the trigger. "Your death has been ordered by the sho'ganarlan'vi, Krigoni. I will be rewarded well." Bantu prepared for the void that faced all as they died. His concentration was broken as an orb of blue electric energy hit the Myren killer in his rifle arm.
Bantu's eyes flew to Anto, standing in the door with an Ion Pulse rifle of his own. The Myren saw Bantu's Velexian friend as well as he did, and dropped Bantu none too gently yet fluidly to the metal floor. Instead of surrendering or running at Anto, he brought a small black device to his hand, a device whose use Bantu had observed from his hiding spots above the action. The Myren pressed a button. The Chrarkae rushed Anto, moving with a deadliness that even their Myren master could not match. Anto was sure to die, if Bantu didn't do anything.
Forcing himself up as quickly as he could, Bantu knocked the Myren down from behind as he observed the insect killers set to work. Grabbing the fallen device, Bantu pressed a button at random. As he did, a rain of sparks fell from black collars on the Chrarkae that Bantu had failed to notice before, and the fell writhing to the floor, only inches from where Anto stood. Wasting no time, Anto brought his rifle to face the Myren, and ordered him to drop his weapon and slowly stand with his arms in the air. Bantu shared a triumphant smile with Anto as he secured the Myren. He hoped the others were all right.