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A New Colony amongst the Stars

A New Colony amongst the Stars

 

 

A Story By

Philip R Benge

 

Shakespir Edition

 

 

***************

 

 

Published by

Philip R Benge on Shakespir

 

 

A New Colony amongst the Stars

Copyright Philip R Benge 2016

Cover Art courtesy of NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite.

 

 

Thank you for downloading this eBook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form, with the exception of quotes used in reviews.

 

Your support and respect for the property of this author is appreciated.

 

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author`s imagination and used fictitiously.

 

 

A New Colony amongst the Stars

 

Contents

 

Chapter One: A Secret War is declared

Chapter Two: Departure

Chapter Three: New Caledonia

Chapter Four: Battle Commences

Chapter Five: Interrogation

Chapter Six: Mark Summers is put in Command

Chapter Seven: The War Heats Up

Chapter Eight: A New Player

Chapter Nine: Revenge

Chapter Ten: A New Survival Strategy

Chapter Eleven: The Final Battle

About the Author

Other Books by the Author

 

Chapter One

 

A Secret War is declared

 

The small automated drone has only recently arrived in the vicinity of Earth; it came aboard an Aldebran freighter carrying various ores that are more common on their side of the galaxy. While the freighter had waited for navigational orders from the large space dock in geostationary orbit above Earth, the small alien drone left the mother ship and attached itself to a defunct communications satellite, for the freighter had stopped quite near to this piece of space junk for just this purpose. In doing this the alien drone had made itself almost undetectable from Earth or from space, visually anyway. The small drone has come from an alien civilisation whose home planet, named Aldebra by its inhabitants, orbited a sun that was 179 light years from Earth. Among other things that the drone had been programmed to do was to listen in to all of the communications that flowed between the space dock and the many space ports on the planet`s surface. Anything that might be of interest to its builders it sent back to Aldebra via a tight communications beam that was also virtually undetectable, especially from Earth, for it sent its messages only when the drone was between Aldebra and Earth. One such item was about the upcoming departure of a colony starship that was due to leave Earth orbit in just seven days, and when the ruler of Aldebra was informed he had immediately called a meeting of his military advisory council.

The meeting was held in the large briefing room within the emperor`s equally large palace, and just before the emperor had walked into the room it had been filled with a babble of voices as those assembled asked one another what the current emergency was about. Some of the people were fearful in case a slight transgression by themselves had come to the notice of the emperor, some were hopeful that their lot in life might be about to get a boost forward due to a mistake by one of the other men seated within the room. The babble stopped immediately the ruler of Aldebra, Emperor Taluk Ki-Chek, walked in and stood behind his ornate throne. The assembly rose and waited for the emperor to take his seat, and when he was sitting comfortably they resumed their seats. Emperor Taluk Ki-Chek was a large overbearing man, six feet tall and quite handsome, on Earth people might even have remarked on his classic roman looks and masses of dark wavy hair. Unfortunately, he was prone to irrational anger, and this made all those who came to speak with him quake inside with fear, one other thing about the emperor was that he was a megalomaniac of the first order, in fact much like some of the emperors of Rome`s distant past.

All was quiet in the room as the powerful military advisors looked expectantly upon the most powerful man in this sector of space. The emperor in turn looked around the room at the assembly of generals and admirals, the expression upon his face matching his angry mood, and made his advisors even more fearful that one of their own transgressions had come to light.

“We have just received information from our Eavesdropper probe that the barbarians of the planet Earth plan to colonise planet P1056, they must be stopped at all costs. Not only is the planet on our own colonisation list, their presence on P1056 would bring them to a position in space that would threaten the future expansion plans of the empire.” Emperor Taluk Ki-Chek said angrily.

“Their colony spacecraft departs from their planet in just seven of our days, the trip to P1056 will take them exactly eighty four days, which means that they will arrive on the planet up to twenty eight days before a similar craft of our own could ever hope to reach the planet, even if it left tomorrow!” Emperor Taluk Ki-Chek exclaimed even angrier for it signified that Earth`s technology might be slightly in advance of that of Aldebra.

“What I need from you gentlemen, is a creditable plan to stop them from colonizing the planet, and without initiating an interplanetary war, one which we might not be able to win, and one that would certainly cost us dearly in men and materials.” Emperor Taluk Ki-Chek stated firmly.

He looked around the briefing room for a sign that someone would offer such a plan; however the eyes of those assembled were now mostly staring down at the table to ensure that their emperor did not repeat his request to them personally. One man in the briefing room though did look up at his emperor, for he thought that he had a partial answer that might earn him some valuable brownie points, it was Admiral Lou-Wing, and on seeing him signal his desire to speak, the emperor nodded at Lou-Wing, this was to signal that he had the floor.

Lou-Wing had risen through the ranks because he had betrayed his peers in his bid for greater power, it was also rumoured that he had blackmailed many senior officers into promoting him far above his limited abilities. He was of medium height, medium weight and not unintelligent, his problem was that he was immoral, and he loved it. Initially he had been fearful, wondering what was behind the reason for this special meeting, and the veil of sweat upon his bald head, testified to this. Now though his pulse rate had dropped, for it was now apparent that his latest misdemeanour was not about to be aired by his leader. Feeling secure in his position, for the moment anyway, he outlined a hastily conceived plan, one designed to give him some leeway while he buried his misdemeanour deep within the bureaucracy of Aldebra.

“Our beloved Emperor, I have an idea that might comply with your desires.” Lou-Wing began, looking around the table and catching General Yang`s unwilling attention.

“We have in our space fleet a small but fast special operations starship, The North Wind, it could get to P1056 within ninety days, the same time that the Earth craft is due to arrive at the planet, that is if the North Wind left tomorrow. The only drawback is that it will only be able to carry a maximum of twenty four soldiers, however, General Yang has under his command a company of specially trained men who may find a way to drive the earthmen scampering back to their planet.” Admiral Lou-Wing replied in a very insipid voice as he attempted to ingratiate himself with the emperor.

“Admiral, if we were to drive them away, their fleet may well return to rout out the attackers, and that could initiate a planetary war, or at best a loss of face on our part. No, I want the colonists to disappear silently and without trace.” Emperor Taluk Ki-Chek replied and then turned to General Yang.

“General Yang, can your team do that, make all of the Earth colonists disappear without word getting back to Earth about our attack, and without leaving a trace of either party?”

General Yang was a violent man who had disposed of many who had attempted to best him, to this list he was now debating whether to add the name of Lou-Wing. The General stood up, stretching his tall muscular frame to its fullest height, and after throwing a look of contempt at Lou-Wing he answered his emperor’s question.

“As long as no questions are asked of them once they have completed their task, then yes, they may well be able to comply with your order.” General Yang replied as he then threw an icy glare across the room at Admiral Lou-Wing to add to his contemptuous one.

“Have no fear General; the senate will not query how your victory is obtained.” Emperor Taluk Ki-Chek promised. “Only your defeat, should your team let the Empire of Aldebra down.” Emperor Taluk Ki-Chek added grimly. “However, we still have the problem of their starship.”

Admiral Lou-Wing now attempted to repair his earlier mistake by offering another suggestion.

“If we were to send a heavy duty salvage vessel to P1056, it could cut the ship into sections and drop them into the middle of one of the planet`s oceans, and so there would not be any traces left to be found by a rescue ship sent by Earth.” Admiral Lou-Wing suggested.

Emperor Taluk Ki-Chek was silent for a moment while he considered this second suggestion and having considered it he gave his decision.

“It is all agreed then, we send a crack team of soldiers to rid us of the colonists, and a salvage vessel to rid us of their vessel.” Emperor Taluk Ki-Chek ordered and after thinking the matter over he then added a further order.

“General, have a full company of your men follow along in one of our troop ships, they can assist your initial attack team, if necessary, when they arrive twenty eight days later, between them they should be able to rid the planet of the earthmen. I also want you to send a large freighter along with the troopship, I want it filled with one hundred farming families, they can colonise P1056 for us. When a rescue ship arrives from Earth in search of their missing colonists, it will confuse them to find that an alien agrarian colony is already living on the planet, especially when there is no sign of their own people or the vessel that should have brought them there. One of the junior officers can take initial command of the planet, after we have rid ourselves of the colonists and their ship, and have a squad of soldiers remain with him to help him oversee the peasants.”

As Emperor Taluk Ki-Chek made to leave he stopped and turned to General Yang and the general became just a little fearful when he saw his Emperor`s smile, for it normally meant that he was going to punish a mistake made by the recipient.

“General, your son has just passed out of the officer training academy with good marks, appoint him as second in command of the initial operation to rid us of the earthmen, we will see how he stands up under fire, if he does well his future will be a bright one, of that I promise you.”

General Yang smiled happily, for his son`s future looked to be very bright.

 

**********

 

The elite squad of soldiers that Admiral Lou-Wing had referred to was called the immortals, they were a squad of battle hardened men who did not hold back, be it against space pirates or Aldebran civilians. General Yang simply wound them up and away they went to war, soldiers who only knew the sound of victory, and dismissed the pleas of the defeated. When told about their new enemy their only thoughts of them was one of contempt, for they had encountered their own rebelling Aldebran colonists and punished them severely, and they held all such people in contempt.

The morning after the briefing, Admiral Lou-Wing sought out the captain of the special operations starship North Wind. Commander Leander was from the south of the planet Aldebra, and so he was not one of the ruling Northern elite, and therefore he did not command one of the sleek space cruisers of the Aldebran fleet, but he was thought to be very effective in this sort of situation. He was not tall, being only 5`7” in height, but he was handsome and in good shape, and these attributes had won him many a woman when he had been younger, now though he was only a few years away from mandatory retirement. As he still enjoyed his chosen career, that of being the captain of a starship, he had decided that when he did retire he would seek out a captain`s post amongst the merchantmen of Aldebra, a lot less action but still in command of a starship.

“Commander, is your craft ready to leave on this deep space mission?” Yang asked when he finally found Leander on the compact bridge of the North Wind.

“Yes, Admiral, we only await your command to head out.” Commander Leander assured his superior officer.

“Bear in mind that this mission is of the utmost secrecy, we do not want any spies from that barbaric planet Earth to hear of it. This means that there must be no stop overs en-route, any in-flight problems that occur must be resolved by you or your crew. Ensure that your craft keeps radio silence at all time.” Admiral Lou-Wing explained. “The only excuse that I will accept is that your craft has suffered some sort of engine trouble and cannot be repaired and that your planned rendezvous with P1056 is impossible, although we will all incur the wrath of the emperor if this should be the case, do you understand?” Admiral Lou-Wing asked.

“Of course Sir, have no fear as regards that, my small crew is one of the best in the fleet, we will not let you down.” Commander Leander replied.

“Earth initiated this war Captain, we contacted them a year ago to tell them that the area of space in which P1056 is located was ours, and that under no circumstances should their vessels enter it.” Admiral Lou-Wing said grimly.

This last statement was a lie, but then Aldebrans were used to listening to such lies and they no longer dared question them, for they knew that imprisonment would be their answer.

“Captain, you are to send the code word Imperial, the moment that the assault on the colonists is launched by Commander Lu-Song, and when we are victorious you will send the word Retribution.” Admiral Lou-Wing ordered.

General Yang was also there; to speak to his squad of soldiers and to see his son off, seemingly satisfied with what he had just heard he moved off to talk to his elite squad of men about their coming victory. He did not consider the possibility of defeat, for they were being led by Commander Lu-Song. Lu-Song was a respected veteran of many battles and with a low death rate amongst his men. What General Yang did not know was that as of late Lu-Song had not been sleeping well, he had been seeing the faces of the people killed by him and his men in his dreams, or to be more exact his nightmares, and had woke up feeling exhausted and with his body drenched in sweat. He had decided to retire, for he did not want to add to the faces that were already appearing in his dreams, he also feared for his sanity if his present way of life continued. Yesterday morning he had decided to hand in his commission, but before he was able to he had been ordered to lead this latest operation, one in which his emperor had initiated, one which would consist of nothing but killing. His desires were forced into the deepest recesses of his mind as he readied himself for his last mission, for he was a professional soldier, and one who would not allow his fears to stop him from doing his duty for his emperor one last time.

Yang said farewell to his son, assuring him that he would do well under Lou-Song, and then he turned to the squad of soldiers currently standing at attention as they awaited the order to board the space craft.

“Soldiers of the emperor, after you have landed on P1056 you will have fifty six days to obliterate every trace of the colonists and then to return home. You go to fight for the Empire of Aldebra and for your Emperor. I will be here to honour you upon your victorious return. Remember these words, if you die upon P1056 then die with honour, do not let your families down.” General Yang warned his men.

His last words were a reminder to the soldiers of what could happen to their families, should they themselves be captured or run away from the field of battle, they must either be victorious or die fighting. For the gulags were filled with innocent people who had come to the notice of the powerful for the wrong reasons and who had paid the price for it.

“One final instruction Commander Lu-Song; today is Divine Justice Day minus ninety. You will launch your attack on DJ day plus one, no later; the emperor is planning a large party on that day to celebrate your attack.”

The soldiers response was to cheer his words, and then as one they broke into their battle cry which resembled the screams of a banshee, this cry froze most of their enemies long enough to enable the Immortals to gain the advantage. With the fearful sound of their battle cry ringing within the ears of all present, they boarded the spacecraft North Wind. Soon after General Yang`s speech the North Wind left the planet Aldebra far behind it, its course set for the planet P1056, a journey of ninety days. Everyone aboard the vessel travelled in cryogenic pods, all environmental systems had been turned off, for the ship was being navigated to its destination by its main computer.

 

********

 

Fifty six days had gone by unnoticed by the sleepers aboard the North Wind, the small sleek craft moving rapidly but silently through deep space, but all was not well aboard the vessel. Suddenly the environmental systems slipped silently into action, silent except for the whoosh of air flooding into every compartment of the craft. The heat slowly returned to the ship as the computer woke its sleeping crew of four, red flashing alarm lights flooded every section of the craft with a psychedelic display intended to gain the immediate attention of the crew.

Commander Leander shivered as life came back into his body, then he remembered where he was, he was on board the North Wind and on course for the planet P1056. He opened his eyes and then quickly closed them as the glare from the flashing lights temporarily blinded him. Even so he responded quickly to the message sent by the emergency lights, after swearing quietly under his breath he donned his uniform and then checked on the other three members of the crew, they had only just finished dressing seconds before and were now waiting for him in the corridor.

“I take it these flashing lights mean that we have not arrived at our destination yet?” Commander Leander asked of any of his crew, his heartbeat increasing as he thought over all of the possibilities that could occur to bring a modern starship out of hyperspace.

“No, Captain, according to the navigational computer we are still twenty eight days away from P1056, but which appears to be malfunctioning, so we have an urgent problem that requires our attention.” First Officer Karin replied. He had checked on their position before he had finished dressing, only now did he pay attention to his state of dress.

Commander Leander now turned to his chief engineer. “Li-Ching, I will speak to you once I have spoken to the ship`s main computer, you understand that we have to personally attend to any problems that have occurred during our flight, we are not allowed to ask for help from anyone?” Commander Leander asked.

“Yes, Captain, I know, I have to manufacture any parts we need out of whatever scrap we have laying around the ship.” Li-Ching Yung complained in disgust at their orders, he then headed for engineering with his assistant, Manchu, to sort out any problems they found there, and they both hoped that they would all be minor ones.

Commander Leander and First Officer Karin now rushed to the small bridge of the special operations starship. “Computer, what is the emergency?” Leander asked as soon as he entered the bridge.

“The ship is not on course for P1056, we have dropped out of hyperspace due to problems with our hyper drive and we are being drawn directly towards a neutron star, the navigational systems will not respond to my commands and the normal space engine is not powerful enough to pull us to safety at this distance.” The male voice of the computer replied in a voice devoid of any emotion, and one that always grated on Leander`s nerves.

Leander flipped a switch. “Engineering, we must have the hyperspace drive back on line immediately, we are being drawn towards a neutron star.” Leander said in his usual calm voice.

“Captain, we have a major problem down here, how much time do we have.” Engineer Yung replied, his voice a little shaky upon hearing about the neutron star.

Leander looked across at the other officer on the bridge who had just been working on that very question. “A maximum of one hour Captain, after that we are dead.” First Officer Karin replied, trying to mirror his captain`s calm voice, and almost making it.

“One hour at most Yung, after that you can forget it for we shall all be dead.” Leander replied repeating his first officer`s bad news.

Leander headed for engineering to offer a hand, leaving Karin in command of the bridge who now busied himself doing tasks that could easily have waited for a more suitable time, but he wanted to take his mind off the possible future, one that became more real as the minutes quickly ticked away, something that he noticed however hard he tried to stop looking at the large clock set on the port side wall of the small bridge.

In engineering Yung and Manchu had looked at each other on hearing about the neutron star, but only for a moment, they did not bother to reply to their captain, they merely got busy by-passing a piece of poorly written computer software, which is when Leander arrived to lend a hand.

The three men then spent what could be their last remaining hour alive repairing many pieces of hardware that had been damaged, and finally rerouting many sub-routines to the bridge as their original destination was beyond repair. The poorly written software had initiated a powerful electrical pulse, this it had sent to all of the motherboards set inside every computer within the starship, including the one within the computer connected to the hyperspace drive, and the motherboards are the hearts within each of the many individual computers that regulate the systems of the starship. The Aldebran surge protectors had not been up to coping with the amount of energy that came their way, which meant that many of the motherboards were damaged, and in turn they took down many other systems. Thankfully, the maintenance program finally shut the faulty software down when its self-diagnostic program saw what was happening. Five minutes before the captain`s deadline, Yung called across to Leander, and Yung although looked tired but he did look a little happier.

“Captain, we now have our hyperspace drive engine back on line, but be sure to only take the ship far enough away from the neutron star so that we are safe. Once there you must take up a holding position, please do not leave this planetary system.” Yung said grimly. “If you will then kindly return to engineering Captain, when we are safe, I will tell you of our remaining problem and what we must do if we are to continue on to P1056.”

Having done everything that they possibly could, Yung and Manchu now slumped down onto the floor, both men physically and emotionally exhausted by their race against time itself, sweat covered their bodies and neither men had the strength to even speak to one another.

Leander arrived back on the small bridge and told First Officer Karin the news, he found that Karin was not much better off than Yung and Manchu, the strain of waiting for news, be it good or bad, had given him a bad headache. Karin had already set their course in readiness for this moment, should it actually come, but after listening to his captain he went back into the navigational computer and put in new co-ordinates; and with this done he gave Leander the OK to proceed. Commander Leander punched a button in front of him and they left the death promised by the neutron star behind them, they were now on course for an empty part of this planetary system, and when they reached it the starship came to a halt. The engines would hold them there, with the aid of the starship`s thrusters if it became necessary to use them.

“Johan, you have the bridge again, I am off to speak to Li-Ching Yung, to see what else is wrong with the ship, and he certainly sounded grim.” Commander Leander said as he rose from his seat, his heartbeat still well above its normal level.

Twenty seconds later Commander Leander walked into the engineering department.

“Thank you for dropping by Captain.” Yung began and sounding just a little flippant, something that Leander noticed but disregarded. “However, I am afraid that I have more bad news for you, first off I need to tell you what went wrong and then I need to explain what is still wrong with the ship.” Yung looked grimly at his captain who simply nodded, and so Yung explained what the problems were and why they had occurred.

“It seems that during our last service somebody missed another of those faulty computer software programs, it almost killed us, it burnt out six motherboards, any more than that and we would have never made it, if that was not enough it also took out numerous other pieces of hardware and software. As you are already aware, we were forced to by-pass some of the software in the computer and Gerry rig a series of repairs elsewhere, some of our systems are no longer working because we had to strip them down to repair the essential ones. That is all that went wrong Captain, now I will detail our future problems.” Yung explained and Leander`s heartbeat began to rise as he feared the worst.

“Captain, the navigation system is now nothing more than a boy`s own book of space because parts of it were fried beyond repair. It will allow you to plot a course to the next system, but no more, to leave it to take us all the way to our destination will see us crash into one of the many hazards between here and P1056. With so much of the software by-passed we will have to do all of the tasks manually that were normally done by the navigational computer. This means moving at a slightly slower speed and using a programmable calculator to give us answers that the software in the navigational computer normally calculated in micro seconds, thankfully I have one, a relic of bygone years. You or the 1st officer will have to constantly scan ahead of the ship to ensure that nothing hazardous is directly in our path, and one of you will need to constantly recheck our course and then input each new course correction, again manually.” Yung explained. “One of you must carry out these course checks every hour, even more so when we are passing through any planetary system.” Yung said stressing this point, for he did not want to plough into any star or planet near to their flight path. “I am afraid that neither of you will get much sleep on this voyage.”

Leander sighed and said nothing for a moment, taking the moment to digest all that his chief engineer had told him, then he smiled at Yung.

“When we finally land on P1056, Li-Ching, do what you can to check out the systems, short of leaving us without power.” Commander Leander ordered.

“Never mind about P1056 Captain, neither Manchu nor I will get much sleep either, we will need to periodically turn the power off every 24 hours while we are en-route to the planet. I will then have to check on all of the relays that burnt out as well as all the other items of hardware that were affected to see how they are all holding up, something not possible while the system is working. I glued several of them together with spit and chewing gum Captain, and as we cannot put in somewhere along the way to procure replacement parts, I will have to spend the voyage making new ones out of whatever material that comes to hand, because Captain their life expectancy is now very short. None of the crew will be using the cryogenic pods again on this trip, partly because I used many of their parts during the repairs and partly because we will all be far too busy. It goes without saying Captain that we will be arriving at P1056 later than planned.” Yung explained grimly.

“Once we land we might be able to recycle some of the hardware aboard the Earth vessel to replace our damaged parts, meaning that I will have to strip down the navigational computer and other essential programs to accomplish this. For only then will I be able to check and repair the individual systems. Who knows, we might even be able to get back to Aldebra in one jump. Have no fear Captain, I will tell you before I make any repairs to the engines, but Captain there will be times when you will be without power, although it will never be more than a few hours away.” Yung promised.

Cryogenic sleep had slowed Leander`s thought processes down and it was only now that something pinged inside of his brain.

“My god, all this means we will have to survive the trip using the survival rations!” Commander Leander groaned. “As for our being late to arrive at P1056, if the empire had not bought so much rubbish to service their fleet, this would not have happened.”

“Careful, Captain, you are amongst friends now, but when the soldiers awaken there will be no telling who is or is not an informer.” Yung advised. He had been with Leander for ten years and considered him a friend; one who he knew would never betray a fellow officer to further his own position.

Commander Leander nodded grimly and then returned to the bridge, leaving Yung to his work, once on the bridge he brought First Officer Karin up to date. Karin took all of the bad news well enough; his time with Commander Leander had rubbed off on him.

“Captain, when we first encountered the people of Earth, I thought that our own society would undergo a change for the better, however things have actually deteriorated, we are now on the brink of going to war with them.” Karin said glumly. “Our orders never seem to make any sense to me, take our present orders, this is supposed to a secret mission yet when the colonists of Earth are attacked their leaders will instantly jump to the conclusion that we are behind it. For Admiral Lu-Wing informed us before we left Aldebra that Earth had been informed a year ago that P1056 is on our list of planets to colonise, and that they should stay clear of that area of space as we have claimed the entire sector.”

Commander Leander smiled, “Johan, I would take the admiral`s words with a pinch of salt, because our leaders would have arrived at the same conclusion as yourself.” Leander replied with a grin.

As he spoke to his junior officer he remembered Yung`s words. “Johan, please remember only to voice such thoughts when there is no chance of our being overheard, for we would both live to regret it otherwise.” Commander Leander advised.

Karin now set the first stage of their path towards P1056, and Leander took the North Wind out of the present planetary system and headed further into deep space. The special operations starship limping along through space, passing countless systems and losing three whole days during which Chief Engineer and his assistant effected repairs to this relay and that microprocessor. Each change in course had to be worked out and then input manually, usually the navigational computer took care of such mundane things, the crew being in cryogenic sleep. Worst of all Commander Leander was unable to advise Aldebra of this delay, for they were running silent through deep space.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

Departure

 

Eight weeks earlier, a massive starship had hung in space above the planet Earth, it was one of just a few craft currently docked at the main space dock of Earth, however this craft dwarfed the others in size. It had been purchased from a bankrupt company for a specific purpose, to transport colonists and their cargo to a planet in orbit around a sun 110 light years away from the Sol solar system. Initially the vessel had been a passenger vessel travelling from planet to planet dropping off its passengers en route. The two hundred colonists who would soon board it would travel all the way to their destination in cryogenic stasis, and only part of the crew would remain awake for the three month journey to the planet New Caledonia, the name given to the planet by the man who had found it, and he was of course a Scotsman. The rest of the crew would be awakened just before the ship arrived at its destination; only if a problem arose during the journey would the remainder of the crew be brought out of their cryogenic stasis. Travelling in cryogenic stasis meant that the spacecraft could be of a smaller specification, especially if it only carried limited supplies.

The supplies aboard the Ark had all been purchased by the Church, but paid for by the colonists themselves, this was certainly not a freebie trip, the colonists would even end up paying for the use of the starship, for all imports and exports to and from New Caledonia would be aboard a Church of the Universe freighter, and via the Church`s own import export company.

The supplies inside the starship`s large hold included eighteen months of survival rations, and a number of electric chainsaws to cut down the tall thin trees that filled the land around the chosen landing area. These would enable the colonists to construct the log cabins that would be the colonists` new homes for the foreseeable future. Along with other essentials also on board the spacecraft were the seeds of numerous plants, the latest in waterless toilets, twenty solar-powered photovoltaic panels to provide the colonists with electricity, one mechanical digger, ten tractors with various pieces of farming equipment for use by the farmers and two large and two small tracked vehicles which would be used by the farmers and the twenty mining couples. There were also ten large wagons which would be used as goods wagons and which would be hauled along by the tractors. However, even with all of this the life for the colonists would start out rough and would not improve for some time, so the colonists had to be capable of enduring a hard life, those who preferred an easier time stayed on Earth. The ship had been named the Ark, after the more famous one that Noah and his family were said to have travelled in, although this one only carried humans, any farm animals required by the colonists would have to be domesticated from amongst the wild animals of the planet.

This was the second such ship sent out by the Church of the Universe, unfortunately, the first ship disappeared without trace somewhere along the arm of Perseus, one thousand light years away from Earth. This new trip was of a much shorter duration, prudence being the new watch word of the religion, even so the colonists had to trust in their god to see them through, and be brave hardy souls able to construct what they needed out of the materials available to them. Each couple had been told to bring, amongst other things, at least one Phaser rifle, this was so they could hunt the wildlife on their new home world and so supplement their diets while the land was being cleared for farming, sown with seeds and finally the crops were harvested.

 

**********

 

Two members of the Genesis cult, one of the many religious cults on Earth, were full time employees on the space dock, having kept their true beliefs a secret they were able to work on the Ark unnoticed, for had their true beliefs been known by the authorities they would never have been employed. The reason why was that the followers of the cult believed that the Garden of Eden was in fact all the other planetary systems in the galaxy, and it was from one of these other worlds that Adam and Eve had been cast out, the aim of the cult was to stop Mankind’s exploration of space beyond the Sol solar system, for that would be going against God`s will and they saw themselves as his tools. To this end they had managed to smuggle two explosive devices aboard the Ark, they were in crates labelled farming equipment. At the moment the two men were each operating a forklift truck, they were stacking cargo in the large starship`s hold. The first of the men was on the starboard side of the huge starship, and he had one of these crates on his truck, and as he approached the particular section of the ship`s hull that he was seeking he stopped and then checked to see if there was anyone else around.

This section of the starship was where a power cable, which supplied the necessary power to one pair of thrusters, entered into a junction box where it was split into two smaller cables that carried on to each individual thruster. They were the starboard forward thruster and the starboard forward lateral thruster, the latter being just on the other side of the ship`s hull at this particular point.

Seeing that he was concealed from view, being hidden by the many crates already stored in the starship`s spacious hold, he now set his crate down. He quickly moved the stack of crates that had already been dropped at his chosen site and then replaced them with his crate, pushing it tightly up against the ship`s hull. Then he restacked the original crates back on top of the crate that contained the explosive device. The device within his crate had a small computer attached to it, it would monitor the spacecraft`s main computer, when the air pressure outside of the spacecraft reached 7 psi the device would explode. As the explosive device was of the directional type, the full force of the explosion would be directed against the junction box and the starship`s hull and the starboard thruster itself. The spacecraft would then be approximately 18000 feet above the surface of the planet New Caledonia, and the resulting loss of air pressure coupled with the loss of control would be catastrophic. On the port side of the starship the second cult member had just put his own crate down next to the power cables that fed the counterparts to the two starboard thrusters; this device was time to detonate twenty seconds after the first device.

 

**********

 

Outside the gates of the large Washington DC space port, a small group of protesters had gathered to voice their protests at the planned colonisation of the planet New Caledonia by the Church of the Universe. The protesters intended to prevent access to the space port of all goods or people bound for the colony starship; they were followers of the Genesis cult. As a convoy of three coaches, filled with some of the colonists, approached the gates of the space port, the protesters attempted to block their path, only the local state troopers prevented them, instead the members of the Genesis cult had to be content with verbal protests and the odd hand thrown missile. One of those present was Magnus Smart, the leader of the cult, he was a large powerful man and he was able to force his way through the line of state troopers, and in doing so he stopped the convoy of coaches, for he wanted to pass on a message that he personally had received from god, and he had been told to deliver it personally to those who had ignored god`s previous warnings.

“Take heed unbelievers, God has cast Man out of the Garden of Eden, to attempt to return to it will anger him and bring down on the transgressors his swift divine punishment. He destroyed your first space ark; he will destroy your second one.” Smart cried out angrily into a small transmitter around his neck while he shook his fist at the colonists.

The Genesis cult, like many other religious groups, had some very affluent followers amongst its members, and Magnus Smart was able to use their wealth to finance many things. This wealth paid for the technology that allowed his words to come over the speakers within the three coaches, words that would been stopped by the windows of the coaches which were almost sound proof.

The colonists within the coaches were already feeling uneasy as they looked down at the protesters, they could see their banners proclaiming the death of any who left the Sol solar system, it was only the security grills that covered each of the windows that protected from the usual attack that a normal protester could launch against them. Even so the banners made the colonists feel a little anxious for their wellbeing, some were even a little scared; however, Bishop Vernon Marley was aboard the lead coach, as he had been aboard the lead coach of the previous convoy that had passed through the space port gates just two hours earlier. His voice was heard aboard all three coaches via the same speakers, and he now reassured his people that all was well, they should not panic but put their trust in god. Bishop Marley and his wife would be also travelling to New Caledonia with the colonists, their reason being the same as the other 99 couples travelling with them, to start a family, for it was very expensive on Earth to have even one child, and only the rich could afford to have more than one.

Three more men and two women had managed to follow Magnus Smart through the line of state troopers, each of them carried a paint can, and they threw the cans of paint at the windscreen of the lead coach. The lids on the cans had been removed so that the paint splashed across the windscreen making it almost impossible for the driver to see where he was going. Some of the colonists screamed out in fear as the remainder of the protesters surged forward pushing the state troopers perilously near to the coaches, but finally Smart and the other five protesters were forced back behind the line of troopers allowing the three coaches to finally drive through the gates. With paint covering much of his windscreen the lead driver could only see snatches of what was in front of the coach, and foolishly he turned on the windscreen wipers, and that smeared the paint across the whole of the window, and so once inside the space port he brought the coach to a halt, the other two coaches proceeding on to the shuttle. Bishop Marley immediately disembarked from the coach and instructed the coach driver to proceed slowly forward, for he would be his eyes and they proceeded on without further delay. When all three coaches had finally reached the shuttle the colonists boarded it, the shuttle would then take the colonists up to the space dock. The colonists were full of hopes for the future, the trouble at the port gates would soon be forgotten and then only their dreams of a new life in a virgin world would fill their minds.

Amongst the final batch of colonists was Captain Mark Summers, he was one of the most experienced of the men making this trip, having recently retired from Earth`s marine corps and so space travel was nothing new to him. With him was his new bride Susan, they had only been married for one week, and they were looking forward to spending their honeymoon upon a new world.

Susan was a farmer`s daughter, they had met while she was at university, she left it with a degree in farming, she had planned to use it to help her father on the farm he managed in central Utah. However, one month after leaving university her parents had died in a traffic accident, and afterwards the owners of the farm told her they did not want a young woman just out of university running the farm. She now found herself an orphan, homeless and out of work, she would have been desolate except for one thing, Mark was already very much on the scene by then. He was on extended leave while recovering from a broken leg that he got while hunting down a particularly nasty pack of space pirates. Their romance had blossomed and Mark had asked her to marry him, and Susan had accepted, however she had stressed that she did not want a life of constant worry while he was away from her on active service. Susan still could not believe that Mark had agreed to put aside the excitement of his life in the marines, to start a new life with her, one that would be quieter but physically harder, but she was very happy that he had. They were moving to New Caledonia to start their new life together, to raise a family, and to carve a farm out of the wilderness. They had been accepted as colonists because the man in charge of allocations had known her father; even so it was only because of one other couple changing their mind that space had been found for them.

As they walked from the shuttle towards the Ark, across the metal floor of the space dock, their ears were blasted by the messages being broadcast almost continuously by the space dock`s loudspeaker system. All of these messages were now aimed at the colonists; it was ordering them to walk directly to the starship so as not to block the corridors. Mark increased his pace, anything to get away from the deafening messages. However, many of the other colonists had ignored the order, they had stopped to take in the views of Earth that they could see through a number of view ports, and Susan decided to join them, for this was to be her first trip in space and the sight of the Earth hanging there in the blackness of space was too beautiful a sight to pass up.

“Move along please, you are blocking the way.” The loudspeaker screamed out even louder.

Mark looked back at Susan, who seemed unaffected by the loudspeaker, as were many others amongst the colonists even when the man at the other end of the loudspeaker turned up the volume, Mark saw the look of awe in her eyes as she took in the view, so he returned to her side so that they could enjoy it together.

“Darling, it is beautiful isn`t it, from the photographs that we have seen of New Caledonia it should be equally beautiful.” Mark said as the person on the other end of the loudspeaker continued to scream out orders.

“Come on Susan, let`s get aboard the Ark before the idiot on the other end of the loudspeaker self-implodes.” Mark begged, for the noise of the loudspeaker certainly affected him. He was used to the sounds of battle, but not the sound of some manic official screaming through a loudspeaker with the volume turned up to maximum.

Unwillingly, Susan allowed Mark to lead her away from the view port as a long line of motorised carts appeared, all loaded with goods going to one or more of the ships currently docked at the space port. The other colonists were now also heading for the starship, and between them they brought the convoy of carts to a halt, making the official at the other end of the loudspeaker system scream out in exasperation.

“What a fantastic start to our honeymoon Darling, I will always remember that view, it was so beautiful.” Susan said as they stepped aboard the Ark, as for Mark he would remember two things, her look of awe and the manic official.

 

**********

 

Departure date had arrived, and all the colonists were now in cryogenic stasis, their goods loaded and stored in the ship`s hold. The large spacecraft now moved out of space dock and away from Earth; soon it left the Sol solar system far behind it as it sped towards the planet New Caledonia. Nothing could now prevent the planned colonisation, apart from the two explosive devices that it carried in its hold.

 

**********

 

The crew of the Ark slowly regained consciousness as the starship`s computer brought them all out of cryogenic stasis, it was just before the starship was about to drop out of hyperspace. Each member of the crew had a long drink of water, and most splashed some more water upon their faces; they needed too after cryogenic stasis, to awaken themselves. They were approaching the planet of New Caledonia and the helmsman now took the massive starship into orbit above the new colony world, Captain Larson was sitting in his chair upon the bridge and the newly awakened crew were all at their posts.

“Ok, take us down to the landing site helmsman.” Larson said.

The helmsman acknowledged the order and now took the starship down through the planet`s atmosphere, suddenly one of the starship`s minor computers began to smoke, then a small explosion caused all of the electrical devices on the bridge to wink out for a second, before coming back on.

Larson moved over to the computer station, where 1st officer Robbie Jenson was already running diagnostics on the starship`s systems, he turned as Larson looked at the monitor he too was reading.

“We`re all right Captain, moisture must have somehow got into one of the relays when the environmental system kicked in, it caused one of the minor systems to blow, but the backups came on-line, we`re still good to go.” Jenson said with a smile on his face.

Unknown to the officer, one program to do with this system was still faulty, the one that told the starship`s main computer the exterior air pressure, this one was displaying a completely wrong reading, not that it would affect the huge starship in any way. The starship continued down towards the planet, passing 18,000 feet and dropping down towards the planet. The wind chose this moment to pick up speed, pushing hard against the starboard side of the starship, they now encountered a particularly bad piece of turbulence, however the powerful thrusters of the starship were more than able to compensate for it, the crew only suffered minor discomfort as the vessel neared its destination. The starship was speeding across a tall forest, moving towards a large grass filled prairie that disappeared over the horizon; this was their planned landing site.

“Helmsman, bring the speed down to slow ahead, and prepare to bring her to a halt.” Captain Larson ordered.

It was now that the starship`s computer gave the two explosive devices an erroneous exterior pressure reading, the starboard explosive device went off in a deafening explosion, and flames leapt from the large hole blown in the starship`s side. The starship was just 50 feet above the ground, so the explosion did not prove fatal, as it was meant to be. It was now that the second device detonated leaving the starship with only the rear thrusters to regulate the direction that their forward motion would take them, and to make matters worse the forward port vertical thrusters were also thrown off line by the explosion. The starship immediately took on a drunken list to port and without the forward port thrusters to negate the force of the strengthening wind from the starboard side, the starship veered sharply off course.

“Helmsman stop all engines then take her down.” Captain Larson exclaimed.

The order was too late though, and before Larson could even think to use the rear thrusters to regulate the ship`s course the sleek starship crashed into the outermost trees of the forest, the nose of the starship easily cleaving its way through them. The tortuous sound of the metal screaming as it thrust its way through was mixed with the sound of tearing branches and falling trees. Those amongst the crew who were not sitting down were violently thrown to the floor; how none of them were injured was a miracle and thankfully the colonists were all secure in their cryogenic pods. The atmospheric engines had been ripped from the starship`s fuselage soon after the Ark pushed forward into the forest, so Captain Larson could not even put the ship into reverse, he was powerless to stop the ever growing catastrophe. Thankfully the starship slowly stopped its forward motion and began a slow descent to the ground, slow because of the trees pressing in on it from every direction except the rear. Chief Engineer Donald Peterson now turned off the forward starboard side vertical thrusters which brought the starship onto a slightly more even keel, one that sloped downwards towards the stern of the vessel, which then crashed down onto the grassy meadow with a loud thump as the power to both of the stern thrusters now failed. The forward section of the ship was still slowly sinking down and producing a terrible grinding noise as the trees were forced sideways which scared any remaining wild life away from the area. This section of the starship did not actually hit the ground, for there were too many trees beneath it, even so many things were jarred loose when it finally stopped its downward motion, however the crew knowing it was coming were holding on for dear life. There followed another series of sounds, some were parts of trees breaking under the massive weight; others were parts of starship breaking away, as the starship slowly settled upon its bed of broken trees. At least the automatic sprinklers had put out the many fires that had sprung up, the final scream from the starship occurred when its back was broken when it had begun to settle down into its final resting place.

Captain Larson and his bridge crew slowly got to their feet. “Anyone hurt?” Larson called out, but miraculously they were fine apart from a few scrapes.

He now contacted engineering; thankfully the intercom was still working after the crash. “Chief, is everyone all right down there?”

“Yes, Captain, a few cuts, Engineer Balder may have a mild concussion after colliding with a wall, but otherwise we got off lightly. What the hell happened Captain?”

“I have no idea Chief, there were two explosions and suddenly our bow came around and we plunged straight into the forest that borders the landing area. However, we can look into the cause later, right now get everyone over to the cryogenic pods section; we need to revive the colonists while we still have some power remaining and before anything else happens.” Larson replied.

Larson looked across at Jenson; he had been busy while his captain checked on the condition of his crew.

“The reserve power is still flowing to the cryogenic pods Captain, but as you said, we need to revive the colonists quickly, or we will lose some, maybe all of them.” Jenson said having anticipated his captain`s next question.

“Right, all of you, follow me down to the pods.” Larson ordered and he led the three other officers off the broken bridge.

They found that the cryogenic pods had indeed survived the crash, and with the reserve power they had sufficient energy to allow the crew to revive the colonists. With the assistance of the crew members from engineering they began to bring the colonists out of stasis, taking the dazed colonists out of the starship to rest in the meadow.

“Jenson, you had better take some of the colonists to the armoury, hand out a Phaser rifle to anyone you think capable of handling one without accidentally killing one of the other colonists. Have them keep a look out for any of the local carnivores; the survey identified quite a few large animals that may look upon a crowd of confused colonists as dinner.” Captain Larson ordered. “In fact you had better stay with them to ensure that we do not lose anyone, it would be totally unfair after surviving the crash.” Larson decided.

Neither the captain or any of the crew had yet had the time to take the crash in, to think about what had happened and why, they were all too busy working, even now it was a race to save lives.

 

**********

 

When all of the colonists had been brought out of cryogenic stasis, Captain Larson and First Officer Robert Jenson decided to check the hull of the downed starship, to see if they could find out why they had crashed, Chief Engineer Peterson accompanied them. However, before proceeding with this task Larson stepped back to look at his stricken starship, and what he saw brought tears to his eyes and anger to his very being.

“Robert, Donald, if a human being caused this, then damn his soul for eternity.” Larson said to his 1st officer, using their Christian names for the first time ever.

“Amen to that Captain.” Jenson and Peterson replied grimly.

They stood there staring at the downed starship, finally taking a minute to get their breath, to think of what could have happened and how lucky they all were to have not lost a single life in what was a major disaster. For the starship had come down near to the banks of a river some eighteen feet wide slowly flowing from out of the forest and into the vast prairie, in some places it was quite deep and they had missed landing in it by just ten feet.

On commencing their inspection of the starship they soon found the evidence, a large hole in the side of their broken starship where the forward starboard side thrusters had once been.

“Captain, the blast came from within the ship`s hold, see the area around the hole has been forced outwards, it was sabotage!” Jenson exclaimed. “The Genesis cult must be behind it, they took out the ship to turn their warnings into facts.” He declared angrily.

“You may well be correct Robert; the explosion took out the starboard thrusters, however this is not the reason why we slewed off course and were forced into the forest.” Captain Larson replied. “Come on Robert, Donald, let`s check on the port thrusters.”

After completing the circuit of the broken starship, clambering over broken tree trunks and branches, they found a second large hole in the port side of the starship. As with the starboard side, the port thruster was also missing, lost over the prairie somewhere, the area around this hole was badly burnt and was also pushed outwards. Both of the holes were caused by an explosion from within their craft, it was obviously sabotage that had caused them to crash into the forest.

The three officers stood staring at this second hole in their vessel, and had the saboteur been there, in front of them, they would have gladly torn him limb from limb.

“There is no point staring up at the hole and wishing for vengeance Robert, Don.” Captain Larson said. The way things were he could not see the point of speaking formally now. “Let`s check over the cargo, see how much of it has survived the crash.” Captain Larson said glumly.

They returned to the rear of the starship, luckily it was laying in open prairie, and calling on all of the colonists and crew, they opened the massive rear doors that led into the hold. The first thing that they unloaded were the many two person tents, for these would be the initial homes to the colonists, until they built their simple log cabins. The cabins would be their homes for the first part if not all of their life upon New Caledonia, to be improved but only replaced when time and material allowed it. However, even these would have to wait until after they had their farms up and running.

The sun was already near to the western horizon, their first night on New Caledonia was fast approaching, so he had half of the colonists begin to set up the tents alongside the river on its northern bank. Captain Larson now checked on the other items, and he found that miraculously almost everything seemed to have survived intact. He now had a portion of the food supplies and other essential items unloaded by the remaining colonists; this gave his crew the opportunity to set up two of the water purifiers alongside the river with two of the solar powered photovoltaic panels to power them. Having checked on the essential cargo he now sent a message back to Earth telling them of the crash, the cause, and that the crew, the colonists and most of their cargo had survived the crash. Thankfully the ship`s communication centre had survived with enough back up power to enable them to use it until a power supply was attached to one of the solar powered photovoltaic panels. A roster of the crew was drawn up to ensure that someone was detailed to stand by the Communications Centre at all times, ready to take down any messages sent to them from Earth.

Earth`s reply later that evening was that the crew would have to wait for their lift back to Earth, which could take sixteen weeks or more to arrive, the Church of the Universe would send a second starship, a freighter, and it would bring further supplies to supplement those already on the planet. On Earth a full investigation was underway, the chief suspects being the followers of the Genesis cult.

 

**********

 

Slowly approaching the planet New Caledonia, but still days away, First Officer Karin picked up the message sent from Earth.

“Captain, Earth is replying to an earlier message sent by the colonists, one we missed, it is telling them that a rescue craft will not be here for at least sixteen weeks, maybe even longer, it seems that the colonists have also suffered some mishaps on their voyage, they have crash landed.” Karin said joyfully.

“Nice of them to inform us of the delay, Johan, I am sure that Commander Lu-Song will be very happy when we bring him up to date.” Commander Leander replied with a smile now on his face, one that had been missing ever since they fell out of hyper space near to the neutron star.

 

**********

 

On their first whole day on New Caledonia, Bishop Vernon Marley and his wife held the planet`s first ever religious meeting, thanking God for seeing them safely down upon their new world. During the first day following the crash landing, the rest of the solar-powered photovoltaic panels were taken out of the vast hold of the Ark and set up in a temporary site, thereby giving the colonists much needed electrical power, they also unloaded the remaining water purifiers and the personal possessions of the crew and the colonists. The twenty mining couples were checking their equipment and making preparations to leave within the next few days for the hill country, just a morning`s drive through the forest before they split up into five smaller parties. A drone was sent up to survey the land around the downed starship in preparation for the setting up the small farms of the farming couples, each one near to one of the many branches of the many small rivers that exited the forest in this part of New Caledonia. The settlers’ cabins would be set up in groups of four, with the four couples sharing one solar-powered photovoltaic panel.

On this the second day in their new home world, hunters were dispatched to provide fresh meat for the colony, and the farm vehicles were checked over to ensure that they had not been damaged in the rough landing, for they planned to set up the first of their farms the very next day.

 

Chapter Three

 

New Caledonian

 

The special operations starship North Wind was finally approaching the planetary system that contained the planet P1056, their designation for New Caledonia. Commander Leander decided that as Commander Lu-Song would be in charge of the remainder of the operation, he should be brought out of stasis and apprised of the current situation.

Five minutes later and a still groggy Commander Lu-Song was standing on the bridge, watching as the North Wind landed on the smaller of the two moons of P1056, from here Commander Leander scanned the planet which hung in space above them, a multi-coloured and very beautiful sight which none of them took the time to notice. Moments later and they were looking at the Ark, and they could see that it would not be leaving P1056 ever; it was lying in its death bed. After being told about the problems that had occurred on their trip to the planet, Commander Lu-Song looked grim, but this turned to a smile of relief after hearing of the colonists` tale of woe.

“With a rescue ship some sixteen weeks or more away it will surely make our task all the easier Captain.” Lu-Song said.

Leander now asked the commander a question.

“Commander Lu-Song, have you any requests, as you are essentially in charge of this part of the operation?”

“One, Captain, should I require it can you target their communications relay?” Commander Lu-Song queried.

“Of course, Commander.” Leander replied.

“Good, then I may contact you from the planet`s surface, to ask you to do just that, should it become necessary after we have commenced our attack, it would be to prevent them from sending out a distress message.” Commander Lu-song replied. He was still smiling, for he saw the coming days as nothing more than a training session for his team.

“Captain, should I actually need you to take out their communications relay, would you please have your 1st Officer use the ship`s translator to reply to every call that Earth may send to the colony, he is to tell them that everything is fine. Maybe he could intersperse his messages with some bursts of interference, so that any mistakes in grammar that the translator makes will go unnoticed.” Commander Lu-Song requested.

“Of course Commander, is that OK, Johan.” Commander Leander said turning to his 1st officer.

“Yes Captain, I am looking forward to playing with the earthmen.” 1st Officer Karin replied.

“Now, Commander, when and where would you like us to land your squad?” Commander Leander asked.

“Please take us down one mile to the north west of the colonists` encampment, at the edge of the forest, and make it four hours before the sun rises, assuming that your vessel can land that near without wakening the colonists.” Commander Lu-Song replied.

“Oh this ship could land in amongst them without them noticing our arrival.” Commander Leander replied. He then contacted engineering “Li-Ching, you have ten hours to play with your engines, after that I will need to use them to land Commander Lu-Song and his men down on the planet.”

Commander Lu-Song then left the small bridge to see to his men, he meant to bring them out of Cryogenic stasis immediately so that they could ready themselves, and their weapons, for the coming action. When they were fully awake he led them through to the holding area where the main air lock was located. It was here that the soldiers would strap themselves in when the time came for the craft to descend through the planet`s atmosphere. After his men had eaten a meal he told them how he planned to kill the majority, maybe even all of the colonists, before any of them had even woken up.

“Ok men listen up. Their tents are in ten neat lines near to a small river, so they are making it easy for us. We will move in quietly four hours before dawn, after we have disposed of any guards we will enter their tents in pairs and slit the colonists` throats, and then move on to the next tent. With luck we may be able to wrap this up in time for breakfast.” Commander Lu-Song said and smiled as his men broke into laughter.

 

**********

 

The time had finally come when they would make the descent through the atmosphere of P1056, Karin, who was doing a last minute check on conditions that they would encounter, noticed that a large amount of air turbulence was building up, starting at 30,000 feet. It had completely covered their chosen landing area; on top of this if they waited for the turbulence to clear, assuming it would, they would encounter another problem. A large area of freezing air was moving down from the north that would soon meet an even larger warm weather front moving up from the south, when the two collided all hell would break lose down on the planet . Unknown to either the Aldebrans or the colonists, at this time of its year these were regular weather events, ones that they would have to get used too if they aimed to colonise the planet. When he had double checked the data he spoke to his captain.

“Captain, we have yet another problem, have a look at this.” Karin said sending the data over to Leander`s computer.

On looking at his screen Leander contacted Commander Lu-Song and put him in the picture, the soldier looked very unhappy as he digested this latest problem to hit his mission. “Captain, we cannot delay our attack on the earthmen, we are already three days overdue, and our emperor will have had to indefinitely delay his party while he waits for us to start our attack. If we wait around for the conditions to improve, we will be delayed indefinitely, if the Emperor was not involved then it would not matter, but he is involved so it does matter. If we commence our descent now, we can launch our attack this morning, and that way you and I will not be stripped of our commissions and we will not be sent to one of the gulags on our return to Aldebra.” Commander Lu-Song declared grimly.

“Ok Commander please return to your seat and strap yourself in, we are in for a rough descent.” Leander replied calmly.

Leander was in full agreement with what the commander had said, even so he was worried, their luck so far on this mission was almost nil, he just hoped that the fates would now come down on their side. With Lu-Song back in his seat Leander prepared for the descent.

“This is the captain speaking, we are about to enter the planet`s atmosphere, our instruments have detected a fair amount of air turbulence covering much of this part of the planet, unfortunately we cannot wait for it to calm down as two large weather fronts are due very soon and they will violently collide over the area of the planet where we are due to land. There is no way of telling how long we would be delayed if we delayed our descent through the planet`s atmosphere, so please ensure that you are all strapped in, because if you are not then god help you.” Leander said over the intercom.

Immediately after his warning Leander received a call from engineering. “Captain, I cannot answer for the systems if there is too much turbulence, they might all blow again.” Chief Engineer Li-Ching Yung warned.

“I am sorry Li-Ching, but with the Emperor awaiting word from us that the attack has finally commenced, and the delays that we have incurred on our trip to P1056 means that we have no other option, just nurse the engine through the descent the best you can.” Leander replied grimly.

The sleek special operations starship now dropped down through the New Caledonian atmosphere, Commander Leander opening up the small atmospheric wings of the craft to make the North Wind more manoeuvrable when they hit the turbulence. However, as it passed through 30,000 feet the craft hit a massive amount of air turbulence, one much greater than Karin had forecast. This caused Chief Engineer Li-Ching Yung to panic as he was bounced about in his seat, his safety belt digging into his side, but without it he would have been thrown around the engineering department. Sparks began to leap from the relays that he had only just repaired and he feared for the repairs that he had made to the motherboards, all of them were only held together with spit and a prayer, and they began to jar loose from their connections. Then the North Wind was struck savagely by a particularly violent patch of turbulence, and one of the relays, which Chief Engineer Li-Ching Yung had repaired with more spit and many more prayers, blew apart with a large bang. Startled by the noise Yung swung round to look for the source, swearing when he saw the smoke curling away from the relay which was hanging lose and swinging crazily over other sensitive parts. However, before he could see to that relay, another blew on the other side of the room, and the craft took on a drunken list. Yung watched as Manchu tumbled to the floor, having taken off his safety belt to see to yet another relay that was threatening to take others with it. Yung watched as Manchu then slid towards the port interior wall with no way to stop his downward trip; Yung had only been saved when he had taken off his own safety belt as he had managed to grab hold of one of the work stations and regain his balance. Although they finally flew clear of the turbulence, a problem with one of their microprocessors meant that their atmospheric engine was now only working intermittently at full power, dropping down to less than a quarter power which then began to look as if it would be the norm, and they were falling from the sky.

On the bridge of the starship, Leander attempted to compensate for the loss of power by using the vertical thrusters, these were mainly used only in landings and take offs, however the strain on the relays sending power to the thrusters proved to be too great and they now also blew. The planet`s gravity was pulling at the nose of the craft, and with no vertical thrusters to compensate the craft now went into a slow spin, and the ground was coming up fast. It was now that the artificial gravity device aboard the North Wind began to play up, it was being starved of power, and everyone aboard the starship found themselves being thrown forward, everyone now feared that the end had come, and some began pray to god to save them.

In engineering, Yung struggled over to the other end of the room and opened the panel that covered the power relays to the thrusters, here he desperately attempted to find the faulty one and then to repair it, but then the lights went out.

A diagnostic system had already told Manchu that the lights were about to go out and he had almost completed his own task, working in the dark he managed to insert the newly repaired electrical relay and said thank you went the lights sprang back to life.

For a moment all went well, for Yung now had light, and moments later he replaced the faulty relay with a more robust one and got the vertical thrusters working again.

The North Wind had been hurtling down towards the hard unforgiving ground all the time that Yung had been struggling to repair the damaged starship thrusters, it was now almost down amongst the trees of the forest that covered much of the planet at this northern latitude. With the vertical thrusters working again Leander and Karin managed to level off the craft and then to keep it flying straight. They were just above the tree-line now, moving south-east through the night sky towards the downed colonist starship. They soon left the forest behind them and were moving across the massive open prairie, although they were still a long way from the area in which the colonists were camped. Finally, their atmospheric engines were operating at something approaching peak efficiency, they skimmed across the prairie heading towards their own planned landing site, it was near to where a section of the large forest protruded far to the south.

Commander Lu-Song and his men had screamed when the North Wind went into free fall, now they were back on an even keel they slowly recovered from the panic that the sudden loss in height and orientation had caused. None of them had been badly hurt due to the fact that they had all been strapped in, but the retaining straps had dug into their bodies and the bruises on them would be graphic evidence of their near brush with death. Still badly shaken by their ordeal, Commander Lu-Song calmed his men down, and after singing one of the victory songs of the Special Forces, they were once again looking forward to the operation, looking forward to slaying the enemies of Emperor Taluk Ki-Chek.

With his death seeming to be so very close Commander Lu-Song felt a terrible feeling of guilt build up within his mind, blotting out anything else. He had been reminded of the deaths of so many innocent people who had died at their hands, especially those that he had witnessed. As the chance of dying grew so did his belief in an afterlife, and he feared that his afterlife would be a terrible place where he would be made to atone for what he had done during his mortal lifetime. Sweat began to break out upon his forehead as his fears increased, but he could not ask god to give him the chance to change, his duty to his emperor stood in the way.

The two men on the small bridge did not foresee any further problems arising in their mission, but they should have known better, for the relays that Chief engineer Li-Ching Yung had just repaired began to play up yet again, sparking and working only intermittently now because of a faulty power cable. This caused one of the port thrusters to stop working all together, and the special operations starship immediately slewed sharply to port. Yung and Manchu were thrown to the floor and as with soldiers were forced to hang on tight. The soldiers packed within the craft began to cry out in fear once again, brave as they were; in the special operations starship they were powerless to affect the outcome of this battle, unable to do anything to protect their lives, except to pray that is.

Leander swore at the port thrusters, however Yung soon found out where the problem was using one of the few functional computers, and ten seconds later he was crawling under the floor amidships towards the faulty cable, and he soon had the problem sorted out. Leander`s attempt to stop the North Wind from crashing hard upon the ground, and probably awakening every colonists upon the planet, now worked, the fates had finally decided to assist them he thought jubilantly.

Yung returned to engineering and he and Manchu sank to the floor exhausted yet again, they had done everything that they could and it was now up to the gods to decide their fate, they could do nothing more while the craft was in the air.

On the bridge the amount of noise coming from the atmospheric engine made Karin look at his computer screen, he was using a diagnostic program and it told him how well the atmospheric engine was operating and what if any problems there were. Then he checked on each of the thrusters and what he saw scared him.

“Captain, both the atmospheric engine and the vertical thrusters will not keep going for much longer, too much damage has been done to them when we went into freefall, we must land now or risk crashing.” First Officer Karin had to yell out his warning to make himself heard above the screaming engines.

When the port thrusters had immediately levelled the craft, Leander had thought that they would probably make it, however as the level of noise coming from the engine increased, and coupled to Karin`s warning, Leander decided not to push his luck. He decided to attempt to land while they still possessed some power. Just then, the gods turned away from them again, a gale force wind suddenly sprung up and the craft began to fight him. Knowing that he could not trust the vertical thrusters to affect a gentle landing, he engaged the landing skis, and as he was now out of options he screamed out a warning.

“Brace yourselves, we are going in hard.”

Thankfully, the ground ahead of them was clear of any large trees or bushes, and although he had seen numerous gullies in their mad flight across the prairie, it was mainly flat here, so Commander Leander now applied the breaking thrusters. As the craft slowed, he battled to keep the nose of the ship up as the strong wind attempted to push it down, only the small wings of the craft and Leander`s skill saved them from disaster. The craft struck the ground heavily, but the landing skis survived the impact, and friction finally helped to stop the craft, and just before it plunged down into a deep gully that suddenly appeared ahead of them. Only Leander and Karin knew how close they had been to disaster, for if they had fallen down the gully, many of the Aldebrans would have been killed or injured, and the craft would have been a total write-off.

Commander Leander finally began to breathe again as he looked across at his 1st officer. “Are you ok, Johan?” He gasped, taking in a large breath of air as he attempted to quieten his rapidly beating heart.

“Yes, Captain, I am fine, how about you?” Karin replied as he sighed with relief, they were down and finally safe.

An angry Lu-Song pulled himself out of his seat and moved forward to confront Captain Leander. “What the hell happened Captain? We must have woken every colonist on the planet.” He declared angrily.

“No Commander, we landed many miles away from their encampment and your proposed landing site, they will not have heard a thing, especially with the wind blowing so hard towards us rather than them.” Leander replied. “As for what happened, I imagine that the substandard equipment that our beloved government supplied us with, coupled with all the stress that our systems have endured, have caused our engines to fail yet again, that and the fates which have been against us from the moment that we left Aldebra. In fact we were lucky Commander, just pray that your luck continues to hold up, and that our engineers can breathe life back into the engines, the atmospheric ones this time.”

Commander Lu-Song could have had Leander imprisoned for such words against the government of Aldebra; however, he was too shaken to fully take in all that Leander had said and anyway his conscience would not have allowed him too, especially after his constant nightmares. 1st Officer Karin had heard them though, and he glanced towards the soldier to see his reaction to his captain`s words, fully ready to attack the soldier, should Commander Lu-Song attempt to take issue with his captain`s words.

“We should check on your men Commander, and then I must speak to my engineer, to see if he can get the ship airborne again.” Leander said calmly.

Commander Leander realised that his outburst had been unwise, but with the soldier not taking issue with his words, he was all work, the best way to ensure the soldier did not recollect his exact words and use them against him.

Lu-Song was soon talking to his men, checking that none of them had suffered anything more than a bump, a graze or a bruise from their seat belts.

“Men, this unforeseen accident has changed our plans, we must wait to see if the crew of the North Wind can repair their ship, and so assist us as originally planned by taking out the starship`s communications array, if required. If they can, then they will be able to make a clinical strike, if not, then we will have to amend our plans accordingly, split our team up so that we have men aboard the starship to take out the Communications Centre. It will complicate matters, for we will have less men to attend to our prime aim, to take out the colonists, which is why I would prefer to rely on the North Wind`s Phaser.” Commander Lu-Song explained. “Any questions?”

There were not any, so Leander left Commander Lu-Song and his soldiers and carried on through to engineering to speak to Chief Engineer Li-Ching Yung.

“The atmospheric engines had already been damaged by the power surge Captain, when we hit that turbulence it simply shook all of my repairs apart. My jerry rigged repairs are bad enough in space, but down here the planet`s atmosphere just put too much of a strain upon it all.” Chief engineer Li-Ching Yung explained.

“Just do your best Li-Ching to get us back into space, Commander Lu-Song is banking on us to take out the colonist`s communications array.”

“Yes of course Captain, Manchu and I are already working on it; it will be a long job, a lot more of our systems blew this time, including our Phaser fire controls, unfortunately we lost many of the safeguards when our problems first started.” Chief engineer Li-Ching Yung explained regretfully.

On hearing this bad news Commander Lu-Song decided to disembark, Leander could contact them on their radio as soon as his craft was repaired, if it ever was. After his men had collected their gear they set off across the grass filled prairie towards the encampment of the colonists of Earth. His men were just grateful to be back on the ground, now their future was in their hands, not the substandard systems on the starship.

Chief engineer Li-Ching Yung and Manchu worked all through the early morning to repair the ship, recycling many parts from systems that they had been forced to shut down, including the ability to enter hyperspace, but finally the ship was ready. However, the sun had been up for almost one hour before they could inform Commander Leander that they were now ready to assist his team.

Commander Leander left engineering, where he and his 1st officer had been helping with the repairs, and returned to the bridge, the first thing he did was to call Commander Lu-Song on the radio, however, when the soldier replied Leander could hear the stress that the man was now under, all due to the delays to the start of his mission.

“That is good news Captain, however we are still two miles away from the earthmen, I will call you when we are in position.”

Commander Leander decided to offer the soldier a suggestion. “Commander, why don`t you wait until tomorrow morning to launch your assault, use your original plan rather than move against the colonists today? The earthmen must have been awake for some time now, making your task all the more difficult, your men can use the time to check out the countryside around the encampment.” Commander Leander urged Lu-Song.

“Yes Captain, thank you for your suggestion, I will certainly consider it, depending upon what I find at the encampment.” Commander Lu-Song began to reply, but he was interrupted by 1st Officer Karin.

“Captain, the colonists have launched a drone, we must take off now or risk being seen.” Karin called across to Leander who then relayed this information to Lu-Song.

“Commander, call us when you want us to take out their communications array, we will be ready to assist you.” Leander said.

“Thank you Captain, I will do so; however the drone confirms that the colonists are awake and already working, it seems that I have no other option open to me than to do as you suggest. Captain, my men and I will hide up until early tomorrow morning, at which time we will launch our assault as planned, I just hope that our superiors on Aldebra give us the necessary time.” Commander Lu-Song replied solemnly.

Leander was thinking along similar lines, but refrained from making such a comment on air, instead he gave Lu-Song a warning. “Commander, I do not know how many times our Phaser weapon will be able to fire, so please pick your targets frugally, or else you may be let down by it.”

The North Wind took off minutes later and initially headed away from the colonists’ encampment, when they were far enough away from the drone they headed up through the planet`s atmosphere, the amount of turbulence had fallen and the starship managed to fly though it without incurring any further complications. They reached their standby position just two minutes before they received a signal from their headquarters on Aldebra, it was from their emperor, he wanted to know why they had not sent the code word Imperial, which told the emperor that his soldiers had launched their assault on the earthmen on the designated day. It seemed that the radio blackout had come to an end.

Commander Leander replied to the signal, informing his base of the problems incurred during the voyage and the landing, half an hour later they received a reply.

‘1st officer Karin, you are now in command of the North Wind, send a message to Commander Lu-Song to launch his attack now, no further delay will be tolerated, his opponents are only colonists after all.’ It was signed, your beloved emperor.

Karin was stunned, as too was Commander Leander who had heard of such a thing happening before, but somehow he never expected to be on the receiving end of one. However, he felt no ill will towards Karin.

“Captain, do you want me to send the message down to Commander Lu-Song.” Leander asked with just a slight catch in his voice.

Karin looked at his former captain, and nodded, unable to say anything for the moment, he felt that his former captain had been shabbily treated by their superiors. He had wanted a command of his own, but not this way.

Leander was soon in contact with the soldiers down on the planet, and he informed them of the messages from Aldebra. Commander Lu-Song replied in clipped tones, which told Leander and Karin that he too was shocked to receive the new order, for to attack the colonists this morning would almost certainly mean losing some of his men. True their enemy were only colonists, so his squad should not be overly tested by them, but even so he was tempted to ignore it. However, to do so would be noted by Sub Officer Yang who might just report him to his father for not following an imperial command, so with his original plan now impossible, all he could do was to launch his attack as soon as they reached the colonists` encampment.

It took Lu-Song only a moment to explain their new plan of campaign it to his men, who being loyal empire troops accepted it without comment, although the more experienced amongst them felt a burgeoning fear slowly growing inside their stomachs. As for Lu-Song, he too now feared death, and he felt a growing anger at the way his emperor was treating his loyal men.

 

 

Chapter Four

 

Battle Commences

 

This was their second day after the crash landing of the Ark, and although the morning sun had only just risen on New Caledonia most of the colonists were awake, many of them were already leaving their tents that lined the northern bank of the river to wash in the temporary ablution areas that had been set up. Most of them had enjoyed an uncomfortable night`s sleep, and now they were looking forward to their breakfast before they used their tractors to plough up this small section of prairie in preparation for the first four farms. A drone had already been sent up to search for signs of one of the large herds of beasts that lived on the grass filled prairies and which should be already migrating northwards, for Bishop Marley planned to begin supplementing their diet as soon as possible, to extend the time that their survival rations would last.

Mark Summers slipped through the small doorway of his two person tent, his six feet two inches tall body needed to stretch urgently. He looked around at his new world, forest behind him and open prairie before him and with the river flowing just feet away from his tent. As per years of habit his eyes scanned the countryside looking for signs of life, but as yet most of the native wildlife had kept well away from the newcomers. When he and his wife had washed and enjoyed a Spartan breakfast, he wanted to walk along the river bank, follow it for a while before returning to help with the day`s work. For the moment though, he was content to wait for his wife to join him, so that she too could enjoy the views of the countryside around the encampment. Hidden behind the forest that was at his back he did not see the first sign of the coming storm clouds that were already forming, although he did see some just above the distant horizon. Mark shivered as a cold wind blew down from the north, he had been hoping for a warm spring morning but it seemed that winter had not as yet let its grip slip on the land.

Just eight hundred yards away from their tented community twenty four soldiers were quietly crossing the open prairie, slowly moving forward, moving unseen from one bush to the next, however, it was now that their unfamiliarity with the planet betrayed them. They disturbed a flock of New Caledonian pigeons feeding upon the ground, the birds shot up into the light blue sky making enough noise to waken even a sleeping colonist. Mark Summers was trained to react quickly to such events, he pulled out a small pair of binoculars and scanned the area of ground from which the pigeons had hastily departed, looking for his first sight of one of the planet`s large carnivores, what he saw was not a local beast. The Aldebran soldiers were also normally quick to react to events, however, one of them had the misfortune to duck down into a wasp`s nest, Mark saw his hurriedly retreating body clearly through his binoculars, he also saw the high powered Phaser rifle grasped in the soldiers hands.

“Bishop Marley, armed men are covertly approaching us from the North, have the colonists collect their weapons, we might need to defend ourselves.” Mark said and then ducked into his tent and collected his own Phaser rifle, the latest thing in high power Phaser rifles.

His wife Susan was still inside getting ready. “Arm yourself Honey; we may have to defend ourselves against some unwelcome guests, oh and be sure to keep your beautiful head down.” He said before returning to the side of the Bishop Marley who stood there looking at the prairie, alarmed at this turn of events.

A dozen men had armed themselves following Mark`s words, and another dozen were in the process of doing so, however the remainder were looking to Bishop Marley for instructions.

“Bishop Marley, friends do not sneak up on you, especially if they are armed to the teeth.” Mark said grimly. “Order the colonists to arm themselves.” Mark ordered. Then he noticed the newcomers beginning to raise their weapons and he screamed out another order. “Everybody down, they are about to open fire on us.”

“Everyone listen to me.” Bishop Marley called out fearfully and just as twenty four powerful energy bolts screamed through the air all about them. “Arm yourselves we are under attack.” Bishop Marley screamed out in panic while throwing himself to the ground in terror as ten of the colonists screamed out in agony, having been hit by the incoming Phaser fire.

A large bolt of energy screamed down from the sky, it struck the communications array sited atop the broken starship and destroyed it instantly, the massive explosion sending parts of it flying down amongst the colonists who were now panicking. Some of the colonists were screaming as they rushed for cover, others stood there shaking in fear, while other colonists quietly armed themselves. The colonists who had armed themselves began to return fire; however, they were pinned down, their return fire accomplishing nothing more than taking out the odd bush or small tree. Mark quickly ran to those in shock and pulled each of them to the ground. Then, seeing the need to take command of the situation Mark returned to Bishop Marley`s side and pulled him even further down into cover, the bishop smiled grimly at Mark, for he hoped that help of a military kind was about to be offered.

“Bishop Marley, there are maybe only a score of them attacking us; however there must be more otherwise it would be suicide for so few men to attack us.” Mark said while opening fire on their enemy.

“Mr Summers, you know about such things, I am a man of peace, please do whatever you think fit, but save my people.” Bishop Marley replied as a powerful energy bolt screamed past him just inches away from his head.

Mark looked around them, he saw that many more of the colonists had now armed themselves, so Mark quickly gathered forty of them to protect their rear against a surprise attack that he was sure would soon arrive, in fact he was surprised that it had not yet happened. He positioned them in three groups, one group of ten on both of the flanks of their encampment and the rest to the rear of the encampment, in a line from the downed starship and along the banks of the river. He ordered all of them to keep very low, so as not to give their attackers a clear target to aim at, and although all of them looked to be a mite scared, they were all prepared to die to save their loved ones. He told them to wait there for the second part of the attack to commence, and with their rear and flanks protected Mark headed back for Bishop Marley, however he nearly did not make it when a Phaser bolt only just missed him, he flung himself to the ground and crawled the rest of the way, finally he reached Bishop Marley.

“More of our people are going to die here Bishop Marley, unless we counter attack and drive our attackers back, I will lead five men through the forest and attack them on the right flank, we need someone else to lead five more men, and they are to move up on our enemy on their left flank, they can travel along that shallow gully that you can see to our left.” Mark said indicating a gully that he had followed just before sunset yesterday. “It will lead them towards our enemy; however, they must hang back initially, but be in a position to cut off our enemy’s withdrawal. When it happens they must then move in and open fire upon them.” Mark explained. “Bishop, give me five minutes after I leave and then you must lead half of our remaining forces forward from here, but slowly, keeping to whatever natural cover you can find, and as soon as you see our enemy withdrawing you must increase your pace, but please leave our rear guard in place. Oh and please do not fire upon any of our men who are already in contact with the enemy force.”

“Well who do you suggest lead the other five men, if I am to lead those who remain behind?” Bishop Marley asked as two energy bolts almost creased his hair, making him duck even further down in fright until his face was pushing in to the ground.

Just as Bishop Marley asked his question a man appeared behind him. “I will Bishop Marley, I have some experience of this sort of action, I was in military until you accepted my application to join your expedition.” A tall lean man said. He looked to be the same sort of age as Mark and although he looked concerned he kept his fear from showing. “Richard Rider is the name Captain Summers.” Rider said looking across at Mark and introducing himself.

“Good to have you on our little outing Richard, find five other men who are good with a Phaser rifle and be ready to move out in five minutes, and I will do the same. Oh and the name is Mark, I have also retired, OK?” Mark said smiling across at Rider.

“Ok, Mark.” Richard replied and returned the smile and then he left to pick five men from amongst those who had been amongst the first to arm themselves.

The colonists were either hugging the ground or had found themselves something solid to protect their bodies as they returned the vicious Phaser bolts coming their way They had quietened down, now that they saw that someone had taken command of the situation, and many more of them had now armed themselves to fire in the general direction of their enemy.

After finding the five men for his team, and also explaining to Susan why he had to risk his life and lead them, Mark and five of the colonists were ready to leave the encampment. Phaser bolts were still being exchanged between the two parties, however the Aldebrans were no longer moving forward, the amount of Phaser bolts coming their way had first surprised them and then made them even retreat a little, they began to wonder if the earthmen that they were attacking were merely colonists. Lu-Song was more than a little concerned for himself, his new found fear of dying hampering his thought processes.

Mark first checked that Richard Rider was moving into position with his small team, and then he led his own team towards the nearby trees, keeping both their heads and their backsides down they soon found themselves within the forest itself. Once concealed by the forest`s thick undergrowth, they stood up and were able to move much more easily, moving quietly forward along a narrow and rather overgrown animal trail that allowed them to walk almost parallel to the prairie. As they made their way through the concealing forest, they could hear the murderous fire whistling between the two opposing forces, and the occasional explosion when the powerful energy bolt exploded against the stern of the downed starship. Mark wondered why the starship in orbit had not continued to fire down upon the colonists, however, he did not complain, instead he thanked god for it. He constantly stopped to scan the forest ahead of them and on their flank, but he saw no signs that indicated that their enemy had anticipated his move, it was so strange, whoever was in command of the attack was making some bad mistakes. Soon Mark and his team were abreast of the Aldebran soldiers; who were still firing upon the colonist`s encampment, and were completely oblivious to the presence of the earthmen on their flank.

“OK, men, when I give the order I want you all to open fire upon our enemy for just five seconds, then hug the ground, because any of the soldiers left alive will almost certainly turn their weapons upon us.” Mark explained in a soft voice. “Ok men, open fire.” Mark ordered equally quietly.

Energy bolts from Mark and his team whistled through the air, all of them coming from the forest not forty feet away from the nearest Aldebran soldier, the continuous fire immediately taking out three of the troopers and making the others move into cover, or to quickly hug the ground if no cover presented itself. Commander Lu-Song was astonished that the colonists had got over his surprise attack to even consider an outflanking manoeuvre. He had been about to ask the North Wind to fire at the colonists, as so many of them were armed, now though he had other problems to attend to, such as saving the lives of his men.

“Sub-Officer Yang take five of our men with you and see off our attackers.” Lu-Song ordered after hugging the ground after two energy bolts parted his hair and singed it.

He now took time out to check on his injured men; however he found that the three men were dead, but he did not have the time to mourn them, that would have to wait. When Sub-Officer Yang found that he could not cross the open ground between his position and his attackers, and having lost two more troopers in the attempt, he reported this fact to Lu-Song.

Lu-Song had spent the last few seconds thinking over the situation, he had just damned his peoples` intelligence agencies for not finding out more information about the colonists, especially regarding the fact that so many of them were armed. He guessed that he had attacked at least one hundred and fifty armed men, and he now knew that his position was untenable, he would have to retreat and attempt to escape before more of his men were killed. He also damned his chief opponent amongst the colonists, one who obviously had more than just basic military training. He finished by damning himself for not posting any of his men to guard their flanks, but with there being only twenty four of them how could he have split his meagre force? They were now paying for his blatant stupidity and their far too small a force to undertake such a mission against a well-armed foe. Even so, he mused, if the emperor had left them alone for one more day then all would have been well, he immediately blasted himself again for not being strong enough to go against such a blatantly stupid order.

“Get ready to pull back men, we need to put space between us and our enemy, be ready to head further back in to the prairie on my command.” Commander Lu-Song ordered. “Sub officer Yang, you and your three remaining men will prepare to cover our retreat away from the forest, you are to stay here and return fire until the rest of the squad have moved safely away,” Commander Lu-Song ordered and then turned to his radio man. “Call the North Wind again, ask it to fire upon the forest directly east of us, have the ship take out the colonists concealed in there, they can then fire down on the main force who are getting perilously near to us.”

Lu-Song turned to his remaining troopers. “All right men drop back, and be ready to lay down covering fire for Yang and his men when they follow after us.” Lu-Song ordered and then after a look at his Sub Officer he led his team away. He fervently hoped that the young officer and his three men would not add to the growing casualty list of this disastrous mission.

Sub-Officer Yang only waited long enough to see his comrades disappear into the prairie, as he did not want to be hit by the Phaser fire that would soon be raining down from the sky near to his position. Having given what he thought was sufficient time for Lu-Song and the remainder of the squad to get safely away, he led his three men away from the continuous fire coming from his attackers, both from the flanking force and the main group of colonists who were even now closing in on him.

Mark decided that his team had been in the same location for far too long, if he were in the enemy commander`s place, he would use the starship in orbit above New Caledonia to rid himself of his new attackers. That it was capable of very accurate fire had already been demonstrated when it had taken out their communications array atop of their downed starship. In fact he wondered why the enemy commander had not made greater use of its superior fire power, and when he saw signs that the enemy was retreating, he knew that he was correct; it was time to move position.

“Cease fire men, we`re moving further along the animal trail, move it before that ship in space targets us.” Mark ordered and chased his five men further along the track and further away from their camp.

Moments later the ground where they had been hidden was destroyed in a massive explosion as bolt after bolt of energy streamed down to destroy the forest near to where the Aldebran soldiers had been. The five colonists with Mark were stunned by the destruction, caused by the screams of energy coming from the sky as the energy bolts tore through the air, destroying it as they passed through it.

In the meantime Commander Lu-Song and his men retreated back into the cover offered by the prairie, and as they did so, they came nearer to six more armed colonists. Richard Rider had seen the Phaser bolts coming from the forest and was itching to join in, however, he knew how to follow orders, and so he waited until their enemy came towards them, which they soon did. He did not even have to move his men forward for the gully was directly in the path of the retreating force, had Commander Lu-Song been allowed more time he might even have found it and used it himself. Sudden death was no stranger to Rider, it was one reason why he had resigned from the military, so he was able to calm his team, get their minds back on track. They did not need any encouragement to fire at their enemy, for they were all anxious to avenge Mark and his team, who they assumed were now dead, killed by the deadly energy bolts screaming down from space.

“Keep calm men, we will revenge our friends, they are offering their god damned lives to us on a plate, ready, now open fire!” He said in a quiet calm voice that helped his inexperienced team of farmers to keep their cool.

Six bolts of energy shot out from ground level taking out a further three Aldebran soldiers immediately and injuring two more.

Commander Lu-Song did not panic; however he and his men came close to it as he wondered who his nemesis was. “Move towards the north, quickly men, this way.” He called and moved away from both attacking forces. However, retreating forces are liable to lose even more of their men, and this one was no exception. By the time Commander Lu-Song had got successfully away he only had half of his force remaining, all the others were lying dead upon this alien planet.

In space Captain Karin was unable to fire upon the colonists attacking his soldiers, not only for fear of injuring Commander Lu-Song and his men, but because in using the weapon so many times, they had blown the faulty relays again and that in turn had further damaged the motherboard within the fire computer. Unfortunately it had also damaged a far more important system, the normal time space engine was now non-operational and even the environmental systems were in danger of failing, powerful electrical spikes having reaped havoc with everything in engineering because of the lack of surge protectors in the system, these having been destroyed when the problems had first arisen. Yung and Manchu were once again busy repairing the engine, with yet another incentive, which was to stop their ship from being dragged down through the planet`s atmosphere and burning up in a final pyrotechnic display. Neither Captain Karin nor Commander Leander had expected this situation to develop, although even if they knew that there was a chance of this happening, they were duty bound to assist the troopers on the planet.

On the battlefield Commander Lu-Song led his men north west, away from the forest and towards an area of small grassy hills, unknown to them as they retreated they moved nearer to Mark Summers and his team, who had moved quickly along the animal trail and then out onto the prairie. Here they had bunkered down atop one of the hills and waited patiently for their enemy to come to them. Harrying the Aldebran survivors was Richard Rider and his team, slightly behind their left flank, and Bishop Marley and his men who were moving ever closer to the Aldebrans` retreating rear. Rider had left one man behind in the gully; he was not dead, but he was quite badly wounded. Marley had lost twenty of his men, fifteen in the initial firefight and five more while they pursued their enemy; thankfully not all of them were dead, merely wounded.

Lu-Song finally found a place to his liking. “OK, troopers, this looks like a defensible position, we will wait for the colonists to catch up with us here, then we will open fire, we should be able to take enough of them out to cause them to retreat, and tonight we will enter their encampment and finish what we started.” Commander Lu-Song ordered. “Jovan, Parse, you watch our flanks, I do not want to be caught out again.”

As the troopers began to spread out, Mark and his team opened fire from behind the troopers, their weapons taking out another five of the troopers and causing four more to immediately surrender; only Sub-Officer Yang had stayed by Lu-Song`s side firing at the approaching colonists. Commander Lu-Song visibly shrank and he berated his men as he and the sub officer were forced to surrender.

“You men have betrayed your fallen comrades, you families, your planet, and your emperor. I dare not report this to the North Wind, for to do so would see our innocent families suffer for your cowardice, I spit on you.” He snarled.

He wanted to shoot himself, to somehow lessen the guilt he had put on his family, his ancestors, but something inside him held his hand, his surviving men would need him in the days to come, the injured and the cowards. His new found fear also stayed his hand, if there was in fact an afterlife then he needed time to atone for his sins, he must not die just yet.

Mark Summers led his five men forward just as Rider and his team arrived, they were all ecstatic, and it was only the presence of Mark and Richard Rider that prevented immediate retribution, for two of the men wanted to shoot their prisoners out of hand.

“They have surrendered and are now our prisoners, when Bishop Marley arrives with his men we will march them back to the ship to answer some questions, until then they are under my protection. You all owe Richard and myself your lives, and the lives of your families, so you will do as we say and not mistreat these men.” Mark ordered and the colonists nodded their acceptance of his order, later, after their enemies’ trial for murder, they reasoned, they could execute them.

Bishop Marley now arrived with his men, and Mark repeated his order, one that Bishop Marley backed up, although Richard Rider did have some misgivings as to the wisdom of their decision to allow these men to live.

Richard looked across at his team; they were all elated now, and all the more willing to accept his orders. “Men, we need to pick up Johnson, go and collect him and take him back to Doctor Tattersall. I will stay here to help guard our prisoners, to make sure they play nice.” Richard ordered.

All five of the Aldebran troopers who had fallen on the small hill were dead, Bishop Marley marked their position by tying a broken branch to the skeleton of a dead tree, they would be dealt with later, depending on the customs of their enemy, The six prisoners were ordered to carry their two injured comrades back to the downed starship, guarded by two dozen angry colonists. As they came to the other fallen troopers their position was again marked, however, when they came to the bodies of fallen colonists, a man was sent back to base for a tractor and wagon, their bodies would be brought back immediately. The injured colonists from Marley`s team had already been taken back for medical treatment.

Their return to the encampment was a mixed affair, the colonists who had remained in camp cheered their men as they entered it, however, the air was filled with the grief of the widowed women, and the worried husbands and wives whose partners had been injured.

On seeing Mark enter the camp, Susan, who had stayed behind to tend to the injured, ran to him and threw her arms around his neck, her passionate kisses driving away every other emotion that Mark felt, tears were streaming down her face, for she had feared the worse when she had seen the powerful bolts of energy streaming down from space. The sight of them cheered those colonists who were nearby, it dulled the violence that had scared them so, making them fear for their future, however, this feeling of joy would soon pass, soon fear would return to haunt them and some of them to their graves.

 

 

Chapter Five

 

[+ Interrogation+]

 

The colonists now turned towards their prisoners, and they gathered around them, screaming insults and making threats as the prisoners were led into the downed starship. The situation could have turned ugly but Bishop Marley managed to calm everyone down, he reminded them that they were Christians first and last, they were not murderers, they were certainly not like their enemy. This worked for now, but Mark knew that as time went on some of those who had lost a loved one might well look for payback as the anguish ate away at their minds and souls, he would have to help Bishop Marley to ensure that they were not successful, no matter how much he found himself agreeing with them, otherwise it would leave a very nasty taste in everyone`s mouth.

The downed starship was more or less on an even keel now, the heavy weight of the starship pushing all that was between it and the ground deep into the soft soil. Therefore, Bishop Marley and Captain Larson decided to use the 1st officer`s cabin to interrogate their prisoners, however, they all refused to say a word. When Bishop Marley came out of the starship for some fresh air, Mark and Susan approached him.

“Bishop Marley, have you found out who our prisoners are, are they from Earth, or are they aliens?” Mark asked grimly.

“I do not know Mr Summers, I have checked over all of their weapons, and tried to read the papers that we found upon them, but their written language is unknown to any of us, and they simply refuse to talk. Perhaps you might try your luck, you have travelled more than any of us?” Bishop Marley replied.

Mark agreed to try, and he and Susan entered the downed starship, first he looked at the Aldebran Phaser rifles, and then through all of the papers that Marley had found upon the prisoners, he soon recognised enough of the words to be able to understand what was written upon them. He had learned the language the year before when it was thought that the people of the planet Aldebra could become a threat to the interests of Earth, and so a number of officers were put through a crash language course, Mark now turned to the bishop to tell him what he had learned.

“They are from Aldebra, they are members of their military Bishop, I will be happy to have a go at them, see if I can get them to talk, because I know enough Aldebran to be able to question them. However, first I suggest that we split them up, they are more likely to let something slip if we separate them and then question each of them alone.”

“Ok, we have a few spare tents Mr Summers, I will have them erected and then they can each have a separate tent, then I will arrange for them to be brought back to the room that we are using to question them in, and you can have one at a time, hopefully that way you will be able to get something out of them.” Bishop Marley said in agreement.

While Susan went off to help the other colonists, Mark had the six tents set up in two rows, they were alongside a long section of the downed starship that lay flat upon the ground, and this made the guarding the troopers all the easier, for the troopers could not escape that way. The six unwounded soldiers were now led out of the starship, and Mark asked for hobbles to be tied to their feet, to hamper their movement. Commander Lu-Song immediately moved forward to protest when he saw two of the colonists attempt to tie the hobbles to the first of his men, however, Mark had anticipated this. He had First officer Jenson prime and ready to go, and with full instructions as to how he was to react to the actions of the Aldebran officer and his men. Jenson raised his Phaser rifle and fired it, the resulting energy bolt screamed past the commander`s head and exploded against the metal of the starship. Stunned by this violent reaction to his protests Lu-Song stopped moving, fear entered his heart when he saw the angry scowl appear on Jenson`s face. This had been the result that Mark had been looking for, for the troopers to worry that one of the senior officers amongst the earthmen was a very dangerous individual, one who was only looking for an opportunity to kill them all. Finally all the six troopers had been hobbled, next he had their hands tied behind their backs and it was only then that the troopers were forced into the tents. Mark now took Captain Larson aside and had a quiet word with him.

“Captain, I think it might be wise to have your people keep a close watch on the area near to the Aldebrans while they are in the tents, we need to ensure that none of our people try to avenge the deaths of the colonists, no matter how justified we may think they are.”

Captain Larson was shocked at Mark`s words, and he said so. “Surely not Mr Summers, our people would never do such a thing.” Larson protested.

“Even so, I suggest that as well as guarding the Aldebrans, a watch is kept on anyone who ventures too close to their tents.” Mark said and Captain Larson finally agreed to the request, even if he did think it unnecessary.

With this matter taken care of Mark took Robert Jenson into a small room that had once been Jenson`s cabin, this was where they would carry out the interrogations. Mark set up a small camera between two books on Jenson`s bookshelf, the lens pointed directly at the chair where the Aldebran prisoners would be seated. He then showed Jenson his smart phone and on the small screen Jenson could see the chair.

“Just what is that for Mark?” Jenson asked quizzically.

“I find that a prisoner`s face is a good indicator of what he is thinking, especially when they think that no one is watching them.” Mark replied and there they left it.

Mark now had the first of the troopers pulled from his tent and gagged, this was to prevent his cries for help reaching the ears of his comrades, he was then led back inside the starship and he found Mark and Robert Jenson waiting for him inside. The trooper initially expected to be killed, especially when he caught sight of Jenson, but when forced into a chair and his gag removed he realised that he was to be interrogated again. Mark was to be the good interrogator, and Jenson had already been cast in the role of the bad interrogator. They had chosen their trooper well; he was the youngest and most likely to break, if interrogated in just the right way, for this was his first tour of duty and one that he now wished he was not on.

“Trooper, why have the Aldebran military attacked a peaceful colony of Earth, I did not know that our people were war with one another?” Mark asked in a quiet and calm voice.

The trooper was surprised to be questioned in his own language, even if the grammar was poor; however he stayed silent. Mark continued to ask him further questions, none of which were answered. The time had come for Jenson`s second scene in this drama. All the time that Mark had been asking his questions he had been pacing behind Mark, now he rushed forward and hauled the trooper to his feet, he then slapped the man hard, knocking him back down into his chair, and to say that the Aldebran trooper was surprised was an understatement.

“Answer the questions or I swear by all that I hold dear that I will cut you.” Jenson said pulling a large knife from his belt and putting its blade against the trooper`s throat. He had screamed his words in English, not knowing any Aldebran, but it was not necessary, his actions and manner needed no one to translate them.

The trooper tried to stand up to escape from Jenson, but the young officer`s other hand was holding him down in his chair, the young trooper did not understand Jenson`s words, but he knew that the earthman wanted answers to the questions that had been asked. Mark made to stand up, but Jenson threw him such a look that Mark sat down again, seemingly cowed by the young officer. The trooper looked over at Mark and cried to him for assistance, all Mark did was to finally stand up and hastily leave the cabin, outside he listened for the trooper to cry out in surrender. Jenson now made use of the large knife again, a family keepsake from long ago, and he traced the tip of the blade along the trooper’s neck, actually nicking the skin at one point causing the trooper to cry out. Jenson`s smile was now one of complete evil, and the trooper screamed out loudly that he would talk. Mark rushed back into the cabin and seemed to placate an angry Jenson, who had by then hauled the young trooper to his feet and thrust him against the wall, Jenson grudgingly let the trooper go, but not before thrusting him violently back into his seat, Jenson then leaned against the rear wall scowling and throwing the occasional menacing look at the trooper while he cleaned his finger nails with his knife.

“Earth is the attacker, Aldebra is just defending itself, our authorities had already informed Earth that P1056 is in a sector of space claimed by the Aldebran people. You dismissed our claim to the planet and invaded it under the pretext of colonisation, sending one hundred armed soldiers in the guise of peaceful colonists.” The trooper explained angrily.

While the trooper was scared of Jenson, he only replied with the most limited of information, and then he said no more believing that he would then be released. However, when they turned away to talk the young troopers betrayed the fact that he knew something more, for both men saw on Mark`s smart phone a hastily concealed look of relief appear momentarily upon the trooper`s face and this was followed by a smirk filled with malice. This he hastily concealed by raising a hand to his mouth and coughing when he saw the two men turn around to look over at him. From what he had seen on his phone Mark thought the young trooper`s facial expressions might infer that the trooper believed that their roles would soon be reversed.

Mark had not finished with the trooper just yet, first he had him repeat parts that he had not fully understood, but he finally got the gist of what the trooper had told them. Mark then took Jenson outside of the cabin to bring him up to date. On hearing the translation the First officer smiled.

“Our trooper is holding something back, he was initially scared into giving us this scrap of information, however, for an instant I saw something in his eyes, a gleam that told me he knows a lot more, something that might even give him hope of being freed sometime soon.” Jenson said and Mark had to agree, that is what he had seen in the trooper`s face, a hidden confidence now the threat of death seemed to have been lifted. Mark took just a moment to think the matter over and come to a conclusion.

“Mr Jenson, that is the impression that I had, and I believe that his confidence could stem from a knowledge that reinforcements are on the way, and that he believes that he will be rescued very soon. Why don`t we try again, see if we cannot wheedle a little more out of the trooper. We need to know everything that he knows if we are to save the lives of our people. Come on, and this time Mr Jenson, really convince him that you are as mean as you make out.” Mark said almost evilly. “But without actually harming him.”

“Please call me Robbie; Mr Jenson makes me feel more like my father.” Jenson said with a smile, something that he had not done since the Aldebrans had launched their attack, for Mark had given him back his confidence that they would come through on the winning side.

“OK, Robbie, and I am Mark to my friends.” Mark replied with a smile.

Mark led Robbie back to the cabin, and Robbie had to smile before they re-entered the room, for he would really be enjoying this play acting, had so many of their people not been killed and injured by these alien troopers. On entering the cabin Mark looked angry, a fact immediately noticed by the trooper who wondered what had occurred to bring about such a change in his interrogator`s manner.

“Trooper, we now know that you are holding something back, suppose you come clean about your reinforcements, the young officer here will only believe that you have told us everything if you confirm everything that we already know.” Mark began in halting Aldebran. “Captain Larson, the captain of the downed starship, he is interrogating one of your companions and your comrade has told our captain everything. You made the young officer and me look like fools, so if you want to leave this cabin in one piece and alive then I suggest you tell this officer everything, because otherwise I will not be able to stop him from killing you, not after he saw his friend killed at the beginning of the firefight, killed by a trooper who looked a lot like you.” Mark urged, stressing the latter part of his demand but still managing to sound as if he was only asking the trooper to confirm what they already knew, and something that would also be in the trooper`s own interests.

As Mark finished speaking, Robbie moved away from the wall nearest to the trooper, where he had stood glowering down at the trooper, and now he moved much closer to the trooper, and he looked very annoyed. “Mark you should leave now, he is not going to tell us anything.” Robbie said angrily. “Leave.” Robbie roared loudly; his veins standing out upon his forehead and making him look terribly fierce.

The trooper`s confidence visibly burst, it was obvious that he was unsure as to how he should proceed, to keep quiet and risk instant death or to confirm what they obviously already knew. He agonised over this decision, whether he should mention the troopship that would arrive in a little over three weeks’ time, for to mention it would make him a coward, worse, a traitor, but if they already knew of it, surely there would be no harm in confirming it. He almost wet himself when Mark walked hastily from the cabin, shutting the door noisily behind him. Bound as he was, he had no way of defending himself, and Robbie once again traced the blade of his knife across his throat, and then cut away the buttons on his uniform exposing his chest.

“Trooper, I saw the bodies of men and women outside, killed by you and your cowardly team, so I hope that my friends will forgive me, for it is time for you to feel a little pain.” Robbie said trying to sound very evil and as far as this trooper was concerned managing it, Robby then looked deep into the trooper’s eyes, eyes that clearly showed his fear and he almost lost control for Robbie was indeed very angry over the deaths of the colonists.

The trooper seemed to understand every word that Robbie said, for he screamed in terror for Mark to return. Mark rushed in and made noises that not only appeared to calm Robbie, who seemed genuinely disappointed that the trooper had broken, but had stopped him just in time from pushing his knife deep into the trooper`s body. The trooper was terrified of Robbie, and looking at Robbie`s expression he now saw a pair of eyes that showed how annoyed he was for being stopped and were filled with extreme impatience. Robbie moved away from the wall where he had retreated to, now that Mark was in the cabin, and he appeared to be on the verge of attacking the trooper again.

“Our troopship will be here in a little over three weeks.” The trooper replied hastily and when Robbie`s real anger showed signs of morphing into something evil, the trooper hastily added. “A salvage ship and a freighter filled with our colonists will also arrive. The salvage ship will take every scrap of your starship away and dispose of it in one of the planet`s oceans, so that Earth does not know what has happened to it.”

“Your ship in space, why has it not helped you more, we would be defenceless against a determined attack.” Mark asked.

Having answered so many questions the young trooper answered this one without thinking. “It developed a fault on the way here; it almost crashed, just as your ship did.” A smug smile appeared on the troopers face for a moment, but then he caught sight of an angry Robbie and hastily carried on answering the question. “They dare not attempt another trip through the planet`s atmosphere in case their ship is caught up in the terrible turbulence of this planet and breaks up, killing the crew.”

“One more thing trooper, what is the name of your senior officer?” Mark asked.

“Commander Lu-Song.” The trooper replied unhappily, for the mention of his commander had reminded the trooper of his cowardice.

Mark looked up at Robbie. “That should be the lot Robbie, come outside with me and I will tell all, then we should speak to some more of our prisoners to see if we can get them to confirm what the young trooper has told us. Robbie shot the trooper a dark look as he followed Mark from the cabin, and the trooper finally did wet himself.

The authorities back on Earth would not have allowed the trooper to be interrogated in such a way; however, this far away from Earth, Mark had decided to use bluff with a lot of anger and threatened violence thrown in. Mark glanced over at Robbie as they left the downed starship, and he saw the officer visibly change, he was now the young officer who Mark had seen before he and his wife had gone into cryogenic stasis.

“You sure got into the part Robbie; you even made me afraid for the trooper.” Mark said.

Robbie looked at Mark, but his smile was gone now, in fact he looked rather grim.

“I had never before seen a dead body, today I saw too many of our people killed for no reason, and it made me extremely angry. Mark, interrogating that young trooper, I found myself becoming the part I was playing, if you had not come in when you did, that last time, I think I might have used my knife on that young trooper.” Robbie replied.

“No you would not have Robbie, you are not that kind of person, your humanity would have stopped you.” Mark assured the young officer, although Robbie was not so sure.

“The next three prisoners are all veteran troopers; I will tell you if I want you to play the bad interrogator, because I really do not expect them to break.” Mark said.

In fact the three men refused to say anything, for they assumed that if their captors would kill them for refusing to talk then they would probably still kill them if they did talk. Mark knew the type, as he was one, and so he had them returned to their tents.

Mark and Robbie then had the sub officer brought in and Mark told Robbie how he wanted to play it this time, having noticed how superior the sub officer had acted even though a prisoner.

“My father is General Yang, a member of our emperor`s grand council, harm me in any way and you will pay dearly for it.” Yang threatened and then sat there in silence.

“Sub Officer Yang, we have no need to harm you, the four troopers who preceded you told us everything that we needed to know, but as an officer of the empire we thought that we should at least give you the curtesy of speaking to you.” Mark said casually.

Robbie now spoke. “We know about your troopship and we are already making plans to receive it, we foresee no problem in dealing with the troopers aboard it, for we had no trouble with your squad and they were Special Forces.” Robbie said just as casually.

After Mark had translated all that Robbie had said Yang jumped to his feet in anger. “You will be squashed beneath the feet of the two hundred troopers, you will not be able to play the poor little colonist this time, they will know that you are an invasion force and treat you accordingly.” He boasted insolently.

Mark decided to leave it there, he had the sub officer returned to his tent and then he spoke to Robbie.

“Let`s have a word with their commander, see how he reacts to what we have just heard.”

Their conversation was cut short, for they were joined by Captain Larson and Bishop Marley who both wanted to know whether Mark had learned anything of interest, so he now told the two men all that the young trooper had said and how it had been confirmed in part by the sub officer.

“So, they are Aldebrans; I had heard that their emperor was a little mad, now I believe it.” Captain Larson said angrily.

“We need to speak with their commander, confront him with all that we know, and watch how he reacts; perhaps the two of you should be with us this time. I believe that what the young trooper told me was the truth, he was far too scared of Robbie to lie, even so he may have got his facts wrong, we will know for sure after we have confronted the officer, unless he turns out to be one hell of a poker player.” Mark said.

“Mr Summers, as we cannot understand the Aldebran language, how will we know what the officer is saying?” Bishop Marley asked quizzically.

“First of all please call me Mark, we are all going to be friends, aren`t we?” Mark asked.

“Yes Mark, in fact I am sure that we will be very good friends.” Bishop Marley replied, smiling, and Captain Larson nodded in agreement.

“Then let me explain how you can help.” Mark began. “I will begin by attacking him verbally, then I will threaten him with execution. After he has responded to my accusations of murder, I will reveal to him that we know about the troopship, then I will mention the salvage ship and finally the Aldebran colonists. Before each of these three revelations I will say his name, Lu-Song, that will tell each of you that I am about to mention one of the three facts.” Mark explained.

Larson and Marley both agreed that it might work, so they had Lu-Song brought to the bridge of the downed starship, the setting Mark believed would put the commander at his ease. After introducing everyone to Lu-Song, Mark meant to take Lu-Song to task, but before he could do so Captain Larson took him aside for a quiet word.

“Mark, I think you might have been correct regarding the risk of one of our people seeking revenge against the Aldebrans, I have just heard that one of the widows had to be escorted back to her tent, she was stopped by Chief Engineer Peterson just as she was lining up her husband`s Phaser rifle on one of the tents.”

“Is she likely to try again Captain?” Mark asked.

“I do not believe so, she broke down in tears when she reached her tent and two of the other women are now taking care of her, they promised me that they would stay with her.”

Mark now returned to speak to Lu-Song; however before he could begin to interrogate him he was interrupted again, this time by Lu-Song who had a request. “Will you please untie me, or are the four of you afraid that I may attack you.” Lu-Song said contemptuously.

“You will stay tied up for the moment Commander, you are a criminal, worse you are a cowardly criminal, you attacked a peaceful colony of Earth, killing innocent men and women and without any formal declaration of war.” Mark replied angrily. “Tell me why we should not have you and your men executed as space pirates or terrorists?” Mark asked angrily.

“Earth was told that not only was this sector of space claimed by the people of Aldebra, but also this planet. It is you who are the transgressors, not my squad of soldiers; we are here only because of your invasion.” Lu-Song responded proudly.

“You arrived on this planet at almost the same time as we did, Aldebra is at least twelve weeks away from this planet, you must have known of our intention before you left on your mission, why did your government not make use of diplomatic channels to make your protest known, why resort to cold blooded murder?” Mark replied angrily.

“That is a question you must ask my government, I am only a soldier so I am not in possession of all of the facts, or the reasons behind their decision, but reasons they must possess, I assure you.” Lu-Song replied shakily, for only now had he considered this point, and it bothered him, especially after all of his terrible nightmares and fears for his soul.

“Commander Lu-Song.” Mark began and his three friends were now alerted to the actual beginning of the interrogation. “We know that your government has despatched a troopship full of reinforcements to this planet, it seems that they did not trust your squad to finish the job.” Mark said. “We are currently making plans to receive them; I regret to say that your cell may become a little crowded.”

Lu-Song was inwardly shocked to hear Mark mention the reinforcements, but outwardly he attempted to stay calm, however, his four interrogators did notice his eyes react to the statement. His mind was still in a turmoil as he tried to think of a reasonable answer to Mark`s question regarding the non-use of diplomatic channels, that and the fact that had been eating away at him for the few hours, that his emperor`s order had destroyed the mission and caused the death of many of his men. However, he attempted to hide this away in the depths of his mind as he tried to ridicule what Mark had said about the coming troopship.

“That is nonsense, my team was considered more than adequate to deal with a ship full of colonists, but of course my government did not realise that it was in fact an invasion force. They did not know that all of your men were armed, and that they were led by a senior strategist, which is the reason for my defeat. However, I do wonder why you had women with you, was it to make your story all the more believable? Any responsibility for casualties amongst their numbers must lie with your own people; to send them to a planet where the chances of hostilities were almost certain was in my opinion criminal.” Lu-Song replied sulkily.

It should be noted that on Aldebra, women’s lib had never happened and was unlikely to in the near future given the ruling classes of the planet.

“Commander Lu-Song, we also know about the salvage vessel that is coming to cut up our downed starship, and that it will dispose of it within one of the planet`s oceans, I assume that this was meant to confuse our authorities? That is another act of cowardice, for you obviously do not want Earth to discover that you murdered two hundred colonists and the crew of the starship.” Mark said accusingly. “Making rubbish of your assertion that we began the war while your people are innocent.”

“This is rubbish, it would be impossible to dispose of so large a ship in the time allowed.” Lu-Song replied shakily while ignoring the latter declaration made by Mark Summers.

His reaction to this second accusation had been more noticeable, his eyes had registered his alarm even as he rubbished the idea. He was near to having a complete breakdown; it would take a miracle to prevent it happening if the Aldebran task force succeeded in murdering all of the colonists.

“Commander Lu-Song, we also know that your planet is sending colonists of its own in yet another attempt to cover up the murders, yet they will, according to your own words, be coming to a war zone, why did your emperor choose to put innocent people in harm’s way?” Mark asked accusingly.

“You appear to know much more about my people`s plans than I do, why do you not tell me, so that I too will know.” Lu-Song replied sulkily.

Mark`s questions had moved Lu-Song towards the point of no return, soon he would collapse under the stresses that even now were tearing his soul apart, as it was he was slumped forward in his chair, no longer looking like a veteran with many victories under his belt. The way that he had answered all of the points had told his accusers that all the trooper had said was undoubtedly fact; reinforcements were even now on the way to New Caledonia.

The temperature had been falling ever since Mark had risen that morning, now, far above the bridge where the interrogation was progressing quite satisfactory, the two weather fronts collided and a freezing cold snow storm began, so Mark had their Aldebran prisoners brought back inside the broken starship and locked up within their original prison cell, it made guarding them much easier, especially now that even the weather had turned against them. The Aldebrans would be cold but the colonists would also have to deal with that, so Mark decided not to mention it to Bishop Marley but to allow them to suffer, a minor punishment for all of the death and destruction that they had caused. The snow storm continued through the day, and into the next, making the colonists’ future look all the bleaker.

 

**********

 

The North Wind was still in the same position above P1056, and its crew hearing nothing from Lu-Song, were at a loss at how to proceed, to venture down through the planet`s atmosphere in an attempt to locate the soldiers could easily cause their ship to crash now that the weather had taken a turn for the worse. Commander Leander knew that the Aldebran forces had time on their side, for Leander had answered two calls from Earth, masquerading as one of the starship`s crew, and so he had delayed Earth from finding out that events had taken a turn for the worse. Commander Leander felt that to wait for the troopship to arrive without advising them of the current situation down on the planet would earn them the anger of their emperor. For this reason he was trying to persuade an indecisive Karin to call Aldebra and tell them of their situation, that they feared that all of the soldiers had either been killed or taken prisoner.

“Captain, Aldebra has already broken radio silence so it matters not if we contact Aldebra, especially if we contact them by way of a coded transmission sent in a tight beam, and we can also scramble the message. There is every chance that Earth will never get to know of it, and if one of their spies in our sector of space does intercept it, they will not be able to read the message.” Leander urged having faith in his peoples technology.

Karin finally accepted his advice, and he immediately sent a message to their headquarters on Aldebra, he also sent a copy to the troopship so that the commander was fully updated as to the situation on P1056 before he arrived. When his superiors received his transmission they decided to do nothing, from the message they knew that the soldiers on the troopship had been updated, and if they told their emperor, well he just might arrest General Yang and Admiral Lou-Wing for using an incompetent team to spearhead the attack.

General Yang had also been thrown into a pit of despair, for the fate of his only son was unknown, but whether captured or dead, his future did not look too bright. He finally decided to send a message to Commander Oshiro, the veteran soldier who had been charged with completing this mission, he asked him to find out the fate of his son, and to either free him from the earthmen or avenge his death, and to let him know immediately his son`s fate was discovered. For a mission that demanded that there be no communications of any kind, the leaders of Aldebra, from the emperor down, sure had a funny way of going about it.

On the North Wind all they could do was scan the encampment to ensure that no attempt was made to send a message asking for help, should the colonists manage to repair the damaged communications array. It was only now that Leander mentioned to Karin that he thought that the colonists might have a second Communications Centre aboard the ship, one meant to be used by the colonists when the starship had departed. Thinking that Leander was probably correct in his belief, Karin decided that they would have to take it in turns to ensure that the colonists did not use it to contact Earth; if they did then they would have to chance using their Phaser to destroy the Communications Centre.

 

 

Chapter Six

 

Mark Summers is put in Command

 

On New Caledonia the colonists finally had time to think, for the snow storm had stopped them from doing any of the things that were necessary to their wellbeing. Bishop Marley was planning to have the colony`s Communications Centre unpacked as soon as the weather improved, he wanted to set it up and send an updated transmission to Earth. He would request that a space cruiser was immediately sent to the planet to protect them against the Aldebran troopers who he now knew were already on the way. At best speed the cruiser should get to the planet within eight weeks, Marley hoped that news of it despatch might cause the Aldebrans to pull back from what could easily turn into a full scale planetary war. Mark agreed with this, however, he had one reservation, and he mentioned it to the bishop.

“Bishop, the Aldebran starship took out the Ark`s Communications Centre with a single Phaser bolt, they used the same vessel to send a number of energy bolts at my team after we had attacked their soldiers. If we had not moved off they would have killed us, so they are extremely competent.” Mark began. “The vessel may be in need of a space dock, however, it might still be up there, waiting for the small task force that the Aldebrans have despatched. If you attempt to operate the Communications Centre, they might choose to use their Phaser again, to stop you from contacting Earth.” Mark warned.

“I must admit Mark that that thought had not occurred to me and of course you are right.” Bishop Marley said gloomily. “Mark, are you suggesting that we do nothing at all, that is not what I expected, not after the way you took command of the situation when their soldiers launched their attack on us.” Bishop Marley replied surprised to hear such words coming from Mark.

“Not at all Bishop.” Mark replied with a smile. “What I am suggesting is that we find a cave in which to set up the Communications Centre, and thereby protect it and our people from an attack by the Aldebran vessel.” Mark replied “And even if they should attempt to stop your transmission, we might still have sufficient time to send our SOS before they bring the cave down around our ears. I realise that we only have a small amount of time in which to find such a cave, if we are to stop their troopship from arriving, but I believe that it might be wise to initiate such a search as soon as the weather lets up.”

“You`re the expert in such matters Mark, would you go ahead and organise everything.” Bishop Marley replied a little happier, he had hoped to send a message as soon as the Communications Centre had been set up, now he knew he would have to wait until a safe haven was found for it.

“Bishop, I also think that we should use the time available to us to find somewhere well away from here to set up a new camp site, and one that is within the forest would suit us best, then if the Aldebran soldiers do land on the planet, they will not find us sitting here waiting for them to kill us.” Mark advised.

Bishop Marley nodded gloomily. “Of course Mark, that makes a lot of sense, I knew that we were going to be very busy once when we landed here, but instead of setting up a new colony, we are using the time to find a place in which to hide away.”

“Just look on it as exploring our new world, finding out what treasures it possesses.” Mark said in an attempt to cheer up Bishop Marley.

“I will Mark, but first we have the burials to attend to, when the snow storm finally ends, that is another task that I had not thought I would have to carry out, not this early anyway.” Bishop Marley said gloomily.

The colonists who had been injured in the Aldebran attack were all housed in a make shift hospital set up within the starship`s half empty hold, thankfully the colonists had brought a more than adequate supply of medical equipment and stores, and so the injured were slowly recovering from their Phaser burns. A large number of electric heaters had also been brought along, one for each couple, and they used some of these to keep their wounded friends warm, although their electrical supply was extremely limited by the snow storm raging around them. Mark even sent two of the heaters to the Aldebran prisoners, although they were used to roughing it, it seemed less than Christian to make them suffer unnecessarily, especially the two troopers who were wounded.

The snow storm finally moved away from them during the early morning, and when the colonists awoke they found a warm sun rising above the far horizon. During that day the sun blazed down upon the snow, which quickly melted away, and by the next morning little was left to show that it had ever been there.

They had to bury fifteen of the colonists, eleven men and four women, Bishop Marley had decided on a site for their cemetery, and the fifteen graves had already been dug. They also had sixteen Aldebrans to bury, their graves being dug by the six fit prisoners, with the help of the colony`s mechanical digger, who were also allowed to attend the burials. They were then led back to their large cell aboard the downed starship, it had been the ship`s mess, now all but one door had been welded shut, and the final door had been fitted with a lock to ensure that the Aldebrans did not escape. Two guards were always on duty, at the moment it was the duty of Joe Finney and Martin Joyce, they had been posted with orders not to enter the cell under any circumstances, should they hear anything from within the cell they were to call Mark, who would attend to whatever was troubling the prisoners.

Lu-Song did make one attempt at escape, he had one of his injured men feign illness, and called upon the guards to help him, following orders they sought out Mark, who arrived with three more men all armed with Phaser rifles, and of course the colonist`s doctor and nurse.

“Martin open the door and then step out of the line of fire, I do not want them using you as a shield, if this is a trick.” Mark ordered fully expecting it to be a ruse to enable the prisoners to escape.

The door opened, and Mark saw four men bending over one of the two injured Aldebrans, there was no sign of the other two Aldebran troops.

“What is the problem Commander?” Mark asked.

Lu-Song looked through the open door; he only saw Mark and Martin Joyce. “This man is dying; he needs medical attention, now.” Lu-Song snarled.

“When your other two men show themselves, then we can talk about it, but not until then.” Mark replied.

Lu-Song immediately realised that things were not going as planned. “Sub-Officer Yang, Trooper Chryste, show yourselves, the earthmen are worried about eight unarmed Aldebrans.” Lu-Song sneered.

The two troopers moved away from either side of the doorway and stood in the opening, Mark could almost hear their minds working, both men looking out at the earthmen and wondering if they should try to overpower them. Given the chance Mark reckoned that they were more than capable of making a reasonable attempt.

“Lu-Song, take your three troopers and hug the far wall, these two troopers.” Mark said indicating the troopers at the doorway. “They can bring the trooper who is ill out here, our doctor is satisfied that neither of your injured men have life threatening injuries, so moving him will not harm him in any way.”

Lu-Song carried on with the charade and obeyed Mark`s orders. He and the other three troopers hugged the far wall, their postures indicating that they were ready to rush forward at any time, while the nearest two troopers assisted their injured comrade to leave the cell. However, Mark`s eyes never left the two troopers, or the injured one.

“Doctor, Nurse, please stay back until the two troopers are back in their cell.” Mark ordered.

The two troopers looked about them, they saw six Phaser rifles aimed at them and decided to retreat back into the cell, whereupon Martin Joyce slammed it shut. Mark waited until the doctor had checked out his patient and pronounced him healthy, then Mark dragged the trooper to his feet, and dragged him across to the cell door. He nodded to Martin Joyce who opened the doorway, which now had five Phaser rifles trained upon it, and then he pushed the trooper back into his cell.

“Commander, there is nothing wrong with your man, apart from the injury to his shoulder, try that again and I will shoot all of you. You`re murderers, and now you’re a burden to us, when your troops arrive we will be forced to take you with us, do not give me an excuse to rid myself of an unwanted burden.” Mark warned Lu-Song, who had been looking into Mark`s cold angry eyes and what he saw made him believe that death was nearby, for an unwary Aldebran. Even Doctor Tattersall believed that Mark would carry out his threat, which, depending upon the circumstances, he just might. As for Martin Joyce and Joe Finney, either man would have happily volunteered to assist him in such a task, the deaths of their friends coupled to the Aldebran threat meant that the colonists were stressed out, and some amongst them had even called for the prisoners to be executed as murderers rather than spend time guarding them.

Later on Mark spoke again to Bishop Marley, this time about their goods and chattel. “I have been thinking hard about our situation Bishop Marley, and it occurred to me that except for the tractors we cannot take any of the farming machinery with us, when we move camp. I suggest that tonight we take it far out into the prairie and leave it there, camouflaged as well as is possible, and with luck, and a little help from God, the Aldebrans will not find it, then when this is all over we can collect it.”

“Yes you are correct Mark, I should have thought of that.” Bishop Marley said despondently.

Bishop Marley knew that he was putting an enormous load on this man`s shoulders, things that he should be tending too, but he knew nothing of this sort of trouble, he dealt with the spiritual problems that beset normal people. He just wished that he could be more practical use to his people, as Mark was as each new situation arose.

That night the colonists hitched up the farming machinery to the tractors in preparation for the move. However, before they set out Mark realised that they needed to hide the heat signatures of the men and machinery from the starship still thought to be in orbit above them, for its sensors would soon notice the heat coming from the tractors when their motors were running, or even just afterwards, and then there was the colonists own body heat. Mark had decided to make use of the lightweight survival blankets that each colonist had been asked to bring with them by the Church. The blanket has a thermal reflective layer backed by a khaki coloured reinforcing outer layer, it kept you warm, it kept you cool, and the reflective layer could even be used to signal for assistance. It was primarily designed to keep its owner warm in an emergency, should their heating fail during the cold winter months and any solid fuel was buried under the snow. With the men who had been chosen for the task ready to go they hauled the farming machinery fifteen miles into the prairie, here they found another of the narrow gullies that broke up this part of the prairie; using their digger they put a ramp into it and then moved their farming machinery down into it. After trying their best to camouflage it all, they left it to await better times, should they survive the coming war.

The next day, Bishop Marley sought out Mark, for he had an idea of his own that might be of use when the time came to transmit their message to Earth.

“Mark, it looks as if we shall have a clear sky tonight, if so we should be able to locate the alien spacecraft through my telescope, if it is still up there, and once found we should be able to keep track of it. Then when we want to use the Communications Centre we will be able to ensure that a solid wall of rock is between the craft and the subspace transmitter itself.”

The subspace transmitter resembled a Phaser cannon, except that it sent their communications through subspace, and this part of the Communications Centre was light enough to be portable, so if they knew where in the sky the starship was, then they could move the transmitter behind suitable cover.

“Bishop, if you can locate the craft, then you are correct, it will prevent the craft from destroying our transmitter, or at the very least give us more time to send our message.” Mark agreed. This would certainly increase the odds on their successfully sending a call for help, with luck they might yet see an Earth space cruiser coming to their rescue.

 

**********

 

The next morning, Bishop Marley and Captain Larson formally asked Mark to take over the command of the colony`s defence, and Mark had agreed for what else could he do. Bishop Marley assembled the colonists, and when they had gathered around him he first reiterated the situation they were in, and then he told them that while he would still be their spiritual leader, Mark would now be in command of the colony`s defence, this information was greeted with applause from every single person there. Mark used the meeting to tell the colonists of his future plans to ensure their safety.

“Good morning everyone, my first speech will be short and sweet.” He was stopped here by the usual comments of good, the shorter the better. “However, I do ask you all to listen carefully as I am about to outline plans that will affect the future of everyone here.” Mark said a little louder so that he could be heard over these and other comments, and which quickly dried up when Bishop Marley told the colonists to be silent and listen to what Mark had to say.

When Mark had all of their attention he proceeded. “First some news, Bishop Marley has located the alien starship; unfortunately it is still up there, right above our camp. It is probably waiting to assist the small Aldebran task force that is coming to resume the attack on us.”

This news dampened the spirits of the colonists who had hoped that the ship had returned to Aldebra for urgent repairs; Mark though did not allow them to linger too long on this bad news.

“OK everyone, I now want to outline our plan of action starting today. As you probably all know, this morning we set up ten teams, each one comprising of ten colonists, that is just over half of our available people, they will be led by people who have already been chosen by myself, Bishop Marley and Captain Larson.” Mark said, stopping for a few moments to allow the colonists to take in what he had said, before continuing on.

“Ok people, each team will have the same three tasks, they will act as hunters to provide food for the colony, and the reason why each team comprises of ten people is so the leader can send some of them back to camp with any fresh food they obtain. Team leaders, please do not send people back in groups less than three, this world has too many carnivores in it who might attack too small a party, especially one transporting fresh meat.” Mark stopped here to ensure that this message had been absorbed by all of the colonists before proceeding with his instructions, for he did not want to lose any more of their people.

“The second task is to locate a cave large enough to allow us to use it as a location in the very short term for our Communications Centre. The third task is to find a location to use as a long term base, should the Aldebran troops land close by to our present location we need to be somewhere else. Right are there any questions?”

“Just one.” Chief Engineer Peterson said. “Why will we only use the cave in the short term?”

“Simply because if and when the Aldebran troopship arrives, that will be the first place that their troopers will attack and take.” Mark replied.

“You mean try to take, surely?” This question was from a colonist named Bingley, a short but stocky man from the south of England.

“No, I mean take, for when they arrive I do not intend to lose our people defending places against trained troopers who will probably possess artillery, never mind the space craft that has already fired upon us. We will use guerrilla tactics against them; anything else against a full company of well-armed soldiers would be suicide.” Mark replied. “Even if we won the battle we would have lost far too of our people for me or Bishop Marley to ever countenance such an idea.”

As no one else had a question Mark ordered his teams to leave when ready, he had decided to remain behind in their base, as he reckoned that his place was at the encampment, at least for the moment. Now he was in charge of the defence of the colony the wellbeing of the people was his personal all-consuming duty, and he had another suggestion to put to Bishop Marley to this end.

“Bishop Marley, I know that originally it was better for us to set up our tents near to the river, but the situation has now changed, and radically so, now I think it would be better if we moved all of the tents into the forest, so that they are hidden by the extensive tree canopy.” Mark began.

“”Why on Earth would we want to put them there Mark, surely keeping them along the river bank makes much more sense?” Bishop Marley asked incredulously. “There is also the danger posed by the camp fires, what with their being sited under any lower hanging branches.”

“I know it sounds insane Bishop, but bear with me.” Mark said. “We both know that the chances are that the Aldebran task force will land nearby and that they will attempt to kill us. That is why our teams are looking for a new location for our camp, and we need to find one well before they arrive, correct?” Mark asked.

“Of course Mark, but that still does not explain your request.” Bishop Marley replied quizzically.

“When we do move, if we are camped beneath the stars the spacecraft will see us decamping and follow us to our new camp site, making the move pointless. If however we are camped beneath the concealing canopy of the trees, with a number of camp fires spread beneath the tree canopy to dazzle their infrared detectors, then when we do move we will do so undetected by the technology aboard that spacecraft, until the final morning which is when they find that there are no colonists moving around on the prairie.” Mark explained.

Bishop Marley had caught up with Mark before he had finished his explanation, and seeing the sense in the suggestion whole heartedly agreed.

“It will be a little uncomfortable, and we will have to ensure that no one burns the forest down around us, but you are correct Mark, we will have just disappeared.” Bishop Marley said with a wry smile upon his face.

 

**********

 

Richard Rider was leading one of the search teams, and his team had headed deep into the forest along a narrow animal trail that took them far away from the prairie, soon the forest closed in around them, the light fading the deeper in that they walked. In fact it seemed more like dusk than morning, with the sunlight finding it hard to penetrate through the thick canopy of tree tops that filled this part of the forest. The team consisted of five couples, the women of the colony not willing to let their husbands go off in to danger while they stayed safely back at camp, for this was the early twenty third century rather than the Victorian age. Therefore, Richard`s wife Penny had also insisted on her going along with him, but then she, as well as the other women, were all quite capable of handling a Phaser rifle. The colonists looked quite smart as they walked slowly through the forest, for they all wore hunter style boots and lightweight clothing, because even beneath the trees it could get hot walking for hours at a time, especially as the temperature had shot up that morning with the arrival of a warm wind from the south. The boots were also essential outfits when the danger of being bitten by a snake was always present, and they were yet another part of the kit the colonists had been requested to bring to New Caledonia. With orders from Richard to only talk when necessary, so as not to warn the local wildlife to their presence, they moved quietly along the track. For half an hour they heard signs of life, but saw nothing, then their luck changed as they rounded a large boulder left behind by a retreating glacier, they came upon a small herd of animals that resembled the roe deer of Earth, both in size and in looks, the animals were moving along a trail that crossed the one that they were on. With no knowledge of Man, the creatures did not immediately break into a run, making it an easy task for Richard and his team to kill two of the deer before the others realised that all was not well, and had disappeared fast into the forest. With the need to get the carcases back to the encampment quickly, and into a freezer, Richard designated two couples to the task. To make it easier for them Richard had two stout poles cut over which the two carcases were stretched lengthways and tied on. Each couple set off back to base carrying the pole over their shoulders while carrying their rifles over their other shoulder, in this way all four rifles could be easily and quickly brought to bear on any hungry carnivore.

Richard led his wife and the other four members of his team forward, ahead of them the river that supplied them with their drinking water blocked their way, they could ford it, but Richard decided that for today at least they would stay dry. He therefore followed a trail that slowly took them away from the river and an hour later they were climbing up into hill country, ahead of them they saw a large plateau towering high above the surrounding forest, and it was here that they found a suitable cave in the side of a tall limestone cliff.

“What do you think Penny, does it suit Mark`s requirements?”

“Its entrance is wide enough, but it is kind of low.” Penny said as she scrambled up the small incline that led to the entrance.

“Hang on Penny; we do not know if the cave already has an occupant.” Richard called out anxiously. “Wait there until the rest of us join you, then we can all go look see.” Richard ordered.

Seeing the sense in this Penny waited at the entrance and when the others had joined her she hunched down low enough to clear the low ceiling at the front of the cave. They found that it went in at least thirty feet, and at the back of the cave the team found they could stand upright. There were signs of occupation, there were a number of gnawed bones in one corner, but Richard decided that they would just have to evict the owner, if the animal returned while they were there. He was obviously delighted, as were the others, and they agreed that it would make a great site for their Communications Centre. Out of the weather and with the operator safe from any Phaser attacks from space. Penny pulled out her small camera and took plenty of photographs for Mark and the others to look at, in this way they could make an informed decision.

“Ok everyone, I think we have done enough to earn our keep for today, let`s return to camp, our people need to know about this cave, maybe now we can send our message to Earth.” Richard declared happily.

The others were all of the same mind, and even though they felt a little footsore, they set off immediately towards their encampment. On the return journey they were able to bag two large birds that they decided to call Caledonian turkeys, as they resembled the turkey of Earth, and they also shot another roe deer, a small female. It was the middle of the afternoon when they entered the encampment, only to find that most of the tents had been moved into the forest, however they put this mystery aside for the moment, and although a little tired, they all crowded around Mark to tell him the good news, after leaving the deer and the turkeys in the downed starship`s freezer.

“It is a fair way away, it took us well over three hours to walk to it, and the cave entrance is a little exposed, but you only wanted a short term base so it should suit our needs and more importantly it should be Phaser resistant.” Richard said enthusiastically while Penny showed Mark the photographs that she had taken of the cave.

“It looks and sounds fine Richard, your team has really come up trumps; however, you and your people look to be exhausted by your long trek, so rest up for the rest of the day, for tomorrow morning you can lead us to the cave. One of the photographs you took shows a likely place to set up a telephone relay; it can be powered by one of the smaller solar panels that we brought with us for just this sort of thing.” Mark said. “Bishop Marley also wanted the chance to go out with one of the teams, this will give him the opportunity to do so, we can also confirm what these photographs show; that it is a most suitable site for our Communications Centre, if so then the day after tomorrow will see us installing it and calling Earth.” Mark exclaimed joyfully.

However, Mark did not allow Richard to rest just yet, instead he took him to speak to Bishop Marley and Captain Larson, they were helping the colonists to finish setting up the last of the tents. When they were told the news, and had looked at the photographs, they felt like celebrating, and as the tidings spread so did the feeling of joy, soon their colony would be safe, soon their attackers would be sent scampering back to the fear ridden planet of Aldebra.

Mark had not been idle while the teams had been out and about, he and his wife Susan had been busy setting up a local relay for their cellular phones to one of the taller trees near to the encampment. Now when the teams left to explore their new world, they could take their cellular phones with them, and so keep in contact with base for up to a day`s journey on foot, assuming that they did not mind the possibility of the Aldebran`s listening to them and zeroing in on their position. This distance could be extended as more relay sites were installed.

Early the next morning Susan Summers complained to her husband. “Mark, we are supposed to be on our honeymoon, but I fear that in the future we shall hardly see each other. I realise that you are the only person here qualified to deal with the Aldebran threat, but all the other couples go out together, so when you do decide to go out and about please remember that I still want to accompany you.” Susan Summers declared defiantly. “At least we will be together then, even if the bugs on this planet seem to have taken a special liking to me. Oh buzz off will you.” She said waving her hand at a large horsefly that had been buzzing around her head for the last ten seconds.

Mark smiled. “This is not my idea of a honeymoon either Darling, but as you say, we should meet the dangers together, and Richard told me that some of the countryside he saw from the cave entrance was quite spectacular.”

With the danger over for the moment, Mark did not mind his wife accompanying him, for as she had said, they were supposed to be on their honeymoon, and this thought brought a smile to his face, one Susan saw and she looked at him quizzically.

“Just that as honeymoons go Darling, this one is way out on its own.” Mark explained.

Richard and Penny led Mark, Susan, Bishop Marley and Captain Larson to the cave, allowing the rest of his team to rest up, Robbie being put in command of the camp while they were away. The trek took the colonists all the morning, as Bishop Marley was not as fit as the others, and this time they did not get the opportunity to add to their larder, for Bishop Marley was making far too much noise as they passed along the narrow animal trail, for he constantly stopped to comment on the view or the local flora.

They stopped twice along the way to allow everyone a short break, but finally they came to the cave entrance, and after a brief inspection Captain Larson, Bishop Marley and Mark agreed that it would make an ideal base for the Communications Centre. Bishop Marley then busied himself taking various measurements that would allow them to set up the transmitter at the most ideal position. Bishop Marley had been an amateur astronomer back on Earth and had been busy the night before recording the exact position of the Sol solar system at any time as seen from New Caledonia.

While Bishop Marley was busy taking the measurements Mark climbed up the limestone cliff to the small ledge that he had seen in one of the photographs that Penny had taken, and here he set up the second relay station, it was way above the tree tops and would help them in their search for a new base. Satisfied that it was out of the weather he then connected it up to a small photovoltaic panel that would power it during the day. When he was finished he climbed back down and joined the others for lunch, and one hour later they all began the long march back to their camp. It was late in the afternoon when they finally got back to the camp, and with everyone feeling tired after the long day they took the remainder of the day off.

The next morning the Communications Centre was loaded onto the back of one of the larger tracked vehicles that the colonists had brought with them and a solar-powered photovoltaic panel was then loaded aboard the second of the larger tracked vehicles. Bishop Marley did not fancy sitting on the hard looking seat so he cried off, saying that he was still feeling tired after the exertions of the day before.

Mark therefore asked Robbie to accompany them on the trip to the cave, and he was happy to be away from the camp for a few hours; Richard and his team were their escorts and would also provide any muscle that was needed. The going through the forest and up into the hill company was easy enough aboard the tracked vehicles; however, they were forced to park the vehicles at the bottom of the steep incline that led up to the entrance of the cave. Mark gave everyone ten minutes to stretch their legs after the long journey, and he and Susan took the opportunity to take in the view from the mouth of the cave. Before them the ground dropped one hundred feet, so they were on level with the tops of many of the trees, this could easily have been considered a fantastic location for lovers or hikers.

“Mark, it is so beautiful here, if only the threat of the Aldebran task force was not hanging over us, it does rather spoil it.” Susan declared sadly.

“We will succeed Darling, and then we can return to this spot and pretend the Aldebrans never spoilt this paradise.” Mark replied as he looked down upon her upturned face and frowned when he saw her sad smile. “We will win through Darling, of that I am certain.”

“I know Darling but it is just so unfair.” Susan said with a little of her anger at the Aldebran threat coming to the surface. “Come on Mark, let`s install the radio and call home, then maybe we will be rid of this Aldebran serpent in this otherwise perfect garden.”

With the seven men and six women who made up the group, they easily managed to haul the Communications Centre up to the entrance of the cave, and then to move it to the rear of the cave. Once in place Robbie set the main body of the Communications Centre up, a task that he had been trained to do, the actual subspace transmitter they set up in the entrance to the cave. Its portability meant that they could easily move it back into the shelter of the cave if they came under attack from the spacecraft above them in space. Once it had been set up and the power unit installed and connected up to the solar-powered photovoltaic panel, which they had positioned at the foot of the slope, Robbie was almost ready to turn on the Communications Centre. First though he had to ensure that the transmitter was pointing in the general direction of Earth, Bishop Marley had told Robbie to position it right in the centre of the cave`s wide entrance and had given him precise instructions to ensure that it was pointing in the general direction of Earth at any particular time. Robbie checked everything a second time, including the position of the Aldebran spacecraft, which was to the west of the mouth of the cave, making it a perfect time to call Earth. With everything set, they only needed to wait until the centre was charged up sufficiently by the solar panel and then they could call Earth. The team took the time to have lunch and to rest their legs, but finally everything was ready. Mark and Robbie returned to the Communications Centre at the back of the cave, leaving everyone else at the mouth of the cave to enjoy the view, until Mark called to them.

“As soon as Robbie begins to transmit, that Aldebran starship might well fire down upon us, so you must either move back into the forest or come into this part of the cave.” Mark ordered.

Unfortunately, as he was busy with Robbie he did not realise that some of the colonists had lingered at the mouth of the cave to take in the view and Susan was one of them.

“Mark, Bishop Marley has written down the message he wants me to send to Earth, so let`s hope that the ship in space allows us the time to complete the call. Well here goes.” Robbie said brightly, and he now turned on the Communications Centre and when it too was ready he began to transmit the mayday message to Earth.

“This is the New Caledonian colony sending…” Robbie began.

 

**********

 

On board the special operations starship North Wind, Leander and Karin were thinking about a hot drink when their instruments detected the power build up in the colonists` Communications Centre, then they heard the colonists begin to send their message. Leander reacted faster than Karin, his hand shot forward to operate the vessel’s touch screen main computer, he had activated a powerful signal that was more than capable of jamming the colony`s SOS call. Meanwhile Karin had zeroed in on the position of the transmitter and sent the coordinates to the ship`s weapons program which was now charging up their Phaser.

“The Phaser is ready to fire on their position Captain, although we had better let Li-Ching know before we open fire.” Leander said looking across at Karin.

Karin did not reply he simply called engineering. “Chief Engineer, is the Phaser weapon ready for use?” Karin asked.

“Yes, Captain, but it would be prudent to limit your demands, if you want something left in reserve, should it become necessary.” Yung advised grimly.

“Understood, bridge out.” Karin replied.

Through the powerful camera on the North Wind they could see where the transmitter was positioned although they could not see the actual unit. “It appears to be hidden behind that tall cliff to the east of us, Captain we need to move the ship to give us the optimum target.” Leander advised.

“No problem Commander.” Karin replied as he took the sleek craft across the sky until they were looking directly at the mouth of the cave, they could even see the transmitter.

“Target the entrance to the cave.” Karin ordered. “We should be able to take out their transmitter before they even know what is happening.” Karin cried out in joy.

 

**********

 

Down on the planet`s surface, Robbie swore loudly when his receiver sent out a loud blast of interference. “Damn, after hauling the thing through the forest we find that it is not even working.”

“It is working all right, but our alien spacemen must have been up there just waiting for us to begin broadcasting, they are jamming our signal.” Mark said angrily as he changed the strength of their signal in an attempt to punch a hole through the jamming, but to no avail. It was only now that Mark realised that some of his people had lingered at the mouth of the cave, including Susan!

“Susan, everybody, quickly get to the rear of the cave now, and bring the transmitter with you, the Aldebrans have probably located our exact position.” He called out desperately. “And if the Aldebran captain is any good then he will have moved his ship so that he can fire at the cave entrance, move now or you will be killed.” He called frantically as he rushed forward towards his wife, the low roof of the cave limiting his speed.

A powerful Phaser bolt exploded in the mouth of the cave where the transmitter had been standing only moments ago, followed immediately by another one, both bolts of energy sending a splatter of fast moving grit everywhere, including towards the backs of the three retreating colonists who had not chosen the forest to conceal themselves. One of the three colonists was Susan, and Mark had pushed her against the side of the cave, shielding her body with his own, he cried out in pain as his back was peppered with small pieces of rock.

“Mark, are you all right.” Susan cried out frantically.

“I will be Darling, when I can get my hands on some antiseptic ointment, we were bloody lucky.” Mark said. “How about you Darling, are you all right, why didn`t you leave the mouth of the cave when I called to you before we began to broadcast?” Mark asked. His relief mixed with a little anger at the thought of almost losing Susan.

“I am sorry Mark, it is just so beautiful here, I thought that it would be all right to linger a moment more. Sorry.” Susan replied contritely. “I am fine though, John was directly behind me when the first energy bolt exploded and you took the brunt of the second blast, I really am sorry Mark, it will not happen again.”

“Good, I would never be able to continue on if anything happened to you Darling.” Mark said, his anger subsiding a little as he looked at the contrition on her face. “Come on, we should see to John and Daphne.”

Thankfully, John and Daphne McIntire had also got through the attack without any real harm, all they needed was some TLC and antiseptic ointment, Mark prayed that none of the remaining colonists would ever need anything more than this, but he doubted it.

Mark had thought of berating John McIntire for not following orders; however as no one had been badly hurt, and as he had let Susan off lightly, he decided that to do so might be counterproductive. Instead he held his tongue and decide to have a quiet word with John later on. With this decided he contacted their base on their newly installed cellular phone system and updated Bishop Marley about the failed attempt to contact Earth, and about the attack on them by the spacecraft, Bishop Marley sounded a mixture of disappointment mixed with a lot of relief that no one was hurt when he replied.

“Thank god that the Communications Centre was inside the cave Mark, otherwise we would have lost even more of our people, never mind the Communications Centre itself, although what good it is I do not know.” Bishop Marley declared.

“Our time will come Bishop, and then the Communications Centre will be worth its weight in gold.” Mark replied grimly. “Bishop, we will return to base as soon as the sun sets, and in that way our friends in space will not get another chance to destroy the Communications Centre.

“Whatever you think best Mark.” Bishop Marley said despondently.

While everyone waited for the sun to set Robbie checked out the transmitter to ensure that it too had come through the attack unscathed, thankfully John McIntire had protected it with his body.

That night thirteen despondent colonists returned to camp, bringing the Communications Centre back with them, and when they reached their camp they were met with some very unhappy friends. This feeling of defeat continued on over the next day.

The next evening Bishop Marley broached a subject that had been troubling him. “Mark, I want to speak to you about our prisoners, when we move camp, as we surely will have to now, they are going to cause us a problem, they will almost certainly attempt to escape. I have thought over the matter and finally decided that we should leave them here, locked in the starship with food and water to last them until their people arrive.” Bishop Marley declared as he looked over at Mark waiting for his thoughts on the subject.

“Bishop, we either take the prisoners with us, or, we kill them before we set out, to allow them to go free would give the new commander important intelligence, and six more troopers who will be trying hard to kill us, eight when the two injured troopers recover.” Mark declared vehemently.

“I had not considered that their experiences with us could be used against us, but you are correct of course. But surely the men will be returned home, not used against us.” Bishop Marley replied thoughtfully.

“You do not know the Aldebran military, Bishop, I have read some of the reports that our people have amassed, the planet is ruled with an iron fist by an emperor who thinks only of his own comforts, and freedom for the masses is in very short supply. To their minds the Aldebrans that we have taken prisoner are no more than the walking dead, having failed in their mission. No, they will not be returned home, instead they will be used as cannon fodder in the coming battles, either that or sent back to Aldebra to live in a gulag for the rest of their lives.” Mark explained grimly. “It would be better for them to stay with us, for they will be much better off as our prisoners.”

Bishop Marley had much to think about, so after thanking Mark for his thoughts on the matter he sought out his wife, to speak to her on the subject, and to his surprise he found out that she too had read about the Aldebrans, and that she agreed with all that Mark had said, so he decided to do so as well.

The next morning things began to improve, not long after they had sent up their drone it spotted a large herd of buffalo type animals moving slowly across the vast prairie. Their immediate food source was now taken care of, and for some time to come, in fact they would soon find themselves wishing for a change from buffalo meat, as they decided to name it. This was just one such small herd, other herds were also moving north now that the winter was over and with the spring rains the new grass was springing up everywhere, Mark decided there and then that these herds would not be decimated like the ones that lived in the USA. Even so he sent all of the teams out to hunt this herd of the great beasts, until their farms were up and running the large herds would help feed the colonists.

Time past peacefully for the colonists, however because of the Aldebran threat the colonists could not begin to turn New Caledonia into their new home, because of this tempers began to get a little frayed, for at the back of everyone`s mind was the knowledge that the Aldebran starships would soon be arriving to wage war upon them.

One thing did provide a modicum of comfort, one of the teams finally found an ideal spot that they thought could be used as their new base camp. Richard Rider had made use of the two small tracked vehicles to lead his team on a trek deep within the vast forest that covered much of the northern temperate zone of New Caledonia; Mark had given this team just one task, to find a suitable site for their new base, for time was beginning to run out. They found an ideal site forty miles away from their base, and they had been stunned both by its beauty and on how ideal it was for them as a new base.

They had been following yet another of the many animal tracks that provided a useful network of trails throughout the forest. Up ahead of them the way opened up and led down to a small fast flowing river. Richard decided to rest up there, by the river. A light lunch of survival rations followed by a cold drink of water from the river, using their Lifestraws to clean the water, a clever Danish invention that allowed hikers to drink clean water almost wherever they found a water source. From ahead of them they heard the sound of splashing water, and on inspection they found a small waterfall that cascaded down into a small wooded hollow, here a large pool of water had been formed by the river before it raced along the gorge and disappeared amidst the trees that filled the far end of the gorge.

“This looks interesting Richard, maybe we should investigate it after we have rested a while and eaten our lunch, it could be just what we are looking for, a hidden dell where we can hide away from the ogres of Aldebra.” Penny Rider said on seeing the waterfall.

Many fairy tales sprang into her mind at the sight of it, if only one of them could be true she thought. After eating their lunch they did investigate, on foot, following a narrow trail that led them down into the hollow. Within the hollow they found the large pool, and they could see a long stretch of river bank before the river was finally hidden by the many trees that filled the far end of the gorge. Later, the colonists would clear away some of the vegetation and smaller trees to extend their new camp, and in this way they were able to follow the river until it finally disappeared into a large cavern where it continued to flow underground.

For the moment though the team were making other discoveries. “Richard, the river is full of fish, they might well be trout from the look of them, it is a pity that my fishing gear is back at the base or we could all be having a fish supper.” Johnny Malins called out in delight.

Johnny and his wife were from Canada, and had both been Park Rangers back in their old lives, they were hoping to start a new life here on New Caledonia, one that included children. First though they would have to slay the serpents who were threatening their lives.

The hollow had opened out, and from between the trees they saw a glimpse of a large stone figure set high above the fast flowing river, and then another, and another. They soon discovered that both sides of the gorge had stone figures cut into the upper walls of the gorge, and on closer inspection they found that the mouths of the figures were in fact the entrances of large caves carved out of the hard rock.

“This is fantastic, we will camp here overnight and then return to base, this is exactly what Mark was thinking of when he first told us that we had to move away from our base by the Ark.” Richard declared avidly. “Penny we must take as many photographs as we can of this gorge, and the caves, so that Mark and Bishop Marley can make an informed decision about moving here.”

Penny looked across at her husband with a puzzled expression upon her face. “Richard, these stone figures, they must have been carved by someone, I thought that New Caledonia was uninhabited?” Penny said quizzically.

“We certainly have not seen any sign of intelligent life, until now that is, I suppose they could be nomadic, let`s look inside some of the caves to see if they have left any signs of their occupation.” Richard replied and walked into the nearest of the caves, his rifle at the ready just in case one of the planet`s carnivores was using it as its den.

Luckily no one was home in this or any of the other caves they searched, in fact the caves were quite bare, they did not even find any animal bones which led to another question, why not, was there something that kept the wildlife away?

“From what we have found within the caves we have entered Penny, no one has lived in them for millennia. Strange as it seems, we will not even be troubled by the odd carnivore.” Richard replied. “Although it is puzzling, could a race of beings have lived and died upon this planet so long ago.”

Another of the colonists, who had been listening to their conversation, now offered a possible answer. “I have seen videos of similar stone figures, they were on New Mars, maybe this is another planet where the ancients lived ten thousand years ago, if so it tells us why it is now uninhabited, they left for pastures new, ones that are far away.” Mary Paget ventured.

Mary was another colonist looking for somewhere to raise a family, somewhere peaceful and free of the violence still occurring on Earth.

“If you are correct, Mary, it would certainly answer the question as to who our stone builders were and why they are no longer here.” Richard said.

The evening was filled with questions and possible answers as to who had carved the stone figures, then the talk turned to their own future, and who amongst them thought that they could win against their enemy, and who thought that there would be many more deaths before the outcome was decided one way or the other. The discussion ended when Richard called a halt to it and ordered everyone to try to get some rest, for it would be a long day tomorrow.

The sun had only just risen the next morning and Richard was already chasing everyone to get ready to move, he was in a hurry to report their findings to the rest of the colony, it might just ease the tensions that had been steadily building. He did not want to make use of his cellular phone, for it would alert the Aldebran ship as to where they were, and after the move the captain of the ship might well remember their long trip into the forest. They finally set off for the base camp one hour later, after everyone had washed and eaten; survival rations yet again. They took a circular route back to base, rather than retracing their steps, so that they could see what else this part of the planet held. Just a mile away from the new site they found a large cave that they immediately decided would make an ideal home for their Communications Centre. The small entrance to the cave was well hidden, it was at the edge of a particularly thick piece of woodland, however there was ample space within the cave to house the Communications Centre, and the roof of the cave was solid granite. Richard Rider took more photographs of this cave to show to Bishop Marley and Mark. They had been lucky to find it; a shaft of sunlight lighting up the mouth of the cave seemed to be an omen to the colonists, and one sent by God.

 

Chapter Seven

 

The War Heats Up

 

On their return, Richard and his team immediately sought out Mark and Bishop Marley and told them of the wooded hollow, the river and the stone figures, and both of the men immediately asked for more information, which Richard now provided, both photographically and verbally.

“The caves are large enough for use both as store houses and hideaways, should the Aldebrans launch any drones. There is enough flat ground alongside the river for our tents, and the tree tops along the river will provide a lot of camouflage which we can utilise and improve on, effectively hiding us from any passing drone pass.” Richard declared excitedly.

“It seems perfect, and with time being short I think we should complete our move to this site as soon as possible.” Bishop Marley said. “Mark, do you agree?”

“As you say Bishop, time is short, and this new site certainly fits the bill, in fact it surpasses it, so yes I agree.” Mark replied. “We will need to start each journey to it before the sun comes up, so as to ensure that the ship in orbit cannot follow our vehicles and so learn the position of our new camp.”

Richard now mentioned a thought that had occurred to him on his team`s return journey. “We will need to build temporary bridges to span the many rivers that we will have to cross, and before we do anything else.” Richard declared solemnly.

“Right then Richard, you can get started on them tomorrow morning, how many men will you need to get the job done so as not to unduly delay the move?” Mark asked.

“Thirty five men should do it, and we will need the two larger tracked vehicles plus the chain saws.” Richard replied.

“No problem Richard, we have stored quite enough electricity over the last few days so you can charge up the chain saws, better do it now so as not to delay your departure in the morning, you had better set off at first light, and do not forget to mask the heat emissions coming from the vehicles.” Mark ordered.

As Richard had hoped, their discovery had immediately reduced the tensions that had been building up, and to help this new feeling of hope along Mark decided that the colonists should throw a party, The feast of course consisted mainly of buffalo with a selection of the local vegetables that the colonists had found growing wild around their new home, unfortunately the party ended early as the next morning would be a busy one.

The next morning saw Richard set off into the jungle, and he took with him thirty five men who professed to know something about joinery. He dropped five of them off at the first of the rivers and then move off to the next river, in this way all five rivers and two gorges were spanned in the single day. The bridges would be dismantled as soon as the grand move was completed.

The next morning, and with all of the bridges completed, the time had come for the start of the grand move. The sun had not even risen when the Communications Centre was loaded on to the back of one of the large tracked vehicles, while the other such vehicle took some of the water purifiers. The colony also had ten farm tractors, and they were used to haul wagons loaded with the first batch of colonists along with their possessions. They managed a second trip when dark clouds filled the sky blotting out the sun, ensuring that they would not be seen moving their goods. They took some more of the solar-powered photovoltaic panels and the water purifiers on the two large tracked vehicles, while the electric chainsaws were loaded upon the wagons and hauled to the new base by the tractors.

The next few days saw the balance of the solar-powered photovoltaic panels, more of the food, more colonists and their possessions, taken to the new site, on the final trip the prisoners were transferred to the new base, they were shackled inside two of the wagons that were pulled along by the tractors. Everything that was of value has been stripped from the downed starship, and by the time the move had been completed, the colonists were exhausted and much in need of a rest.

That evening, in the night sky, the colonists saw three new stars, they were moving slowing in the opposite direction to the other stars, but their view of them ended when a heavy rain storm appeared and blocked their view of the three Aldebran starships, which had arrived earlier than the colonists had expected. The next morning, after the storm had finally abated, and had the colonists been nearer to their original camp, they would have seen the three large starships drop through the heavy cloud layer and move across the sky, they were heading for the prairie, the Aldebran reinforcements had arrived.

 

**********

 

As soon as the small Aldebran task force had appeared in orbit around New Caledonia, Captain Karin had contacted Commander Oshiro. Oshiro was happy to hear from Karin, to get up to the minute information on the position on P1056, if only because he knew he needed a positive result if he was to enjoy his coming retirement in comfort, for the emperor was personally involved in this mission, anything less would see him reduced to penury.

“Commander, the earthmen have moved all of their tents into the forest, they only appear now when they enter their broken starship, or go hunting the large herds of animals that live upon the prairie.” Karin said. “The only way that I know they are still camped there is because I can see them through our infrared scopes; however, the images are blurred by their many camp fires.”

Oshiro thanked Karin, and when morning arrived over his chosen landing site he took his small task force down through the atmosphere of the planet, having passed through the layer of turbulence, that had dispersed somewhat now, he turned his scanners upon the earthmen’s last known position, however he saw little as a heavy cloud belt still hung quite low over the area. With two hundred trained soldiers under his command he knew he had little to fear from the colonists, even if they were all armed. Soon they pierced the thick cloud layer, the remnant of the heavy rain storm, and it was then that he got his first real view of the area, however to his annoyance he found that his ship`s scanners still told him nothing.

Unknown to the colonists the task force landed just one quarter mile away from their own broken starship, the Ark, and on landing the first thing Oshiro noticed was that the tents of the earthmen were nowhere in sight. However, he assumed that they had moved further into the forest, in an effort to hide away from his taskforce, a pointless exercise, for with modern technology he was confident of finding and killing them all within the next few days. Even so he did not want to underestimate his enemy, for they had taken out the Special Forces team sent against them. To ensure that his men were not taken by surprise he sent out five armed drones to check out the area, and then to cover his troops when they moved forward. With these in position he sent half of his force towards the last known position of the earthmen, the rest of his command he stationed around the three ships to prevent his enemy from surprising him, as it must have done against Commander Lu-Song and his squad. When his sub-officers reported that there was no trace of the earthmen, he had a squad search the broken starship, to ensure that none of the colonists were hiding there, and then he sent his five drones further afield, to scour the land around them for signs of their enemy. With these tasks in hand, he ordered a further squad of his troopers to set up the tents of his command alongside of the river. Oshiro was beginning to feel very annoyed; the crew of the North Wind had let him down badly, with all of their technology they had allowed the earthmen to disappear.

The Aldebran colonists were only now allowed to leave the confines of the second starship, an aging freighter that would soon be due to be broken up for scrap. They had not been in cryogenic stasis, they had endured the sixteen week trip within the crowded freighter with little exercise and only survival rations to keep them alive. Their release meant that they could stretch their legs, and when one of the drones caught sight of a large herd of buffalo, a number of them were ordered to accompany a squad of troopers, their task was to process the carcases of any animals shot by the military and then to carry the meat back to camp.

The Aldebran colonists had not been supplied with tents, they had to construct whatever shelter that they could create using the small number of axes and hand saws that they had brought with them, and this was what the remaining farmers did. Using these primitive tools they had begun to cut down the trees and shape the timber into usable wood, it was hard work, however they had grown up working with just the basic tools and supplies. They built their shanty homes beneath the trees, later they planned to move out onto the prairie to carve out farms and construct permanent homes.

Commander Oshiro now contacted the North Wind to vent his anger; he also wanted some information from the captain of the starship. “Captain Karin, there appears to be no trace of the earthmen, just where did they go?” He demanded angrily.

“I am sorry Commander, but we cannot help you.” Karin began unhappily, knowing that he and Leander would be severely disciplined because of this. “Last night they were camped beneath the forest trees near to their downed starship, this morning they have simply disappeared without trace. Obviously they moved further into the forest because we have a twenty four hour watch upon the area around their camp, unfortunately, the heavy rain storm prevented our scanners from seeing them move their camp. Had they entered the prairie we would have seen them by now, seen the tracks that they made through the grass, so they must have retreated further into the forest.” Karin explained nervously.

“This is most unsatisfactory, your starship is in need of urgent repairs, you have lost track of the twenty four man task force initially sent here to rid the emperor of these interlopers, and now you have lost the colonists.” Oshiro screamed into the Communications Centre. “When I report this setback to base the emperor will demand to know the reason why his imperial forces cannot rid one of his planets of a few colonists, and in particular what you have been doing since you arrived at P1056.”

With that Commander Oshiro signed off, but he was more than unhappy, his own wellbeing was now at risk, for he knew that this new failure to begin the eradication of the colonists could well rub off on him. He had to locate and destroy the colonists with the minimum delay and with the least loss of life amongst his forces. The fact that the earthmen had moved meant that they had taken some of the small task force prisoner, and that they had made them talk. It was obvious to him that they had been prepared for his arrival, and they had moved using the forest and the rain storm to cover their movements. When the report came in from the squad of troopers sent to search the downed starship, that the ship had been stripped of anything useable, and that the large hold was empty, he realised that the move had actually happened over a number of days. That the North Wind had not noticed it meant that the leader of the earthmen was not a farmer, no, he was a soldier, a tactician, one used to command and one used to succeeding in whatever task he was given, this fact made Oshiro begin to fear for his own future.

The third spacecraft of the small task force to land on the prairie was the salvage vessel, and as soon as the troopers had given them the all clear to start on their task, the crew moved in and around the Ark, as they prepared to cut up the large starship. That task was simple; to accomplish it in the time in which they were required to complete the task was not quite so easy, for the Ark was big.

 

**********

 

On the North Wind, Captain Karin looked very grim as he looked at his former captain and asked for advice. “Commander, do you have any ideas as to how we can get ourselves back into the emperor’s good books?” Karin asked Leander.

Karin may now be the captain of the spacecraft, but he felt rather awkward speaking to Leander, luckily Leander was more pragmatic about such things.

“We may have left it too late Captain, but there is only one thing that we can do, take the ship back through the planet`s atmosphere and search every square inch of the forest within a week`s march, further than that would be beyond the capabilities of the earthmen.” Leander replied. “First though you should speak to Li-Ching, so that he can nail everything down that might come apart when we hit the layer of turbulence again, although it seems to be dispersing now, I do not believe that it will affect us this time.”

Karin sighed unhappily, but he still went to talk his chief engineer, as he left the bridge he called back to Leander. “Commander, I need you with me, Li-Ching still sees my promotion as some sort of joke. Which of course it would be in a sane universe, but we do not live in such a universe and in our one the joke is on all of us.”

Yung looked very unhappy when told of their decision, but he too was anxious about the future, for he was the chief engineer, and the responsibility as regards the faulty engine would also fall upon him.

“You may go when you are ready Captain.” Li-Ching said to the space between Karin and Leander. “I had anticipated such an order, either from you or our illustrious emperor, and so Manchu and I have been busy, just try to stay away from the worst of the turbulence”

Karin now contacted Commander Oshiro. “Commander, my crew and I are prepared to attempt to re-enter the planet`s atmosphere and assist you in the search for the colonists.”

Oshiro knew that the crew of the North Wind were endangering themselves, and why. However, he simply thanked Karin, for he did not want any commiserations to be used against him, in case such words should come to the ears of the authorities.

“There is one thing that you will have to do Commander, send up two armed drones to take over our task of preventing the earthmen from using their Communications Centre to contact their planet. If they attempt to do so, the drone operator will have to zone in on the position of their transmitter and destroy it immediately.” Karin explained.

“I will put that into operation immediately, give us one hour to get the two drones into a high enough altitude above the forest, and then you can leave orbit and land near to our ships.” Oshiro replied, happy to have the extra firepower offered by the North Wind`s Phaser, and the ability to rapidly move his men to an attack position, when and if the occasion presented itself.

The one hour went past quickly on the North Wind, the ship`s engineers rechecking every relay and connection once more, to ensure that the ship was ready for re-entry. When the hour was up the North Wind left its safe orbit and descended through the outer atmosphere of New Caledonia, they encountered some minor turbulence, but nothing that caused them any problems this time. The crew later swore that they sweated buckets of water, however the North Wind finally made it down to the planet`s surface, landing close to the Ark. Once the engine had been shut down, Li-Ching and Manchu went over to the broken Ark and rummaged through the engineering department, they finally found the pieces they needed. The connections made between the Earth devices to those of Aldebran manufacture were tricky, and not ideal, but they sufficed, they had finally repaired their spacecraft and it was now fully functional.

The North Wind took off the next morning and began a grid search of the vast forests of New Caledonia, working in tandem with the drones operated by the troopship, it would be a long tiring task but Karin and Leander hoped that it would lead them to success.

 

**********

 

“Bishop, thanks to our search teams we now have a pretty detailed map of the land between us and the Aldebran base camp, I am planning on taking Richard Rider and four of the colonists to make a couple of sorties to harass their salvage team, delay them from cutting up the Ark. We will carry out our attacks at night; we can then disappear into the forest, travelling beneath the thick forest canopy we will be able to return without being traced back to our new camp.” Mark said. He had informed the bishop as a matter of curtesy, he really did not feel the need to ask his permission having been asked to assume command of their forces and organise the defence of colony. He fully expected the bishop to agree with this limited offensive against the Aldebrans; however he found that Bishop Marley did not agree with his plan.

“Mark, I think that we should only attack the Aldebrans in defence, if they leave us alone then we should leave them alone.” Bishop Marley declared boldly. “I am also unsure as to the wisdom of your going along Mark, our people are relying upon you to see us through our ordeal, if you were to be captured it would put the colony in jeopardy.”

“Bishop, as far as the Aldebrans leaving us in peace we both know that is not going to happen, we know the reason why they have come to this planet, to murder every single colonist and to dispose of every trace of the Ark in the depths of the nearest ocean. They have not travelled this far to sit on their hands; they are far too scared of their emperor to even consider such a thing.” Mark replied vehemently. “And as far as my going with the teams, I would have thought that you would have wanted it, I am the most experienced person on the planet and I am not going to order others to risk their lives while I remain here where it is safe.”

“I am sorry Mark, I know that I handed over command of our defences to you, but as your spiritual leader I insist that you follow my lead on this, please leave things lie for a week, then we will discuss the situation again.” Bishop Marley stated so firmly that Mark felt compelled to follow his lead, at least for the moment.

“If you insist Bishop, but will you at least allow Richard and myself to lead a small reconnaissance party, just to map out the Aldebran camp? Then, if we are forced onto the offensive, we can respond quickly and without any loss of life due to poor intelligence.” Mark requested.

Bishop Marley was quiet for a moment, his desire was to seek a peaceful solution, not to provoke the Aldebrans, so he was seeking a compromise that would not alienate Mark Summers, someone appointed by himself to organise their defence against a dangerous alien planet, finally he found one.

“Yes, I will agree to that Mark, but whenever you are near to the Aldebran camp, you must only move during the hours of darkness. That way you are less likely to encounter any of the Aldebrans, and as you say, you should then be able to return here without loss of life.” Bishop Marley replied. “And you are only to fire in self-defence Mark, please do not start a war that is totally unnecessary, retreat if there is the slightest chance of an altercation between you and the Aldebrans.”

Mark noticed how hard Bishop Marley had resisted calling the Aldebrans their enemy, which they undoubtedly were, for to do so would go against his belief that every nation, even an alien one, would see reason and offer the hand of friendship, if they were only given a chance, rather than use warfare as their default reply.

Mark had to leave it there, and that night he and Richard Rider got ready to lead a small party of four other colonists through the dark towards the Aldebran base camp. Penny Rider and Susan Summers both knew how handle a Phaser rifle, having learned how to fire one while still on Earth, They had also learnt some unarmed combat moves from their husbands, so they approached the two men before Mark asked some of the male colonists to join them on the patrol.

“Mark, Richard, Penny and I insist on being part of the team, we are not Victorian housewives who stay at home while our men go off to war, we are 23rd century colonial women who can fight just as good as you men. In any case, if you run into trouble we want to be with you, I refuse to be widowed before my honeymoon has even started.” Susan declared boldly, and behind her Penny Rider nodded fiercely, her chin up and her face full of determination.

Mark knew that this was one battle he could not win, so he smiled and nodded. “Ok Susan, Penny, you two are included in tonight’s patrol. However, the going will be hard and I will not compromise one inch. Marines Susan Summers, Penny Rider, collect your weapons, you will also need a water flask, some survival rations, your survival blanket, and do not forget your Lifestraw, we may be away for longer than we planned, should the Aldebrans get on our trail.”

Susan and Penny went off to collect their gear, both, if not actually happy to be going to war, were willing to be a part of their husbands` mission, to fight beside them for their lives and the lives of their friends.

The other two members of the team were Robert Jenson and Ricardo Malic, Malic was one of the colonists who had lost their partner. Mark had spoken quietly to Malic, so as to ensure that the man`s grief did not explode when they arrived at the Aldebran base, and Malic had assured him that he would hold his anger in check, until such time as he was ordered to let it out.

Bishop Marley was very happy when he heard that the two wives were going on the patrol, because he calculated that Mark and Richard were less likely to put their lives at risk, as they were accompanied by their wives.

They moved out one hour before sunset, with two of the colonists volunteering to drive them half of the way to the Aldebran base in the two smaller tracked vehicles, and then to drive the vehicles back to base. They would return to the spot in 72 hours’ time, to take the team back to camp. The headlights of the vehicles had been taped over, permitting only a narrow strip of light to show the way. However, Mark`s team and the drivers all wore night vision goggles, curtesy of Commander Lu-Song. His squad had intended to use them to make their task all the easier, except that their emperor ordered them to go in during the hours of daylight.

The drivers were constantly changed, every two hours; to ensure that there were no accidents before the mission had really started. They drove slowly through the night, finally arriving at the drop off point just one hour after the sun had risen, and at a point where the density of the trees had lessened some, to drive any further risked them being heard by an Aldebran patrol, or even spotted by one of the Aldebran drones.

The team was still twenty miles from their destination, the final part was to be done on foot, after four hours of walking they stopped to rest up, apart from Mark and Richard they were all exhausted by the long drive followed by the long walk. They set off again just two hours before sunset and were almost upon the Aldebran base when Mark called another halt. Exhausted once again by their trek, they built a lean-to shelter well off the track that they had been following, the shelter being well hidden by the springtime vegetation, they would complete the final section of the trek the next morning. Mark planned to rest up near to the enemy base, moving in after sunset to seek out any weak points, they would then begin their return journey, which would mean another night spent under the stars before being met by their transport and taken back to their own camp.

All went as they had planned, nearing the Aldebran camp without even a sign of a watchful sentry, their first sight of it was the row upon row of tents, as for the Aldebran farmers, they were sleeping under the forest trees, in dugouts or under lean-to shelters similar to the one they themselves had slept under during the daylight hours. Keeping well away from both camps they approached the four alien starships which were lit up by their landing lights, which threw a cone of light around the ships. Mark and his team though travelled in comparative darkness, they moved along the narrow gully that Richard had used when he had led his team against Lu-Song and his squad. The other four members of the team had not experienced this way of life before, however the night vision goggles aided their progress; even so they had to move carefully to ensure that they did not bring attention to their team by tripping over the natural hazards that littered the gully floor. Luckily, there were not too many natural traps in this section of the gully, the way being mostly flat and easy going and the first of the massive ships loomed before them; it was the troopship. They now took of their night vision goggles, for the amount of light coming from the starships meant that it was impossible to use them. Ahead of them they heard voices, Mark could hear two sentries lamenting this mission, complaining about the lack of bars and women to spend their off duty hours in. Richard noted the position of the starship on a map he had prepared back at their own camp, then they moved further along the gully, towards the next starship. It was now that Susan tripped and fell to the ground, her weapon cracking against a rock, the sound breaking the silence of the night, ringing out loud and clear, to Susan even more so, who swore silently at her own clumsiness. Thankfully, she had only winded herself, and Mark helped her to her feet, however, everyone was startled and suddenly afraid, searching the brightly lit ground around the enemy starships for signs of the enemy, it was now that they heard voices and then they saw two sentries coming towards them. Mark and his team were in comparative darkness down in the gully, even so the sentries would soon be able to see them in the light reflected off the far side of the gully.

“I am sure that I heard something, Rylee.” The first sentry assured his comrade.

“It was probably just an animal Tomas, the earthmen are too busy cowing beneath the ground to dare to come to our camp.” Rylee replied sounding both bored and tired and wishing that his spell of night sentry duty would finally be over.

He was annoyed that he had been chosen for this task, his duty being to constantly walk around the large freighter, just in case an earthman appeared, it did not appeal to him for he wanted action.

“That was not an animal, it was rifle striking against rock, I am going to call out the guard.” Tomas declared and he then did so. “Call out the guard, we have intruders.”

His voice rang loud and clear, especially for the six colonists down in the gully Mark warned everyone of possible trouble, ordering them to keep silent he led them quickly back the way they had come, keeping to the darker side of the gully. Mark was heading for a side gully that they had just passed, one that would lead them towards the forest, but also towards the Aldebran farmers. Their pulse rates increased, especially those of Susan and Penny, what had seemed to be going smoothly had suddenly taken a turn towards disaster, maybe even towards the death of one or more of them. Susan berated herself for a fool, why had she insisted on coming along, Mark had been trained for this life, she had trained to run a farm not to fight a war.

From behind them came the sounds of pursuit, and these were echoed by the sentries around the troopship moving forward towards them, luckily, the gully that they were now in edged to the right, where the forest jutted out towards it. From behind them came the whistling sound of Phaser fire, and then the explosions when the powerful energy bolts hit their target, a large rock that resembled a kneeling man exploded into small pieces.

This mistake by the Aldebrans gave Mark and his team some much needed time, but this ended when a whistling bolt of energy narrowly missed Penny Rider who almost fainted in fear. Richard was close behind her and her took her arm and hurried her on, giving her no time to think or to faint, only complain at the pain caused by her husband`s tight grip.

As soon as they entered the outermost edge of the forest Mark and Richard stopped running, while urging the others on they prepared to give covering fire to their comrades, using two large trees as shields they returned the fire coming towards them. The others though would not see these two men take the brunt of the firefight so they also stopped, but further into the forest, and joined in the battle. This amount of whistling energy bolts passing near to the chasing troopers resulted in the Aldebran troopers also moving back into cover, up until now they had thought that they had been chasing after a group of farmers intent on stealing anything not screwed down, now they realised that it was a contingent of the earthmen, the same ones who had routed their spearhead force, troopers who had been well trained against insurgents.

Mark chose this opportunity to get further away from their enemy, and moments later they were all running through the forest, large tree trunks giving them more shelter, and these took most of the powerful energy bolts that tore amongst the trees, seeking a more human prey. Just then a scream cut through the sounds of battle, Mark turned to see a jagged piece of wood sticking out of Robbie`s body, he rushed back to his wounded friend and put an arm around him to assist him, he almost gasped in amazement when Susan appeared on the other side of their friend to help the badly wounded man along. A grim smile appeared on Robbie`s face.

“I sure did not sign on for this when I first boarded the Ark, I guess I didn`t read the small print.” His voice coming out in gasps of pain as they attempted to put space between themselves and their pursuers.

Richard, Penny and Malic had stopped their retreat and turned to fire their weapons at the Aldebran troopers, once again making them move hastily back into cover, and allowing Mark and Susan to carry Robbie further away to safety, if the gods were with them. They were now moving between the lean-tos of the Aldebran farmers, although they never caught sight of any of the occupants who knew better than to interfere with the military when they were firing, for the troopers never minded who their target was, friend or foe. Phaser bolts were once again whistling all around then, how none of them struck home Mark did not know. However, when all thought of escaping without loss of life was abandoned, an Aldebran farmer appeared out of the ground before Richard and Penny, who were leading the team, and he silently beckoned them down into his makeshift house.

As the humans entered the trench, a young boy began to rid the ground leading off from the animal track of their footprints, along with any spots of blood from Robbie`s wound. Mark was full of admiration for the bravery, and the lad`s eyesight, shown by the young lad, who could not have been more than ten years in age.

The house was built within a small but deep trench, which allowed them all to stand upright, but was completely hidden from view, for it was off the animal track and hidden by the spring vegetation. The trench was part of a gully that ran away from the makeshift house, however, the next section of the gulley had a fallen tree lying in it, so it could not been seen. Mark supposed that as it rained quite a lot that the house would be constantly flooded, however on closer inspection Mark found that the floor of their house had floorboards, they had been set six inches above the bottom of the trench so that any rain that fell would flow away along the trench, there was even a narrow gap at either side for any water to escape down. The farmer was called Andreas, his wife was Maria, his daughter was also named Maria and his son Adonis and on learning the names of their new friends Mark introduced each of them to the farmer`s family.

Moments later Adonis re-entered the trench and seconds after they heard the Aldebran troopers running along the narrow animal track, an officer was shouting out orders, but soon the sounds faded into the distance. Mark then introduced his friends to the Aldebran family, and after they had all greeted one another Andreas spoke.

“The troopers are lazy parasites, once they find that their quarry has eluded them, they will return to their tents to sleep. In the morning they will once again search for you, but they will use their technology to do it for them, their drones and the spacecraft, they do not like to use their feet, they tire very easily.” Andreas said scornfully. “However, you should ensure that you are well away from here before dawn, for they may well search the houses near to the trail looking for signs of you.”

“We will be well away by then my friend.” Mark assured their host. “Andreas, I would readily repay you for your kindness, but I imagine it would be dangerous for you to possess items from Earth?” Mark said in broken Aldebran.

“I need nothing but your thanks Mark, but as you say, anything left here of Earth would mean a death sentence for all of my family.” Andreas replied grimly.

While Mark had been talking to Andreas, Susan and Penny, with the assistance of the two Marias, were tending to Robbie and now Mark joined them, and after a word with the others he looked at his friend.

“Robbie, we need to operate on you, I will have to pull out the piece of wood and then sew up your wound, don`t fret I have done it before, and in worse surroundings, and with our medical kit you will be all right.” Mark assured his injured friend, with more confidence than he felt, for the wound looked to be bad.

“Do it, Mark, just get this piece of wood out of me before it decides to sprout leaves.” Robbie said with an attempt at humour.

“Ok then Robbie, Susan will you clean the wound up using half of the small bottle of antiseptic cleanser that you will find in the first aid kit.”

When the wound was clean, Mark was ready and he injected Robbie with a local anaesthetic to help numb the pain when he operated and then sewed up the wound.

“Ricardo, Richard, hold our lad done while I extract the rather large splinter.” Mark instructed, then he turned to Robbie. “Even with the injection this might hurt a little Robbie, but it will not be for long.”

With Ricardo and Richard holding Robbie down, Mark took a firm hold of the large splinter of wood and pulled it out. Robbie screamed in pain, but his cries were muted, for Andreas had anticipated this and had put a hand over his mouth. The pain did not last long, for as Mark had anticipated, Robbie had fainted.

“We are lucky, it missed any of his vital organs or blood vessels, all I need to do is to stitch up the wound.” Mark said thanking god for sparing his friend`s life. “He should be OK after resting up a while. Ok then, Susan will you first clean the wound up using the other half of the antiseptic cleanser.”

Luckily, the team had brought some medicinal supplies with them, and after stitching up the wound, Mark bandaged up his friend.

One hour later, noticing that Robert was awake Mark checked on his wound. “Here you are Robbie, take these pain killers, it will make the journey back a little easier, we have already given you a large dose of antibiotics.” Mark said.

“Good, I like things to be easy.” Robbie said, trying to raise a smile, and failing.

“Robbie can hardly walk back to our camp Mark, and to leave him here could bring about the deaths of our new friends, we need to construct a stretcher to carry him.” Susan said.

As this was obviously the best remedy to Robbie`s problem, they constructed a stretcher using some of the blankets they had brought with them, and the farmer slipped out of his makeshift house, for the sounds of the Aldebran troopers had faded away long ago, and he cut some stout but supple branches that they could use to support the blankets.

Malic had been resting, but his eyes were full of anger, suddenly he jumped up and stood over Susan, who was tending to Robbie. “This is all your fault, if you had not been so clumsy they would never have got on to us. You endangered all of our lives, and Mr Jenson may not even survive the journey back to our camp.” He exclaimed angrily.

Mark moved between them and quickly stomped down hard on Malic. “Welcome to my old world, and if you, or anyone else, thought that we were off on a boy scouts trek, well we are not, we embarked on a dangerous patrol. One that just got even more dangerous, so quit griping and ready yourselves for a fast exit, for as Andreas told us, we sure cannot stay here, the sun will soon be up and we must be well on our way by then.”

Susan and Penny threw angry looks at Mark, for they felt sure that he included them as well, and not only Malic, who now felt a little guilty at the way danger had affected him.

“I am sorry Ms Summers, I had no right to say those things, I guess I am just plain scared.” Malic said apologetically. “Captain, it will not happen again, that I promise you, and I state before these witnesses that you can rely on me to act much better in the future.” Malic said sorrowfully.

Mark accepted Malic’s apology, however, now he had to speak quietly to his wife, to soothe her ruffled feathers.

“Susan, I am sorry if my words angered you and Penny, but I had to kill all signs of censure, we cannot afford to fight amongst ourselves, especially now.” Mark explained.

Susan allowed a smile to appear on her face. “No, Mark, you were right, I did see this as a merry jaunt, and it could have been except for my own clumsiness, but I still intend to accompany you on your missions, if you will allow me to, and I promise you that I will not let you down a second time.” Susan replied apologetically.

Mark took Susan into his arms and kissed her. “Enjoying your honeymoon Darling?” He asked.

“Well it is different Mark.” Susan replied with a wry smile.

One hour past quickly and the return journey to their camp was about to commence, and Mark had some final instructions for them. “Listen up everyone, while I explain how we are going to commence our return to camp. I will take point; walking twenty feet ahead of the stretcher team, which initially will consist of Susan, Penny and Ricardo, as for Richard, initially he will be tail end Charlie. I know that it will be particularly hard for the stretcher team, but for the first few hours Richard and I need to be either at the front of our group looking out for the enemy, or bringing up the rear.” Mark explained before turning to Ricardo Malic.

“Ricardo, you will have to hold onto the front two poles while the two women grab a pole each at the rear. Keep your eyes firmly on me Ricardo, if you see me stop, then you stop, if I drop to the ground you do likewise.” Mark ordered. “All of you, there is to be no talking, unless it is absolutely necessary. When one of you needs a break from carrying the stretcher, signal Richard who will take over from you. We will not be stopping to rest until the sun begins to rise, we must get far enough away from here if we are to survive.”

No one argued, for they knew that there was no other way to ensure that they all returned to their camp without incurring further injuries, or even the death of one or more of them, they simply sat and waited the order to move out. Andreas had been covertly watching for any sign of movement coming from the Aldebran camp, when he was satisfied that they had all given up the search and returned to their tents, he informed Mark that it was safe to leave.

“Thank you Andreas, we will not forget your help, and I will repay you in kind, should you ever need our help.” Mark assured their new friend, and taking his hand shook it.

The ordinary Aldebran people did not shake hands; it was not a custom of Aldebra. In any case even if it were, they would normally be too tired, that or too wary, for who knew when ones neighbours would be taken in for questioning. However, when the others also shook his hand he realised that it was an Earth custom, and one that he decided that he liked.

Their last sight of their new friends was when they stopped to wave goodbye to them, then they moved off along the narrow animal track. The sun would be rising in three hours’ time, when it did so those carrying the stretcher would be exhausted, this Mark knew, he had to find them a place to lay up in, a place that their searchers would not easily find. The return journey to their camp would be a long trek, carrying Robbie, by the time they reached safety they would be truly sick of survival rations.

The early morning temperature was a little cool, although for the stretcher bearers that would soon change. The planet`s smaller moon was overhead, however not much of its light penetrated down to the forest floor. To get around this problem they were using their night vision goggles, this allowed them to move quite rapidly along the narrow animal track that they were following, or that is, as fast as the stretcher bearers could manage. Mark was walking ahead and as he turned a bend in the trail he saw a squad of troopers lying in wait for them, thankfully their bodies were lit up by the infrared system built into the night vision goggles, he could also hear their voices, they were only just audible but they were there. He immediately stopped and knelt down, a small shaft of moonlight was coming through the trees ahead of him, and he could see the glint of the moonlight reflected off a Phaser rifle, the Aldebran model appeared to have been produced in a shiny reflective metal, fine for the parade ground but hardly suitable for battle, Mark slowly retreated back to his team.

“The Aldebrans have left a small squad of men; they are obviously there waiting for us to stumble upon them, should we have been in hiding somewhere and are now attempting to escape.” Mark whispered to his team.

“Have they seen us?” Susan asked anxiously, moving up to her husband to find some comfort in this new nightmare world which she had demanded to share.

“No I don`t think so Susan, luck is edging our way. Maybe they have not been issued with such expensive equipment as these night vision goggles.” Mark replied putting a hand on her arm to try to reassure her that all would end well. “We will have to go a different way, I saw a track just twenty yards behind us, it will take us out of our way, but better that then have to fight our way out, for that would alert the rest of the troopers to our presence.” Mark replied.

They all agreed with these sentiments and so Mark led the way back along the track to the even narrower and rather overgrown track that went off at a tangent. And they soon found that it took them well away from the enemy troopers. An hour later and all three stretcher bearers were in need of a break, so Mark reluctantly stopped in a small clearing.

“OK everyone, take a ten minute break.” Mark said and was not surprised to see the stretcher immediately laid down.

Robbie had somehow fallen asleep while being jostled along the narrow trail, Mark assumed that it was because of the amount of blood he had lost, that and the pain from his wound had left him exhausted. They all glanced over at him, a little envious perhaps, however, none of them would want to change places with him, not if it meant taking his wound as well. The ten minutes were soon up and Mark could see that the stretcher bearers were not looking forward to resuming the trek.

“Richard, will you help Ricardo at the front of the stretcher, a fourth pair of hands will ease the load on our stretcher bearers, we will do without a tail end Charlie. I will relieve you in one hour when you can take up point duty.” Mark said and then looked towards the other three members of his team.

“I am sorry that you three are having to take the bulk of the work, but as I said earlier, point duty is important, and we need someone with experience up front, just in case we chance upon another squad of Aldebran troopers.” Mark said apologetically. Penny Rider and Ricardo Malic simply nodded, only Susan smiled at his apology.

The going was uneventful; they spooked a few deer but did not come upon any Aldebran troopers, at least now they were heading towards their waiting transport.

 

Chapter Eight

 

A New Player

 

An aging freighter, the Genesis, arrived unseen near to the planet New Caledonia, on board were members of the Genesis cult, along with their leader Magnus Smart, but it did not go into orbit about the planet.

“Captain, I suggest that we land on the smaller of the planet`s two moons, from there we can then scan the planet while we decide on our next move.” Smart said to Captain Isaacs, an aging spaceman who had converted to this new cult after seeing all the troubles that had begun because of human contact with alien races.

“Helmsman, take us down to the moon`s surface, land in the middle of the crater that we can see in the centre of our forward view screen.” Isaacs ordered before turning to his leader. “From there Sir, we will be able to scan the area around the Ark`s landing site, we should soon know how they fared.”

By coincidence, the Genesis landed not 500 yards away from the spot that the North Wind had previously occupied, and for exactly the same reason. The first thing they saw was not the scattered remains of one broken starship, but four starships plus the broken Ark, which Smart immediately saw was mostly intact. Only one fact brought him even a small amount of joy, the fact that the Ark would never lift off again.

“It would appear Captain that the transmission from the colonists was correct, all of the colonists might well have survived the crash, something has obviously gone wrong with our plans. Before we return to Earth we must make good our mistake, we will cleanse the planet of all the sinners. I will also need one of the crew taken alive to extract from him, or her, the reason why the ship survived the landing virtually intact, then I will send the sinner to hell to atone for his sins.” Smart declared angrily.

He now turned his attention to the Aldebrans. “It seems that Earth is not the only planet that breeds sinners, we must also speak with one of the aliens, then we must add them to our list of beings that require our special type of chastisement, they too will have to be eradicated, but not until after we have located the surviving colonists.” Smart said grimly.

The communications officer Mabel Smits now spoke. “Excuse me for interrupting Sir, I am listening into the local radio communications, the new comers, they are from the planet Aldebra. It was indeed fortuitous that you had all the known alien languages added to our computer banks.” Smits said interrupting the conversation between her leader and her captain. “From what I have heard so far Sir, it appears that the Aldebrans are also searching for the colonists, and that they also intend to wipe them out.”

Magnus Smart smiled, and a new plan of action came to him. “Captain, we will search for the colonists, and then we will lead the Aldebrans to them. After their battle, we will launch our attack upon the survivors to cleanse this Eden of all the sinners.”

“Sir, is it not odd that the colonists have not once mentioned the Aldebrans in their communications with Earth, as the aliens are attacking them?” Captain Isaacs asked quizzically.

“I can only suppose that the communications are not originating from the colonists, but from the Aldebrans.” Magnus Smart replied. “Which means that there is no way of knowing just how many of the colonists did in fact survive the crash landing.”

“That makes sense Sir.” Smits said. “At least one of the drones flying above the planet is putting out a mass of jamming; I do not think that the colonists would have anything powerful enough to punch through it. We can only hear the Aldebrans because their ships are outside of the jamming zone.”

“Well that suits us; we would not want news of our arrival to get out.” Magnus Smart said.

“Sir, if the colonists moved far enough away from the area that they must be hiding in, they too would be able to contact Earth.” Smits then said.

“No they will not be able to Mabel, for we would stop them and maybe, soon, we will also prevent the Aldebrans from calling home.” Smart said thoughtfully. “But thank you for that information.”

 

**********

 

Down on the planet, the sun has risen above the far horizon, and with its coming the temperature had risen a little, however it could hardly be termed a warm morning, but that suited them in their present condition. They had been walking away from the Aldebran camp for six hours, taking a break whenever Mark felt it was safe to do so. His team was exhausted, after being awake for twenty four hours, as was Mark, so he decided to lay up so they could all get some sleep, they would move on in the late afternoon, if the situation allowed.

With one member of the team on sentry duty, the rest caught up on some much needed sleep, Mark had just taken over his one hour watch when he heard a quiet buzzing noise coming from above the tree tops, an Aldebran drone was out searching for them. One hour later and he saw a much larger craft pass overhead; it was the special operations starship using much more sophisticated equipment than that aboard the drone, had they been walking it would certainly have found them. As it was, hidden beneath their lightweight survival blankets, their body heat was not seen by the craft`s scanners, even sitting up Mark had pulled his around him to hide himself away.

It was now that the Aldebrans began their ground search for the alien commandoes, as they decided to call Mark and his team. With almost two hundred troopers to call upon the commander could afford to send out a dozen teams of ten men. Along the wider trails they used armoured tracked vehicles; along the narrower trails they either used two man motorbikes or foot soldiers landed far inside the jungle by the North Wind. With the latter method the teams took food with them and they would wait in likely locations for the alien commandoes to come to them, staying out until the following morning at which time the North Wind would pick them up. All of these methods were very effective against easy targets, such as rebelling farmers, and Oshiro was positive that they would prove to be equally effective against the aliens.

Mark heard them well before they came near to his team`s position, the loud diesel engine of a large tracked vehicle, and t was making heavy weather as it moved along the trail which had narrowed one mile back. The motorbikes would have been more suitable for this part of the forest; however they were all being used elsewhere. The Aldebrans had not progressed beyond diesel engines for their vehicles, they had not seen the point of investing in a much cleaner alternative, in any case, the upper classes of Aldebra lived in the hills surrounding their cities, the pollution did not affect them, it knew its place, amongst the workers of the planet.

When he had been a marine it would have been a simple task for Mark to take the vehicle off the troopers, with his well-trained squad of marines to back him up. With two women and two men, only one of them having any military training, it would be highly dangerous.

“Wake up all of you.” Mark whispered while shaking Richard who woke quietly and then took over the waking of the other team members.

“We have company, keep quiet and they will pass on by, however, train your weapons on the Aldebrans, but do not turn them on, not until I tell you to.” Mark ordered.

Susan immediately reached out for her husband, and Penny Rider did likewise for her husband. Mark looked at the two women and Ricardo Malic, he knew that they were afraid, his job was to ensure that they did not panic, that could get them all killed. Robbie looked through the greenery, searching for their enemy, even he had his Phaser rifle ready to use. They could hear the Aldebrans talking, they obviously did not do covert, this fact made Mark relax, for this squad of troopers to endanger them would mean that the fates had turned badly against them. Then the diesel engine shuddered to a halt. For a moment Mark feared that the craft that had flown over them had somehow found them with its sophisticated scanners, but his fears were suddenly put to rest.

“Any of you who needs to take a leak, do so now, I am not stopping on the way back to base, I am badly in need of a drink to wash away this planet`s smell from my throat, it stinks something awful.” Sergeant Reefer ordered. “The rear five men first, the rest of you keep an eye open for the alien commandoes.”

The doors at the rear of the vehicle opened and five troopers stepped down from the armoured carrier, with no need to be shy they did not move off the track, although fear perhaps of what might be lurking there might well have kept them out of the undergrowth. Two minutes later and the other four men, plus their sergeant, replaced them. Had they known that six Phaser rifles were zeroed in on them, they would not have been as calm as they relieved themselves. Soon the vehicle was gone, how the Aldebrans hoped to find his team operating like that Mark could not say, but one thing was certain, they could easily find the new base of the colonists by simply following the trail that they themselves had used. It would be quick and simple driving along the wider of the trails, especially in an armoured transporter. When they got back to their new camp he would have to find a way to hide the narrow trail that led off the wider main track from any motorised searchers.

 

**********

 

However, the Aldebrans were not the only ones looking for them, perched upon the smaller moon was the old freighter Genesis, but when the moon dipped below the planet`s horizon the freighter would lift off and take up orbit above the downed starship. Thankfully the Genesis only possessed low tech scanners and cameras, all of which were aimed at the forest, searching for the colonists. Unseen during the day they went over every square meter of the forest, searching for light shining off the colonists` solar-powered photovoltaic panels, for Phaser fire, for anything not to do with nature. During the hours of darkness their ship slowly crossed the sky looking like a regular star, looking for any signs of camp fires or electric lighting.

 

**********

 

The long march home began later that afternoon, Mark finally allowed Susan, Penny and Ricardo to take a turn at point duty, to rest their aching arm muscles, he felt sure that the risk of an ambush had receded this far away from the Aldebran camp, luckily for them the nearest Aldebran team waiting to ambush them was many miles behind them. The next day, just as the sun was setting, they arrived at the drop off point, the place where they hoped to meet up with other colonists, and transport. Waiting under the trees they saw them, their friends had not returned to the new camp that morning, they had decided to wait, while praying for the safe arrival of their friends. After asking after Robbie they told their friends that they too had endured a moment of danger, they had been forced to hide away from an Aldebran patrol which had roared past them on motor bikes, however they had been moving so fast that they stood no hope of finding anyone as the two men had heard the sound of the bikes engines well before they had appeared and thus had given them the time to disappear. This gave Mark something to ponder over and he decided that they needed sentries posted on all approach roads so they were not taken by surprise.

As soon as they arrived back at their camp they rushed Robbie over to the makeshift clinic where Doctor Tattersall checked Robbie over.

“You did a fine job of fixing Mr Jenson up Mark; you are not aiming to take over from me, are you?” Tattersall jested.

“No, Doctor, one patient in need of my poor skills is enough for me.” Mark replied seriously.

Susan then came across to Robbie and apologised yet again for being so clumsy, but he laughed it off.

“I am all right Susan, so please do not reproach yourself, apart from Mark and Richard none of us are trained as soldiers, and certainly not Special Forces, you only served to highlight the problem facing us. We will all have to take greater care when our enemy is close to us, if we are to live through this ordeal.” Robbie assured her, he for one did not blame her; rather he blamed the Aldebrans for his injury.

Bishop Marley was not happy when he saw Robbie, who thanks to the other five members of the team was now recovering from his injury. “I am sorry Mark, but your patrol failed dismally, you only managed the briefest recce of their camp before calamity struck, you could all have died there, as it is Robert Jenson was badly injured, this must be our last such sortie until after we have given peace a chance.”

“I agree that the sortie could hardly be called a success Bishop, however we have now met the Aldebran farmers and we know that at least one of their families can be called friendly, which in turn gives us an indication as to how the other families will probably act towards us. Also we now know that our people have the strength of character not to give in when fate turns against them. They survived because they would not accept defeat. However, the next time, if you are agreeable, I will take the risks alone or maybe with Richard Rider, if he agrees to accompany me. We will be able to penetrate the enemy camp, for their troopers are certainly of a low calibre, then we can do whatever we went there for, and then return to camp unharmed.” Mark replied grimly. “You put me in charge of our defence bishop; please allow me to do it.”

“Ok, Mark, I know how capable you are and I will agree that you can operate with Richard Rider, but no one else.” Bishop Marley agreed. “For if you were to take anyone else along then they would not only endanger themselves but also you, and as I said to you before we cannot afford to lose you, for to do so might well doom us all.” Bishop Marley said.

Feeling a little embarrassed Mark could not reply to Bishop Marley`s words, he just hoped that Susan and Penny understood why they would have to stay home on his next excursion to the Aldebran base.

Bishop Marley then expanded on one of his earlier comments regarding giving peace a chance, and his words stunned Mark. “Mark, I intend to pay the Aldebrans a visit, to try to put an end to these hostilities, I am sure that with god`s help I can get through to them and avert a bloody war.”

“I just hope that they give you a chance to talk peace to them, and that they will listen. However, I must advise you that they are led by a megalomaniac who listens to no one but himself. I am afraid that the Aldebran commander will be of a similar frame of mind, and will either shoot you out of hand, that or lie to you so that you lead our people into a trap, one in which we will not return.” Mark replied vehemently before continuing on in a softer vein.

“However, Bishop, as you say, you are the spiritual leader of our colony, I will therefore follow your wishes, I will even go with you to the Aldebran base.” Mark said for he had no intention of allowing Bishop Marley to risk his life unaccompanied.

Bishop Marley was just about to argue when Mark spoke of a couple of points that had occurred to him a little while earlier, when he had been away on his ill-fated mission.

“While I was away two things struck me Bishop, first off while I was watching the Aldebran patrol as it drove away from our position out there in the forest; it occurred to me that given the speed and range of their vehicles there is every likelihood that sooner or later they will chance upon the trail that ends up here. Tomorrow morning I want to take out a small team to hide the turn off, and also to wipe out any of our tracks in the vicinity.” Mark said.

Bishop Marley face paled when he thought of the consequences of such an event, and especially if it was before he had attempted to make peace with the Aldebrans, so he hurriedly agreed that Mark should use the next day to hide their own personal animal trail from any future searchers.

“The second thing was something said to me by our two drivers, about the motor cycle patrol Bishop, they could just as easily stumbled upon this camp and who knows what might have occurred, they might even have called their base and brought all hell down upon us. We need to post sentries at each of the roads that come into our camp, so that we are not surprised, for as I have just pointed out, the result could be calamitous.” Mark said grimly.

“You are quite correct Mark, and we have the people to spare, colonists who are begging to help us fight this war.” Bishop Marley replied, his colour having gone from healthy to sickly pallid in seconds. “I will leave it up to you to arrange, but please do it soon or I will never get a moment`s peace until you do.”

Mark spoke to the colonists and soon had four forward teams of ten colonists positioned at the four narrow trails that entered the camp, three on one side of the river, to the north, the west and the south of the camp and one on the other side of the river to the east of the camp. Their task would be cold and wet at times, boring for most of the time but essential for all of the time, however they all realised this after the episode with the motor bike patrol. They were under orders to hold their fire if possible but to take out any patrol that attempted to pass by them. Mark instructed the four colonists in charge of each of the details to keep the noise down to a minimum and not to light any fires; he then took each of these men to the four guard posts and told them where to position their detail so that they did not end up accidentally killing one of their own people. The guard would be changed every four hours and would be set from dawn until dusk each day; this meant that every colonist would take at least one turn on sentry duty every other day. During the night only two guards would be set at each of the posts and they would be equipped with their smart phone with permission to use it only if they had a definite sighting of their enemy.

 

**********

 

The next day the heavens opened and the rain fell down in sheets, even so the sentries were posted, although some of them did complain, Captain Larson was charged with overseeing the four details and also for arranging for the change of guard. Mark knew that Larson`s task would not be an easy one, however he was busy with the first of his security problems, he believed that they should use this opportunity to conceal the trail and then erase any tracks that they had made in the vicinity. However, two of the colonists asked by Bishop Marley to accompany Mark did not want to go, and one of them, Joe Butcher, made his feelings known.

“We will be utterly drenched, I can hardly see a foot in front of me, put it off until tomorrow man, the Aldebrans surely will not be out on a day like this.” Joe Butcher pleaded.

“The sky to the south is clearing Joe, the rain will soon let up here. Yes we might still get a little wet, and maybe we will feel rather uncomfortable, but this weather is perfect for us. As you rightly said, the Aldebrans drones will not be up on a day like this, however that black starship that my team watched hovering over us will. We need to take advantage of this weather, not hide away from it.” Mark replied angrily.

His speech turned the tide and he and five other colonists took the two smaller tracked vehicles, and a tractor, and set off for the beginning of their trail. When they got there they found that the rainstorm had erased all of their tracks, now it was their turn to do some work, they had to conceal the narrow trail from any passing Aldebrans. The sun finally emerged from behind the rapidly departing clouds, reminding them that their time was limited, soon the sky over the Aldebran camp would clear and they would then launch their drones.

Small deciduous trees lined the main trail with plenty of vegetation growing beneath the trees, the amount of light that penetrated through the open tree canopy making it grow quite vigorously. Their narrower trail was similarly lined and it was easy to dig up two large shrubs, after all of the rain, and replant them so that the trail was no longer visible. Mark then used the tractor to haul a fallen tree of the same type of those that lined the main trail and lay it behind the two shrubs. Finally he and his team move some more large shrubs, putting them behind the fallen tree. The six men now walked onto the main trail to look at their handiwork.

“We should fill in the space behind the nearest trees on either side of our trail, to complete the job; it is the only way to ensure our privacy.” Joe Butcher said. “If we must work in the wet then let us do the job properly.” He said with a smile playing around his mouth.

Two hours later and everyone was satisfied, and it was then that they heard the sound of explosions; they were coming from the west, just a short distance away from them. Joe Butcher climbed up one of the taller trees to get a better view of the cause of the explosions, what he saw shocked him.

“Two of the Aldebran drones are back in the air and they were firing at the forest, and no more than two miles away, something must have made them think that our camp is over that way.” Butcher called down, then he hurriedly climbed back down, jumping the last six feet. “That black starship has just arrived, and it has joined in; whatever they saw will soon be blasted into so many small pieces.”

“We must move the three vehicles out of sight of anything airborne, that small hollow we passed some three hundred yards back along our trail will do nicely. We can wait there until they finish pounding whatever they have found and leave, only then can we risk returning to our camp.” Mark said grimly.

“Our people are going to hear all of those explosions; they are going to think that we are under attack.” Ambrose Patel said anxiously.

“There is nothing that we can do about that Ambrose; to return now could bring hell down upon those whom you are attempting to protect.” Mark warned.

They waited for an hour after the explosions had finally finished, during that time the drones twice flew over their heads, but thankfully, they did not find the six colonists who had concealed their body heat from the searchers by pulling their emergency survival blankets around them. They had also covered their two small vehicles in this way; the Aldebrans would have to work a lot harder to find them. When all had been quiet for twenty minutes after the last drone had flown over them, they returned to their camp to be greeted by some very relieved wives and friends. The next day Mark and Richard went out to find out what the drones had been attacking. Ten miles away from their camp they came to an area of the forest that had been partially destroyed; on investigating further they found many of the fallen trees had been home to a large tribe of monkeys, they were all dead now, killed in mistake for the earthmen.

On their return to camp they reported all that they had found, Bishop Marley sat grim faced as he listened to their report, when they had completed their awful tale Bishop Marley looked Mark straight in the eye.

“Mark, yesterday the Aldebrans made an unprovoked attack on what they assumed was our camp, it has made me realise that maybe I was wrong to order you not to commence hostilities against the Aldebran military. However, before I order you to do just that, I am still determined to give peace a chance. That being so I am going to their camp tomorrow to speak to them, for there is always the chance that they were responding to your recce, seeing it as a hostile move.” Bishop Marley said.

“Then I will accompany you, as I promised, together we will make an attempt to end this madness.” Mark replied.

“No Mark, the people will need you to lead the war against the Aldebrans, should my attempt fail, I will go alone, that way I will only be putting my own life in danger.” Bishop Marley replied.

Bishop Marley last illusion had been blown away by the attack on the tribe of monkeys, he now felt that peace was a long way off, but he was determined to at least try to make peace with the Aldebrans, even if he now felt that it might well lead to his death, for what else could a man of god do?

 

**********

 

Early the next morning, and before the sun had risen, Mark drove Bishop Marley away from the camp; many people had tried to make him change his mind. Even his own wife, Joyce Marley, who bravely hid her tears until he had disappeared along the narrow winding trail, failed to persuade him to stay, but he refused to surrender to the coming violence without at least trying to stop it. They were in one of the smaller tracked vehicles and so Mark was able to drive onto the main track without dismantling there camouflage at the junction of the trail with the main track, although he had to take the vehicle off the track and pick up the main trail two hundred yards further along it, having ensured that he did not leave a clear trail behind them that their enemy could see and follow. Mark drove Bishop Marley to within five miles of the Aldebran camp, the last part of the journey being across the prairie.

They had to walk the final five miles; otherwise the noise of their vehicle would have had every Aldebran trooper racing towards them. One mile out and they came to the gully that cut through the prairie and wound past the Aldebran camp, this was the same gully that Mark and his team had used in their ill-fated recce. The enemy starships were still lit up by their landing lights, and it was half a mile out from them that Mark stopped to speak to Bishop Marley.

“Bishop, are you sure that you want to continue with your mission, the Aldebrans will not want to know, however they will want to know where our camp is, and they will torture you to find that information out.” Mark said in an attempt to get Bishop Marley to change his mind.

“Mark, I must do this, I could not live with myself knowing that I had chosen war without first attempting to make peace with the Aldebrans. As for extracting any information out of me by way of torture, well no one knows, not even Joyce, but I have a weak heart, it almost stopped when the Aldebrans made their initial attack, torture will almost certainly kill me.” Bishop Marley declared to an amazed Mark Summers.

Mark did not know how to respond to this news, so he did not answer, instead he took Bishop Marley`s night vision goggles from him and his survival blanket.

“I had better take these Bishop, the Aldebrans might not take kindly to the fact that the goggles are of Aldebran manufacture, and obviously taken off their comrades who we killed and buried. As for the blanket, well I do not want them knowing just how we are evading their scanners.”

Mark watched as Bishop Marley walked the final half mile to the edge of the Aldebran camp, feeling more of a coward with each step that Bishop Marley took. However, Mark could not afford to hang around, he moved rapidly back along the gully towards the open prairie, evading the odd sentry guarding the small Aldebran task force. One minute later Bishop Marley surrendered himself to a sentry, who was as amazed as Mark had been minutes earlier when Bishop Marley had told him of his medical condition.

 

**********

 

Bishop Marley was led aboard the North Wind by two of the sentries; Commander Oshiro had decided to interrogate him there as the craft had a translator program built into its main computer.

“Earthman, I am so happy that you have decided to give yourself up, that is how it should have been from the start, if you wanted to be treated correctly and without any harm coming to you. Now if you will help us in our efforts to have your people removed from the planet, we will ensure that while you are a guest here, that your confinement will be a comfortable one.” Oshiro said. He was smiling for he now assumed he had a good chance to successfully end his mission over the next few days, one way or another.

“I am Bishop Marley, I am in charge of the spiritual needs of my people, and I should state right now that I have no intention of betraying my people. I am here to talk peace, to arrange for our two peoples to live together on this planet.”

“Bishop Marley, if you did not come here to assist us in our task, namely organising the removal of your people off P1056, then this part of our meeting is at an end. You are part of an illegal colonisation of this planet; one long claimed by our emperor, you are hereby arrested as a spy. If you do not willingly answer our questions then we will have to get the information we require the painful way.” Oshiro said grimly, an ugly smile appeared upon his face as his mind savoured the thought.

Bishop Marley assumed correctly that the soldier was delighting in his thoughts of torturing him; it would seem that Joyce and Mark were correct and that the Aldebran leadership were barbarians. He hoped that he could stand up to it long enough, and that if he must endure such suffering that his end came quickly, for he did not know how he would cope when the pain increased beyond that which he had suffered during his lifetime. He decided to use the short time left to him to think of his life with Joyce, they had been so happy when they had been chosen to lead the New Caledonian colony.

Oshiro turned to Karin. “I regret the need to use your starship as an interrogation chamber Captain Karin, unfortunately you have the only translator on the planet that has this man`s language installed into its memory banks.” Oshiro said almost apologetically before turning back to Bishop Marley.

“Now Bishop Marley, where are your people camped, please show me on our map?” Oshiro asked as he pulled out a small scale map of the region.

When Bishop Marley refused to answer his question Oshiro immediately struck him hard, knocking Bishop Marley back against the wall. For five minutes Oshiro put questions to Bishop Marley, and each time he received silence as a reply, and each time his method to extract an answer grew ever more violent. It was then that Bishop Marley`s heart stopped beating, on seeing that his prisoner was dead Oshiro screamed in anger and kicked the dead body of Bishop Marley again and again. Finally he was sated and turning to the two sentries had them remove the body.

Two miles away Mark was holding onto the upper branches of a tall forest tree, it was from this position that he saw the limp body of his friend carried from the smaller starship and taken to the small cemetery began by the colonists after the initial attack. He watched as they dug a shallow grave and placed the body into it, Mark said a prayer as he watched the two sentries cover the body with soil. Sad at heart he returned to his vehicle and drove back to camp; here he broke the news to Joyce Marley and the other colonists. Some of the colonists wanted to execute their prisoners immediately, it was only Joyce Marley`s intervention that stopped the colonists from turning into a lynch mob.

 

Chapter Nine

 

Revenge

 

Joyce Marley, the widow of Bishop Marley, was asked by all of the colonists to take over the spiritual needs of the colony, to lead them in the ways of the lord. She happily agreed, and was given the special ecclesiastical rank of shepherd, a rank used occasionally by the Church of the Universe when it is impossible to send someone who has been ordained a minister of their Church. Later that day she approached Mark, she needed to make her feelings known to the man who was being urged by the colonists to retaliate against the Aldebrans.

“Please listen to me Mark, as with the other colonists, I too want you to commence operations against the Aldebran military, all I ask of you is to not take insane risks that might result in many deaths and injuries to our friends.” Joyce Marley said in a low voice that carried no further than Mark. “Vernon would not have wanted it, and neither do I.”

“Of course Joyce, I will do exactly as you say.” Mark stopped here for a moment while he thought over what he wanted to say to a brave woman, and finally he was ready.

“Joyce, I have heard some fools say that your husband`s death was futile, let me say here and now that it was not, he firmly believed in peace and died in an attempt to stop this insane war which will almost certainly result in many more deaths. It should never be wrong to countenance peace, the problem this time is that our enemy is led by a megalomaniac, one who does not care a fig for the life of anyone except his own, and this philosophy had spread across the entire leadership of the planet, especially amongst their military.” Mark said grimly.

Tears ran down Joyce Marley`s face after hearing Mark`s kind words. “Thank you Mark, for those words, I know that Vernon would have appreciated them, for he thought a lot of you. After you saved the colonists when those animals made their unprovoked attack upon us, he said that you were the only person on the planet that stood a chance of saving our lives.” Joyce Marley stopped here for a moment, but then she looked directly into Mark`s eyes.

“He would not say what I know he must have thought, but I will, if those animals we have captured do attempt to escape, hurting or killing as they do so, I will take up a Phaser rifle and gladly execute them all to a man.” She said grimly, then a troubled frown appeared on her face. “Mark, does that make me just as evil as they are?”

“No Joyce, it makes you as human as the rest of us, we may not be faultless, but at least we try to be, our enemy cannot say that.” Mark replied, and smiled down upon a woman wrought with feelings of self-doubt, but who he was sure would be as good a leader as her husband had been.

 

**********

 

The colonists had been asking for a meeting to be held to discuss their demands, they wanted Mark to do something to revenge the death of Vernon Marley, a man who put his search for peace beyond his own life. Mark was happy to accommodate them, but not until he had given the matter some thought. After hours of deliberating he came up with a plan that he was sure would put the fear of god within the hearts of the Aldebran troopers.

“There is only one way for us to conduct this war, as guerrilla fighters, assassins in the night, and our first mission will be one of bloody revenge. I will lead a team of five other sharpshooters to the Aldebran camp; there we will attack the camp over a period of two nights. I already know the men to pick, and I will explain the mission to them when this meeting breaks up.” Mark said grimly.

“Just the six of you, Mark we all want to go.” Joe Butcher complained.

“I know that Joe, and believe me when I say that everyone will be involved in the defeat of the Aldebran troopers, and dangerously so, but not this time, this time what is needed is a clinical operation that should result in no loss of life on our part. If more of our people joined the party there would be too many deaths, as your leader I am unwilling to avenge Bishop Marley by spilling our blood, he would not have wanted that. Please be patient, there are two hundred Aldebrans on the planet, enough to go around, you will soon be in the thick of it.

The meeting broke up here with most of the colonists feeling content with Mark`s decision, as for Mark, he turned to Richard Rider.

“Richard, could you arrange to have two days supplies made ready for eight men, while I get my team together?” Mark asked.

“As long as you understand Mark that the first man you will ask to join your team is me and that I hereby agree to go with you.” Richard said.

Mark shook his friend`s hand. “Thank you Richard, I must admit to being a little anxious about asking you, seeing as how you have seen so much action already.”

Richard immediately began to gather the stores while Mark spoke to four of the colonists who he knew were quite expert in handling a rifle, all of them agreed to go, even if the mission scared them when he told them of it.

Two colonists volunteered to transport them in the two smaller tracked vehicles, the same men who had taken Mark on his last sortie against the Aldebrans, the one that had resulted in Robbie being injured. They left that afternoon, and as before their journey was a long one, lasting well into the night, they were finally dropped off just two hours walk away from the Aldebran camp. The two drivers then drove deep into the forest where they rested up until it was time to return to the drop off point, where they would collect their friends.

It was four in the morning when Mark and his team finally approached the sentries; the area was brightly lit as before by the landing lights of the starships. They slipped quietly along the dark gully towards the troopers guarding the four starships. Richard Rider and Joe Finney stopped near to the salvage ship to await their chance. John McIntire and Karl Meiser stopped near to the freighter. McIntire had done a fair amount of work photographing wild life from close up, and was very skilled in stealthily creeping up on his target. Mark and the final member of the team Rogé Patel carried on along the gully until they reached the troopship; it was here that they also stopped. The first part of the mission that these six men were engaged on was to kill the sentries on guard, and without alerting the sleeping Aldebran troopers.

Richard could see that his targets were bored, they were certainly not afraid of becoming one of the targets of a commando style raid. One of the sentries he was watching, a tall thin man, checked his watch, it was time to check the perimeter and so the man walked slowly away to commence his routine check that all was well on the other side of the massive starship. His comrade, a smaller stouter man was searching the sky for his home star; the sky was dark now, for the larger of the two moons had finally set beneath the far horizon; however the bright landing lights of the starships meant that his night vison was compromised. Seeing his chance Richard crept quietly forward, his body almost brushing the ground, while Joe Finney had stayed in the gully, covering Richard with his rifle. The quiet of the night was suddenly broken by the howls of the local wolf, the sentry turned to look into the night in search of the animal, swearing at it for breaking his studies of the night sky. Richard suddenly reared up behind the sentry who only saw him at the final moment, he attempted to cry out but Richard`s knife sliced across his throat, and only a soft gurgle came from the mouth of the rapidly dying man. Even though Joe had wanted revenge upon the Aldebrans, seeing it in action caused his muscles to almost give out on him, shocked by what he had seen he was only able to stare at the dead sentry. Richard threw the dead man down into the gulley and then went back for the sentry`s weapon. Seeing that his friend was in a temporary state of shock Richard dropped down beside Joe and had to shake him to jolt him out of his shocked state.

“Sorry about that Richard, but it is the first time that I have seen a man killed in cold blood.” Joe Finney blurted out in the quietest of whispers.

“That is all right Joe, now you know why I left the army, even when the enemy might well deserve death, each such act as this kills a small piece of your soul, I came to New Caledonia to get clear away from it.” Richard said grimly with no trace of humour.

Joe felt an enormous amount of sympathy well up inside him as he looked at his friend, and he thanked god that he had not been asked to commit such an act. They now waited for the second sentry to return. Richard had concealed himself behind a large rock, while Joe, who was dressed in the heavy overcoat and metal helmet of the dead sentry, was relieving himself on the far side of the rock.

The tall sentry came over to him. “Mind if I join you?” He said moving into the space between Joe and the rock and unzipping his trousers.

Richard came around behind the sentry and moments later he too was dead. Joe stood still for a moment longer while he came to terms with being a commando. “Some ruthless killer I am, the mere thought of killing a man close up almost makes me faint.”

Richard looked at his friend and smiled, for he knew that when the time came he would do what was needed of him, especially as it was to revenge the murder of his bishop.

 

**********

 

John McIntire and Karl Meiser were watching their own targets, the first was a stocky looking sentry, he was leaning up against the freighter while smoking a cigarette, the second man was of a similar height but he was going to fat. John McIntire and Karl Meiser had never killed another person before, now they had to psych themselves up to do so from close up, although both had been on Mark`s team that had surprised Commander Lu-Song, neither man was looking forward to committing the deed. Mark had told them both what this mission entailed when he had asked them to join him on this mission of revenge, stressing to John McIntire, his own bloody part. Both men had agreed, for they had admired Vernon Marley and wanted to see his sudden death avenged. Now they crouched down in the darkened gully and waited for their chance. It came when the second sentry moved off and began to walk around the freighter to ensure that all was well. The first man had finished his cigarette and decided that he also needed to take a leak. The sentry ambled across to the gully and luckily stood on the other side of a leafy shrub to the two colonists.

John McIntire knew that he could not afford to hesitate while committing the deed, to do so could see one or both of the colonists killed and the lives of the other four men put at risk. As the sound of liquid hitting the bottom of the gully broke the quiet, McIntire geared himself up to the task, he quietly climbed out of the gully and around the far side of the large shrub and without a moment’s hesitation pushed his hunting knife deep into the side of the sentry, his other hand stifling the cries of pain that left the dying man`s mouth. McIntire then twisted the knife and pulled it sharply from his victim, when he knew that life was leaving his victim`s body he slit the man`s throat. The man died quickly now, so McIntire grabbed the now heavy body around its chest, and then he allowed the bloody body to slip quietly down into the darkened gully where Karl Meiser was waiting to lay it down upon the floor. McIntire quickly dropped back down into the gully, he too was in a state of partial shock, Karl Meiser saw this immediately and took charge. First he collected the dead sentry`s rifle, as Mark had ordered, then he waited for the second sentry to return. Karl Meiser seeing that his friend was still a little shaky after the death of the sentry volunteered to take care of the second man, and John McIntire was only too happy to accept the offer.

The sentry finally returned and came to the gully looking for his comrade, he called out his name, then he felt a sharp burning at his throat, Karl Meiser then pushed the dead man away from him, the body falling close to John McIntire, landing with a crumpled thump as it hit the ground. The two men collected the second rifle and returned silently along the gully to where Richard Rider and Joe Finney were waiting. Neither man spoke for both were in a light state of shock, cold bloodedly killing someone with a knife does that to you the first few times, unless you are just plain evil.

 

**********

 

Mark and Rogé Patel were the last of the team to complete their mission; their victims were standing near the troopship wondering when this shift would ever end, although they knew that it would only end when the sun came up over the eastern horizon. They decided to walk around the troopship together, to ensure that all was well on the other side where the rest of the troopers were sleeping within their tents. Five minutes later and they reappeared at the other end of the troopship and stopped to light a cigarette. Leaning their rifles against one of the strong landing legs of the troopship, the taller of the two men pulled out his last packet of cigarettes and offered one to his comrade. Taking one out the second man was just about to pull out his lighter when he saw a knife appear beneath his chin, Mark had been concealed behind the landing leg of the starship, the sentry`s death was quick and quiet.

The second sentry stood there too shocked to move for a moment but as he began to reach for his rifle Rogé Patel reached forward and putting one hand over his victim`s mouth, slit the man`s throat.

Rogé let the man fall to the floor to lay crumpled at his feet. “So you are avenged Bishop Marley, now it is time for us to avenge our other friends.”

Mark and Rogé were just about to leave when they saw movement; the sergeant on duty had decided to check up on the sentries, starting with the one detailed to guard the special operations starship.

Mark knew that to leave now was impossible, to do so would soon bring the Aldebran camp to life and risk everything, especially his team`s lives. The sergeant was only minutes away from him, giving Mark little time to think; thankfully Rogé Patel was there to aid him. Mark quickly told Patel what he wanted done, first he pulled out the belt out from the trousers of Rogé`s victim, Patel now rolled the body over and then used his knife to cut a slit down from the collar of the trooper`s heavy overcoat, one the sentry wore as the spring mornings were rather cool on this part of New Caledonia. Now they stood the dead body upright and tied the belt around the trooper`s neck and a part of the landing leg, concealing the belt beneath the heavy overcoat. Rogé Patel now dragged the body of the second sentry and dropped it into the gully and then he slipped back down into the gully while Mark donned the other trooper`s coat and once again waited behind the landing leg.

“Troopers Malin, Rapee, where are you hiding, you are supposed to be on guard duty?” A loud voice demanded to know.

The Sergeant now saw Trooper Malin, and assumed that he was dozing while on duty, his last act was to approach the dead trooper; it was now that Rogé Patel made a noise causing the sergeant to turn around to investigate it.

“Is that you Trooper Rapee?” The sergeant called out.

The sergeant being distracted allowed Mark to move silently forward and for the second time that night he killed a man without warning. Mark took the dead sentry`s coat off, he said thank you to Rogé Patel but he had not needed it. He then picked up the dead troopers` rifles, gave one to his friend to carry and then followed Rogé Patel back up the gully to their waiting friends. The sun was just showing over the far horizon, they needed to be away before someone spotted them.

“Ok team let`s head into the prairie and rest up until tonight.” Mark ordered and led the way rapidly into the long grass.

They had already got a place in mind to rest up in; Rogé Patel had found it while returning from the patrol the day after Richard and his team had found the site for the new camp. It was yet another gully, this one though was very narrow, however, at the start of it was a manmade cave, it was another temple of the ancients, albeit a rather small affair, maybe a rustic shrine or a local sanctuary to a minor deity. Nothing much was left of it, only the worked stone and what looked as if it might once have been a sacrificial altar, which was at the far end of the cave, there was also signs that a spring had once flowed through it, and it had probably created the narrow gully outside of the cave. Mark hung their survival blankets over the small opening in an attempt to keep out the heat and the light, and also to ensure that during the early morning, or late afternoon, their heat signatures did not escape from the confines of the cave.

Commando Oshiro sent half of his force out to scour the forest in search of the earthmen, thinking they must have headed back to their new camp which he knew must be somewhere deep inside the vast forest that stretched across much of the northern part of the large continent that the Church of the Universe had chosen to colonise. The forest was broken only by the vast prairie that stretched from the far north and down through the middle of the continent until it met one of the vast oceans of New Caledonia. He used all of the drones to assist in the search, as well as the North Wind, although it was high in the sky. Captain Karin had been given back the task of ensuring that the earthmen did not call home, which was why the North Wind was not flying just above the tree tops. However, as night fell they were no closer to finding the colonists` new encampment, or the Earth commandoes who had mounted their audacious attack.

That night saw the number of sentries increased to eighteen; six around each starship, as for the North Wind, it was high above the forest ensuring that the colonists did not attempt to call Earth again. Not only did Oshiro want to ensure that his men could not be taken out again, but also that the starships that they guarded were also protected against a commando style raid. He thought that with this many sentries, all of whom were under the cone of light thrown out by the landing lights of the starships that no further raids would be made.

 

**********

 

Four hours after the sun set Mark led his team slowly through the tall prairie grass towards the Aldebran starships. He did not need a map, the light thrown out by the starships was clearly visibly even below the far horizon. He stopped when they reached the top of a small hill; they were only two hundred meters away from their targets. Before them, clearly visible because of the lighting, he saw the eighteen sentries who were his team`s initial targets. His team did not need to be told what to do; he had explained it to them twice that day, once just before they had left the small shrine under the prairie.

They spread out along the top of the hill, with Mark at the far end, and settled down for the pigeon shoot. The rest of the Aldebran task force had retired into their tents for the night, for it was almost two in the morning. Seeing the sentries clearly under the lights Mark decided that the time for the second part of his plan had come. The other members of the team could also see that the time for action was upon them, they looked across at Mark who flashed a small torch just once, this was the signal for the team to open fire with their Phaser rifles. The sound of the energy bolts as they whistled through the air before striking their targets woke the sleeping Aldebrans, and when they rushed into the lighted area to aid their comrades, they found that silence has settled over the prairie, except for the moans coming from those amongst the eighteen sentries who had not died when the powerful energy bolts hit their bodies. The arrival of the bulk of the Aldebran task force was the signal for Mark and his team to open fire yet again.

As the silence of the night was broken again by the loud whistling sounds of the energy bolts tearing through the night air, Oshiro realised that it had been a trap, that he had been duped. He screamed for the lights on the starships to be extinguished, for another eighteen men had already fallen to ground, once again hit by the Phaser fire whistling in from the dark prairie. The troopers either found cover or hugged the ground, then they opened fire upon Mark and his team. Their location was instantly known to the troopers, for they can see where the energy bolts are coming from, soon the area below and upon the brow of the hill was being plastered by powerful energy bolts.

However, Mark and his team had already left, what was firing upon the Aldebran task force were their own weapons. The rifles that Mark had asked to be brought back from the night before had been set up to fire continually, and as the team faded away into the night, the weapons provided them with covering fire. The Aldebrans wary of becoming a statistic kept their heads down, that is until the Phasers firing upon them ran out of power, then they moved warily forward to find that their attackers had long disappeared into the night.

As Mark and his team headed towards their transport, that should be patiently waiting for them having returned during the night to the pickup point, Oshiro spent these vital hours waiting until daylight to search for commandoes, too scared to track them down during the night for fear of walking into yet another trap. Mark and his team were sitting in their camp as the first Aldebran troopers dared enter the forest in search of them.

As for the North Wind, Karin had feared that the colonists would use the opportunity to call Earth, should he move across to search for the commandoes, and so he had stayed put giving Mark and his team a clear drive home.

 

**********

 

This fear upon the part of the Aldebran troopers was not lost upon some of the Aldebran farmers, who spent the first hour after the sun had risen talking amongst themselves.

“They are cowards, the farmers from Earth have already beaten them, we only have to wait for the cowards to realise it and run for home.” Andreas declared boldly.

“And what will happen to us then, I will tell you Andreas, the earthmen will come for us.” Kronos replied anxiously, Kronos was of a similar age to Andreas; however, he had become weighed down with fear back on Aldebra, now he jumped at his own shadow.

“No they will not, for they have already told me that we should share this green planet together, all we have to do is stay here when the troopers leave.” Andreas said.

“You have spoken to the commandoes Andreas, tell us, are they soldiers or farmers?” Arron asked, he was a younger man than Andreas, and easily fired up with courage. “Are they giants or just like us?”

“They are farmers Arron, but they all possess Phaser rifles, they brought them here to hunt the animals that live on this planet by the million, have we not seen them when we accompanied our brave soldiers on their hunt. Brave are our soldiers against beasts that do not possess Phasers.” Andreas replied.

The other farmers who had come to the meeting were now fired up; however Kronos was still full of worry.

“When the soldiers leave they will take us with them.” Kronos declared anxiously.

“No, Kronos, we will watch them, when they begin to load their troopship we will disappear into the forest. Take nothing with you except for a little food and water; we do not have anything worth dying for in any case, just the rubbish that they make us purchase.” Andreas stated boldly. “My friends from Earth will look after us, even their cast offs will be better than the goods that I have in my hovel.”

 

**********

 

Oshiro knew that he must take action, or face being replaced as commander and then sent home in disgrace. He had decided against using their vehicles, he now realised that the noise made by them would only make it easier for the colonists to mount more ambushes, no, he decided that it would be better to set up a series of covert bases deep within the forest, the troopers would then wait for the colonists to pass nearby and launch attacks against them. Although the moral of his men was at rock bottom, he knew that they would not dare to desert by fleeing into the forest, waiting there for him to leave P1056, for they feared the wrath of their emperor even more than they feared the earthmen.

Oshiro then called the starship captains into his office aboard the troopship; he had come to another decision, this time regarding the security of two starships and the men set to guard them.

“Captain Hung you will take your freighter up to the smaller of this planet`s two moons, once there you will wait until ordered to do otherwise.” Oshiro ordered a very relieved Hung who feared an early death if he remained on the planet much longer.

Oshiro now turned to the captain of the troopship. “Captain Mi-Ling, you will accompany Captain Hung in your troopship, I will have my wounded troopers put aboard your ship, it will relieve me of their security. You are also to stay there and await further orders.”

Oshiro now turned to the captain of the salvage vessel. “Captain Weel, I suggest that you get your crew to work harder, I lost almost a quarter of my men last night, and my command will be stretched in the week ahead as we actively hunt down the earthmen. Therefore I cannot guarantee to keep your vessel safe from attack during that period; maybe you should move to a landing site further away and fly here each morning to work upon the earth ship.”

Captain Weel was about to protest about the costs of doing such a thing, however, he had second thoughts, being away from the main company of troopers made a lot of sense, however he did have a question.

“What about the security of my men when we are working Commander, will you provide some then?” Weel asked.

“I have thought of that Captain, I will give you a squad of men, they will be stationed aboard your starship, only leaving it when your men are in or around the colonist`s ship, they will set up a perimeter around your team to ensure that you can work without fear or danger.”

Oshiro now called Captain Karin on the radio. “Captain Karin, I need you to step up operations, if you need any of my men they are yours, but I need you to work up to twenty fours a day, we need to wipe the colonists off the face of the planet before they do likewise to us. I have ordered Captain Weel to find a new landing site, one far away from here for his own protection; you can join him when you are on the ground. As for the other two starships, they are about to leave for this planet`s smaller moon to ensure that they too are out of harm`s way. I will then be able to concentrate on my war against the earthmen and not on the safety of our starships.”

Karin knew that Oshiro did not have any men that would be of use to him, however the rest of Oshiro`s plan did make sense. Therefore, he reluctantly agreed to increase the hours that the North Wind would be operating each day, and as the commander had stated, Oshiro would not need to worry about the security of the starships; instead he could spend his time waging an all-out war against a dangerous opponent.

Oshiro breathed with relief, with the security of the spacecraft now somebody else’s problem, his life would be a little easier, all he had to do now was win a war against a very able enemy. However, Oshiro did not have a base to defend now, the earthmen did, the way the war had been waged so far was about to change in his favour, and his men were trained to kill.

 

**********

 

The armed freighter Genesis commanded by Magnus Smart was in a high orbit above the vast forest, it was still carrying out its search for the colonists, but without any luck. They had witnessed the fire fight at the Aldebran`s base but had not been able to follow Mark and his team back to their camp, for Mark had ensured that they all donned their survival blankets, just in case the North Wind came in search of them.

“Sir, two of the Aldebran spacecraft have lifted off from the planet`s surface, they appear to be moving up through the planet`s atmosphere, we are in danger of being discovered.” Captain Isaacs said anxiously.

Smart looked at the screen and saw the two flashing blips, he had been getting increasingly angry at not being able to locate the colonists, he now decided to take this anger out on someone else.

“Captain, when the two starships pass through 18000 feet fire upon them with our Phaser, I suggest that you move closer to the planet`s atmosphere, our equipment is hardly state of the art, we need as large a target as possible to ensure success. Let us rid this Eden of some of the sinners that have infested it.” Smart ordered.

 

**********

 

Captain Mi-Ling aboard the troopship was soon notified of the freighter approaching his position; he knew that it was obviously not from Aldebra, could it be a rescue ship from Earth, this would be very awkward for Aldebra?

“Commander Oshiro, this is the troopship Defiant, a freighter of unknown origin has just left orbit around P1056 and is now on a course that will bring it near to us and the freighter.” The communications officer of the troopship said nervously.

Commander Oshiro was also worried by this turn of events, he left his headquarters tent and looked up at the sky, he was just in time to see first one fireball, and then a second one, explode far above him, moments later and he saw flaming debris falling back down to the planet. His mind was racing, how should he react to this unexpected turn of events? To send the North Wind up to investigate could see him lose this ship as well, its Phaser weapon was designed to fire down at the ground, not in front or above it. If he sent it up after the alien ship, the aliens would destroy the North Wind before it even left the planet`s atmosphere,. Moreover, in the coming days the North Wind would be crucial to his plans; no he would wait and see what the newcomer did next. However, he did send a message to the North Wind and the salvage vessel telling them of the armed freighter, and for them to be ready to react to an attack from this unknown newcomer.

 

**********

 

On the freighter Genesis, Magnus Smart was feeling a lot better, his tension has gone and he was once more the amiable religious fanatic that he always was. “I think we have now attracted their attention Captain, have your communications officer listen out for any attempts by the aliens to call for assistance, and please be sure to jam any such attempt.”

 

**********

 

Oshiro was still looking anxiously up at the sky, however it took him but a moment to consider what to do, he walked over to the large tent that was temporarily his office and headquarters building and he spoke to his own communications officer.

“Lo-Man, put a call into Aldebra, request assistance against what must be a starship from the space fleet of Earth.” Oshiro ordered.

One minute later and Lo-Man called across to him. “Sir, we are being jammed by a very powerful device; I cannot get a call through to Aldebra, not with this equipment.”

Oshiro turned and stared angrily at his young officer, he knew what the officer had not said, that the necessary equipment had been on the troopship that was now so much space debris. Not wanting to show outright rage before a junior rank, he first got control of his anger and only then did he reply.

“Keep on trying Lo-Man; let me know when you get through.”

Oshiro left his headquarters and walked quickly into the prairie to think, things were not going well. If it was a starship from Earth why had it not contacted the colonists, why had it attacked two unarmed ships and left his base and the other two starships alone? This brought to mind the communications equipment aboard the North Wind, surely that would be strong enough to punch through the jamming? However, to attempt to do so might cause the newcomer to destroy the North Wind. Oshiro decided to wait and see what the future held.

 

**********

 

Mark had seen the two starships lift off from the planet`s surface, they had flown quite near to the colonists` new camp as they gained height, he had also seen the two explosions in the sky, saw the burning debris spiralling down through the atmosphere, so he too was wondering what had caused it, could rescue be at hand?

Just minutes later he saw the third of the Aldebran starships after it had lifted off and it too flew over their camp, but it did not head into space, it turned and flew west over the prairie, flying at no more than five hundred feet above the ground until it disappeared from his view. Mark decided to call a meeting of the colony`s senior people to hear what they thought about the curious happenings, and when they had gathered he started off proceedings.

“If a space cruiser from Earth did attack and destroy the two starships then it did so after failing to make contact with us, for the Communications Centre is sitting two hundred yards away, and to stop the Aldebrans from finding us it has not been switched on. I would like to hear the opinions of everyone here as to whether we should move the Communications Centre over to the cave that Richard`s team found and attempt to make contact with the ship.” Mark said.

Captain Larson was the first to offer an explanation regarding the strange events. “If the twin explosions and subsequent falling debris were in fact the two Aldebran starships that left the surface of New Caledonia, then I can offer two explanations that could explain it. One, that they collided with each other, however I do not believe that the crews of the two ships were that poor, two that the Aldebrans sacrificed the two starships to make us believe that rescue was at hand and that we would then attempt to communicate with the space cruiser, giving our location away.”

His second explanation effectively doused the high spirits of everyone and Richard now spoke. “Captain Larson, your first explanation was wrong, what you did not see, for you were in one of the caves when the incident began, was two separate fireballs, the ships did not collide they were ruthlessly taken out by Phasers. However, I do not believe that a space cruiser from Earth has arrived, for why should it fire upon what were most probably two unarmed ships and leave the other two starships, and the Aldebran troopers, alone.”

Joyce Marley now spoke. “I am forced to admit that I too am at a loss to offer any reasonable explanation regarding the twin explosions.” She then turned to Mark. “If you want it cleared up then you will have to get your hands on an Aldebran officer, until then I suggest that we forget it for the moment, until we get more data.”

“Well what you have all said sums up my own feelings, and that is why I am not going to set up the Communications Centre but instead take up the suggestion made by Joyce. The forest is full of Aldebran patrols, why do we not ambush one and find an answer to the question?” Mark said.

 

**********

 

Now both the Aldebrans and the colonists were looking to ambush the patrols of the other side, their reasons behind their decisions differed but they both decided on using similar tactics, however, the Aldebran forces greatly outnumbered those that Mark was willing to send out. A number of the colonists were itching to get to grips with their enemy, however Mark knew that to succumb to their demands would lead to even more deaths, or even worse, their being tortured into leading the Aldebrans to the colonists’ camp. Even the most ardent believer in retribution could not argue against this chilling warning, so his team always had himself or Richard in it. However, he decided that after this patrol he would not only alternate the other positions on the team, but send two teams out, with Richard in command of the second team This was to give the present members a chance to recover from the stress caused by the constant fear of an attack upon them, that and rest the tired muscles that were not accustomed to being used so much.

Ricardo Malic had once again consented to join them, Richard Rider had of course, Susan Summers had demanded to be included, and Penny Rider would have done except that she had sprained her ankle, Captain Larson was another man who had asked to be included; so that he would experience the dangers that Mark and his team accepted now as everyday life. Also included on today’s patrol were John McIntire, Rogé Patel, Karl Meiser and finally Chief Engineer Peterson who had also requested to go on the patrol to see if he could take the stresses involved and the energy needed on the long marches. A slightly larger team than normal, and one which encompassed two men from the Ark`s crew who, Mark thought, would be used to thinking on their feet. Robbie was asked to take over Captain Larson`s duty relating to the four guard posts, to which he agreed for he was getting restless.

The sun was just rising when they left their camp, using the two smaller tracked vehicles to take them as far as the main track, there the two drivers left them to return to base, they would be back to collect them one hour before sunset that day, and each day after that until the team returned. The two small vehicles had been overloaded with the colonists and all of their equipment, but no one complained. Mark did not know it, but limiting the use of the vehicles probably stopped his team from running into one of the ten squads of troopers who had moved into the forest the day before, and who now lay in wait for any unsuspecting team of colonists to pass by their position. Each squad comprised of twelve troopers, their orders to stay out until recalled, they had taken just their food, water and a few personal possessions to see to their hygiene. Three of the teams were still moving forward, bringing them ever nearer to the colonists’ camp, soon, Oshiro hoped, they would be ideally placed to take out the feared commandoes of Earth.

After leaving the two vehicles, Mark and his team walked slowly along the main track, a track wide enough to take an armoured vehicle with room to spare. Their every sense searching for signs of their enemy, with half of them hoping that today the patrol would be uneventful. They would have preferred to move off the main track and take to one of the narrower side trails that were impassable to the heavy vehicles. Mark though was of the opinion that the enemy would patrol the forest in the safety of their armoured halftracks, as they had done before, and the noisy diesel engines would give them adequate warning of their approach and allow his team to move off the trail. At the moment he did not realise that the enemy now held a distinct advantage, for not only were no longer using their vehicles within the forest but they were now mounting an anti-insurgency operation.

They had been walking for two hours when Mark decided that his team would soon be in need of a rest stop, he did not want them exhausted, should the need to move fast occur. Richard knew of a small grassy meadow nearby, it was one hundred yards along an almost invisible side track that they were fast approaching, he mentioned it now in the hope that Mark would call a rest stop, and he was thankful that Mark did.

“OK everyone, we are moving off the main track, we can rest up in the meadow that Richard has just mentioned, he came across it on his earlier voyage of discovery into this part of New Caledonia.” Mark told the rest of the team in his usual quiet voice when on patrol, used to ensure that it did not carry through the quiet woodland to a nearby trooper.

He moved forward then to speak to Peterson who was taking his turn as their point man. “Chief, turn off when you reach that narrow trail that you can see just ahead of you.” And then Mark waited for the others to catch up with him before continuing on.

Chief engineer Peterson duly turned off up the narrow trail and when he reached the small meadow he sat down on a fallen log because he was more than just tired, not being used to so much exercise. He had decided he would allow the rest of the team to join him before getting to his feet and would enter the meadow with the rest of the team, The meadow was small, about one hundred feet in diameter, it had obviously not been grazed by the planet`s deer lately, for the grass was thick and over a foot in height. As they entered the meadow from one side, an unsuspecting Aldebran squad of troopers had already entered it from the other side, meaning to make it their centre of operations. The Aldebran troopers were about half way across the meadow when the two sides saw each other, and at the same moment. Both sides immediately hugged the ground while bringing their weapons into a firing position.

Mark looked for Susan, and found her, he knew that they were in a very dangerous situation and he wanted a way out for Susan, and also for the rest of his team. He glanced back at the trees, they were less than ten feet behind his team, and they offered solid cover. “Edge slowly back to the trees, but keep your butts down.” Mark ordered as he squeezed off a shot in the general direction of the troopers, the powerful bolt of energy whistling through the grass, burning it as it went.

Both sides began to open fire, and for the first few seconds no one had been killed on either side, although Captain Larson`s arm had been badly burnt when a Phaser bolt had whistled passed him. Heads bobbed above the grass to look for a target and Mark had his hair parted when he lined up a shot, he could smell his singed hair but Susan had hastily assured him that his hair was not alight. Then the powerful Phaser bolts began to hit their targets, two Aldebran troopers screamed out when their lives were taken, and then Chief Engineer Peterson slumped face down, a Phaser bolt had exploded in his face.

“Call for assistance, tell them we are battling the Earth commandoes.” The Aldebran Sub Officer ordered his radio man.

Unfortunately, the North Wind was not in the air at the moment, Chief Engineer Yung was just finishing off servicing their atmospheric engine, Karin wanted to ensure that the recent repairs to the starship were holding up under constant use. Maybe he should not have done it when the troopers were actively searching for the colonists, but tiredness had addled his brain. It took fifteen minutes for Yung and Manchu to put the engine back together, and only then did they lift off and head towards the fire fight, moving at their best possible speed to make up for lost time.

While Yung was working on his engine, energy bolts were criss-crossing the meadow, the loud whistling sound they made as they destroyed the air that they were passing through sounded like a dozen enraged demons. Mark and his team finally reached the cover of the trees; here they fanned out, using the cover provided they sent a stream of energy bolts screaming across the meadow, the troopers now found themselves at a massive disadvantage. Even so they did not retreat, two energy bolts from their rifles exploding against the tree that sheltered Mark, for a moment he was temporarily shocked, but he had been under fire before. He returned the fire and immediately took out one of the troopers, who had being lining up for another shot on Mark. Three more troopers died where they lay in the grass, taken out by the sharpshooters that Mark had selected for this sortie. The remaining six troopers broke and ran, exposing their backs to the earthmen; the colonists sent seven bolts of energy chasing after the fleeing troopers. Five died almost immediately, but one, shot by Karl Meiser, who was an expert marksman, was only hit in his right leg, he collapsed to the ground screaming in pain, his own rifle laying in the grass and forgotten now.

Mark and his team moved from behind the trees and ran forward to check on their enemy, they found only the last one to fall was still alive. Mark scanned the nearby ground searching for the body of the sub-officer, he wanted to take any documents that he had on him, what he saw was the radio laying in the cropped grass, it was still on, and knew that they had but minutes to get away, maybe only seconds. Mark looked over at the fallen trooper, who looked more like a scared rabbit than a man; the trooper was waiting for an energy bolt to finish him off. When Mark moved towards him to tend to his wound he shrank away, fear filling his eyes, fearful that the knife in Mark`s hand was about to be used to kill him.

“Do not wet yourself Trooper; I am only going to patch up your leg.” Mark assured the trooper in his broken Aldebran, and then used the knife to quickly cut the trooper`s trouser leg off.

He now turned to Rogé Patel. “Rogé, find the body of the officer and see if he has any papers on him.” Mark called across to his friend.

Knowing that time was short he quickly tended the trooper`s wound while instructing his team to cut down four poles from the nearby trees for use as the supports of a stretcher. When he had done all he could for the man, he gave the man an injection, it was a sedative to send him to sleep, to make the task of conveying back to their camp all the easier. Mark carried the injured trooper over his shoulder while Rogé Patel carried the dead body of their friend, Chief Engineer Peterson. John McIntire walked behind them to support them if it became necessary. Richard took Karl Meiser and Ricardo Malic with him, when they reached the point that the narrow trail met the main trail, Richard stood guard while Karl and Ricardo made up two stretchers out of survival blankets and the stout poles that they had cut. Susan and Captain Larson took point duty and moved back along the main trail to ensure that another Aldebran patrol was not coming hot foot to the rescue of the first one. They did not walk far along it before coming to a much narrower and much overgrown side trail that they had not even noticed when they had passed it earlier. It went deep into an overgrown part of the forest, here Susan waited for the rest of the team to join her while Captain Larson investigated this narrow trail. Susan felt very alone as she waited for her friends to catch up; she looked up and down the trail, fearful that at any time an Aldebran patrol would find her. Her thoughts dwelled on their fallen friend; she had rather liked him, now he was dead. A single tear slid down her cheek which she quickly wiped away and she then swore at herself for being so emotional.

The survival blankets carried by the team had already been prepared, amongst other things, for use as stretchers after their first mission that had failed so badly, so all Ricardo and Malic had to do was to tie the blankets to the poles at four points making up a strong but temporary stretcher. Then the two bodies were put on them and the stretchers were born by the six men, Mark knew that the logical thing to do was to leave their dead friend behind, but he was damned if he was going to do such a thing unless forced to by circumstances. They soon caught up with Susan who smiled at her husband, feeling much safer now that he and the others were back with her. She immediately took over one end of one of the stretcher poles, and then they hurried after Captain Larson, it was just as the North Wind arrived over the meadow. The crew of the starship saw the dead bodies, but Captain Karin decided not to land, in case the commandoes were lying in wait to ambush them as they had done so successfully before at the Aldebran camp.

Mark and the other members of his team would all take a turn at Point duty, although they were mainly occupied being a stretcher bearer, in this way they would become more experienced in this sort of war, also they would get a rest from being a stretcher bearer. When they were well away from the meadow where the fire fight had occurred, and also hidden from view by the all-enveloping tree canopy as well as from the ground by the trees and whatever vegetation could grow beneath the canopy, Mark ordered a rest, as they had been tired before the fire fight, never mind now they were stretcher bearers. Thankfully, they did not see or hear the North Wind, for it had flown away from them and towards the waiting Aldebran troopers who made up the other nine squads.

Oshiro now moved all of the drones into the area around the meadow and then he searched outwards from there, but Mark and his team used their remaining survival blankets to hide from them, allowing them to take more useful rest stops. They reached the pickup point two hours ahead of schedule and stopped to rest. One hour later their taxis arrived, early, the two drivers were elated when they heard of the battle, but their joy was lessened by the death of yet another of their friends. Mark felt just as bad as the rest of them, however he knew that more deaths would follow before they finally overcame their enemy, the others coped by hiding this fact away in the deepest recesses of their minds.

When they finally got back to camp Doctor Tattersall was there to patch up Captain Larson`s wound and then to tend to the injured trooper, when he had done so Mark asked Doctor Tattersall if his patient was up to answering some questions.

“Yes he is Mark, not like our chief engineer, he will not be answering any more questions because those rats killed him.” Doctor Tattersall replied angrily.

With a positive answer from the doctor, Mark asked Robbie to assist him again, in his roll of bad guy, but only if he was up to taking on the roll.

“I am fine Mark, maybe not up to another long trek yet, but threatening an Aldebran might even speed up my recovery.” Robbie jested.

Mark and Robbie then had Richard and John McIntire help them to carry the Aldebran out into the forest on his stretcher, the prisoner being unable to put weight on his wounded leg.

“You may have won this battle Earthman, but you will all be dead soon for trespassing upon the emperor`s planet.” The trooper boasted, his eyes telling more about what was really on his mind than his words, for he wondered why he had been taken into the forest, away from any witnesses, he wondered anxiously about what might be about to happen to him.

“Your emperor had better send more troopers to this planet, for the ones that are here now do not appear to be up to the job.” Mark said, contempt fairly dripping off his tongue and then he sent John and Richard away.

Robbie now entered the conversation, he moved forward, pushing roughly past Mark and grabbed the trooper by his jacket, pulling him up from his stretcher.

“Enough of this Mark, question him about the two downed starships or I will.” Robbie demanded, menace dripping from his mouth, his words of course were in English.

However, the trooper understood enough to be scared, and he immediately looked towards Mark, and like the other young trooper who they had interrogated he too demanded protection, Mark looked anxiously at Robbie before replying to the trooper’s plea for help.

“If you answer his questions in full, I should be able to keep him off you, if you refuse then my commander will demand that I kill you, it is as simple as that.” Mark replied sounding very apprehensive. “He was mean enough before but after being wounded he got a lot worse, so be careful.” Mark warned the young trooper.

“What is it that you want to know then, tell me so that your commander will let me live?” The trooper begged.

“The question is a simple one, and you will not have to betray anyone if you answer it, all we want to know is what happened to your two starships?” Mark asked.

The trooper looked at Mark quizzically. “Is that all, well the answer is that we do not know for certain. An unknown armed freighter arrived over the planet, probably from Earth, and it took them both out, even though they were both unarmed.” The trooper replied angrily. “They must be part of your brave space fleet.” The trooper said contemptuously.

Robbie was really into his roll now, and he certainly did not want to stop this early into his part, so he pulled out his knife and looked towards Mark.

“Mark, this one also appears to be holding something back, order him to tell us the rest or by god I will slit his throat.” Robbie demanded angrily.

The trooper was crying when he next spoke. “What is wrong, I answered your question, why is your commander still so angry?”

“He believes that you have not told us everything about the freighter, what are you holding back, tell us now or I will be ordered away so that I cannot witness him torturing you.” Mark begged of the trooper.

“The freighter is jamming our communications, we cannot call for help.” The trooper screamed out fearfully.

When Mark repeated what he had learned, Robbie broke into hysterics. “Mark they are stopping us from calling for help, and their unknown attacker is doing the same thing to them, it would be so funny if we were not fighting for our life.”

Mark smiled at his friend. “Oh but it is funny Robbie, the gods do have a sense of humour after all.”

It was almost midnight when Mark had the wounded trooper locked away with the other prisoners, then he and Robbie turned in for the night, tomorrow the colonists would hear what he had learnt and how it affected their future.

 

**********

 

Commander Oshiro knew that his decision to send his teams into the forest had proven to be correct, even if one of these teams had been taken out, but the captain of the North Wind had been responsible for that, for not having his ship ready for instant action. He had learned one thing from the tragedy, the leader of the earthmen had once again only been using a small force of men to attack his own force, could their commander be squeamish about losing his men, only using the minimum of the colonists as soldiers? If so then the advantage was definitely on Oshiro`s side who was able to use all of his remaining force against the earthmen. He now improved on his initial decision to spread his men throughout the forest. He had already delegated twenty five men to guard the salvage vessel when it was on the ground, when the crew of the salvage vessel were working. He now ordered the twenty troopers who he had been holding back in reserve to go aboard the North Wind; there they would act as a rapid reaction force. He now went to the farmers, for he had orders to give to them.

“Listen all of you, you have been given this planet so that your families can grow up strong, more farmers will follow this initial colonization, you will now begin turning this area of the prairie into your farms. My troopers are about to begin the final phase of driving the earthmen from your planet, you will then be able to live and farm in peace.” Oshiro declared loudly to the assembled farmers.

Leaving the farmers he boarded the North Wind and ordered Captain Karin to visit each of his nine squads of men, for he had a message for each of them. It was to move forward towards and past the meadow where their comrades had died, their killers were almost certainly not far away from his area.

Andreas was less than impressed by Oshiro, he turned to his fellow farmers with news that Oshiro had not wanted them to have. “I heard one of the troopers speaking, it seemed that the earthmen fought a battle against one of our patrols, they killed all twelve of them and then disappeared into the forest. He went on to say that the troopers are all scared and want to leave this planet immediately.”

“The colonists now have no camp to attack, Oshiro was wise enough to change his strategy to fight an enemy that hits hard and then disappears into the night. He has now sent all of his troopers into the forest after the earthmen; soon they will find their camp and massacre them.” Kronos declared in as loud a voice as Oshiro had used.

“He may hope to, but he will find them a tough nut to crack.” Andreas replied.

“I heard that the two fireballs that we saw in the sky were the death throes of the first two starships that lifted off, they were running away from the attacks launched by the earthmen, maybe your friends also destroyed them Andreas?” The young farmer named Arron wondered.

“Enough talk, we had better get started on our farms, for no matter who wins this war, we will still need food to see us through the next winter.” Maria said and with this piece of wisdom the assembled farmers moved towards their hovels to gather their tools, for it was going to be a hard year carving new farms out of the land with just their hands and the few tools that they possessed.

 

Chapter Ten

 

A New Survival Strategy

 

The next morning, after everyone had finished their breakfast, Mark called the colonists together to tell them what he and Robbie had found out, when he had done so he was bombarded with questions all revolving around the mysterious freighter.

“I have only just heard the facts about the mysterious attack myself, so I have not had too long to think about the matter either, however there is one fact that leads towards a possible answer.” Mark said to a suddenly quiet audience. “The crew of the freighter seem to have no love for us or the Aldebrans. They cannot be a space cruiser from Earth, because they have not come down in an attempt to locate us, and they have not attacked the Aldebran military. Equally they cannot be from Aldebra, for they would not fire upon their own ships. So who hates us as much as they appear to hate the Aldebrans?” Mark asked. “Or to make the question a lot simpler, who hates us?”

“The Genesis cult, they are against the colonization of space by anyone.” Joyce Marley exclaimed loudly.

“Exactly Joyce, the Genesis cult have somehow got their hands on an old freighter and fitted it out with a Phaser and a subspace jammer.” Mark said.

The colonists all agreed that this would certainly explain the destruction of the two starships and a multitude of conversations broke out as Mark, Susan, Richard and Penny joined Joyce Marley to go over this latest piece of bad news.

“Mark, if it is the Genesis cult, how does it affect our plans?” Joyce asked.

“Joyce, I think that the danger of one of our enemies finding the camp has just doubled, for we have another starship scanning the surface of New Caledonia in search of us. Even if we manage to hold the Aldebrans off, the Genesis cult may well find us and attempt to wipe us off the face of this planet.” Mark replied grimly.

“Mark, why have they not launched an attack against us?” Susan asked.

“Maybe they have not located our camp yet, we have gone to great lengths to hide it, however they will let us know immediately they do find us.” Mark replied and then he took the conversation into even darker depths. “The Aldebrans seem to be pushing forward, if we find that this is actually happening then the deciding battle for New Caledonia will probably be fought over the next few days. Either the Aldebrans or our survivors will then have to deal with the Genesis cult, and they will possess the advantage, for after the terrible firefight that will mark the final battle, they will know the victors exact position. There is of course a lesser chance that they will hang back and rely on their technology to fight against us. If they did this, then when we add the threat posed by Genesis we would need a different survival strategy, we might have to relocate half of the colonists further south, and at least one thousand miles away, this would give us a better chance of surviving the war.”

What he had left unsaid for the future was that even if they won the first scenario they would be forced to break up into small groups and make their way southwards to give them a chance of survival until a starship from Earth arrived and they were able to contact it.

Joyce was stunned by his words and voiced her doubts to his thoughts. “I am not even sure that we can manage to move our people that far Mark, it is simply impossible.” Joyce Marley protested.

“I only mentioned it as a possibility Joyce, let`s see how things play out before we worry about it.” Mark replied. “Please do not say anything to the others, not until we know what the Aldebran commander has planned for us.”

 

**********

 

Yesterday`s fire fight had certainly given Mark and Richard cause to think, and Mark had decided to send out two teams early the next morning, to find proof of the Aldebrans` future plans. Richard led one of the teams and Mark led the second team of six people out into the forest, their mission was to check on what was happening in the areas of forest nearer to their camp, would they finds signs that the Aldebrans had initiated a new strategy and were now patrolling ever closer to the colonists` encampment. If it was found that this was indeed happening and therefore endangering the colonists, it would necessitate an immediate change of tactics on their part. Both of the teams were driven up to the junction where their narrow track met up with the main trail and here they separated. Richard and his team headed west on foot; a direction that would eventually take them to the prairie, Mark and his team went nor`-nor`-east, also on foot.

Richard was walking along yet another of the narrow animal trails, wondering how he was back on the front line, having left the army for the quiet but hard life as a colonist. His team were under the usual orders imposed by Mark, keep quiet unless you have something pertinent to say. As his team moved ever forward, so the stress mounted, would they too walk into an Aldebran patrol, and would they survive the ensuing firefight. They had not thought about it on day one after they had moved camp, now though the thought was at the front of all of their minds. They had been walking for an hour in silence when a stray noise caught their attention, fearing an ambush they all hugged the ground and prepared for yet another firefight, on the lookout for Aldebran troopers and praying that there would not be met a superior force. Out of the forest a small herd of deer appeared, moving ever nearer until the leading deer were spooked by something, and then they turned away and bolted for safety. The stress that had affected each and every member of the team dissipated instantly, that is until the aroma of cooking food wafted past their noses, it was the smell that had caused the deer to run. As one they moved off the trail to find cover, here they waited to see if they had been seen by one of the Aldebran patrols. Richard waited there for two minutes, and when no energy bolts came their way he decided to investigate the smells.

“Everyone stay undercover, John will you come with me, I want to see who`s cooking breakfast?” Richard asked of John McIntire, a man trained to move quietly through the undergrowth.

They moved very slowly and quietly through the undergrowth that grew thick under this part of the forest, Richard leading the way.

“Watch exactly where you put your feet, there is no knowing if our friends up ahead have left any trip wires, or even a man trap, should they have such a vicious item with them.”

Richard did not mention stepping on twigs or such mundane things, John McIntire had lived most of his life watching out for such things, especially after he had become a professional wild life photographer. They moved at a speed that seemed to them to be half that of a snail, crawling the final stretch almost flat on their stomachs until they arrived at the edge of a small glade. Within the small glade they could see eight troopers eating their breakfast while four more stood guard, these four casting hungry glances across to their more lucky comrades.

“There is no way we can get our men here without alerting the troopers, to do so would certainly mean some, or even all, of our team dying, so I am not about to risk it John. This is just supposed to be a recce, to see if the Aldebrans have moved any more of their men into forward bases, well I would say from the limited evidence that we have that we can say that they have done just that. We need to get this information back to our people, so let`s move quietly away from the troopers and get back to our camp to report.” Richard said in a low voice.

John McIntire was of the same opinion, and he was happy that Richard was not a gung ho idiot, he now followed Richard back to their waiting friends, where upon being told the situation they were all too happy to leg it, for they were not really commandoes, they were mostly would be farmers or miners.

 

**********

 

Mark and his team were moving equally quietly along their chosen animal trail, all of them were also a little apprehensive after the firefight that Mark and some of their friends had walked into a few days before, and without any warning. That time it was partly because their point man had been too tired to do his job properly, today Mark was point man, and he was going to ensure that it did not happen again.

After walking for an hour, Mark called a rest stop, they moved off the narrow trail and into the forest undergrowth, here they found two fallen giants to sit on and rest their weary legs. None of the team were that tired, however, Mark wanted to ensure that they ready for anything that fate threw against them.

After thirty minutes Mark led them out of the undergrowth, he being twenty feet ahead of the others, and as he stepped onto the trail a Phaser bolt whistled past his head and exploded against a tree just two feet behind him, sending splinters of wood flying out passed his head. Although stunned, Mark had not frozen, he immediately moved back behind the tree and returned fire, his team hearing the sound of Phaser bolts immediately spread out and moved forward to engage the enemy.

The Aldebran sub-officer was furious that one of his men had fired before all of the earthmen were in view, but he held his tongue for the moment and sent a series of Phaser bolts towards the earthmen.

Mark knew that the drones and the starship would soon be here to fire down upon them, and that they would soon be out-gunned, seeing friends killed by Phaser fire more deadly than that carried by the troopers, so they needed to get quickly away to ensure that it did not happen.

“Karl, stay with me and lay down covering fire, the rest of you beat a retreat deep into the forest before their drones arrive overhead accompanied by the starship.” Mark ordered.

Susan met his eyes, he could see the anguish in them, she knew that if she left then she may never see him alive again. “Go darling, please, I will get back to you, I promise.” Mark promised, keeping the fear that he felt for all of their future from showing on his face, and out of his voice.

Susan nodded, tears running down her face as she turned to leave him and join Rogé Patel, Martin Joyce and Joe Finney who were patiently waiting for her.

“Karl, make every shot count, let`s take some of them out before their air force arrives.” Mark said to Karl Meiser who smiled, for if it were that easy Mark would not have sent the rest of the team away.

The Aldebran sub officer in command of the squad did not scream out in pain, he just died very quickly, his corpse hitting the ground with a dull thud, an energy bolt from Karl Meiser had hit him in the head, then Mark took out the trooper standing next to the officer with a similar shot. The remaining troopers immediately ducked down into cover, the terrible sight of their comrades faces making them all fearful for their own lives.

“We are up against the Earth commandoes, be careful, wait for the drones to arrive, then we will be revenged for all of our men who have died at their hands.” Corporal Cheung, who was now in command of the squad, advised his comrades.

With no opposing fire coming from the troopers, Mark and Karl slowly retreated into the undergrowth. The Aldebran troopers fear lessened when the Phaser fire from the colonists ended, Corporal Cheung hesitantly looked out and seeing no trace of their enemy called out to his comrades.

“They have run away, quickly we must get after them, we must avenge the sub-officer.”

The troopers began to move from behind their cover and edge forward, Corporal Cheung telling them to spread out. Mark had anticipated this. He and Karl had only retreated thirty feet, where hidden by the undergrowth they lined up their rifles upon the area in front of them. They saw a line of troopers slowly moving forward, then they both fired, killing Cheung and one other trooper before the remaining troopers hugged the forest floor.

Unfortunately, it was now that the North Wind arrived on the scene, it had been nearby this time and it quickly disgorged the twenty man rapid reaction team onto the forest track, then it moved forward to give artillery support. The Aldebran radio man immediately called the North Wind.

“Come in North Wind, I am directly under you, the commandoes are directly in front of you, no more than thirty feet ahead.” Radio man Feungi called.

“Understood trooper, keep under cover.” Leander replied.

 

**********

 

Half a mile behind Susan Summers a powerful Phaser sent a series of powerful energy bolts screaming down into the forest, she turned to look, fear and shock filling her young face. Rogé Patel, Martin Joyce and Joe Finney were also looking back fearfully.

“Mark will be all right Susan, there is not an Aldebran born who could ever kill him.” Martin Joyce said softly.

“Susan, I am sorry but we must move on, we must get back to camp to report what we have seen, what we have been lucky to live through.” Joe Finney said apologetically.

Susan turned to look at him. “I know Joe, Martin, I am sure that he will be OK.” Susan said anxiously and hoping that she would be proved right.

Just then they heard the sound of a drone flying towards them, the whirring sound of its motor only just heard between the sounds of the Phaser blasts.

“Quickly everyone, don your cloaks.” Rogé Patel urged.

The survival blankets had been turned into hooded cloaks as well as doubling as stretchers by the women of the colony, a skill that the men had left to the women even after mankind had journeyed to the stars. They were in camouflage colours on one side and when they all donned their cloaks and hugged a tree it made it harder for their enemy to see them, moments later and the drone had flown over them, heading away from the part of the forest that was now in flames. They were lucky that the tree canopy being so thick made it impossible for the drone to fly low enough to sight them visually, and the blankets meant that the drone`s infrared technology did not pick them up. When all was quiet overhead they moved on towards their camp, every fibre of her being told Susan to return to look for Mark, but she knew that with the area swarming with alien troopers that this was impossible. All she would accomplish if she did so would to be captured and then tortured and made to reveal the location of their camp, something that she feared might actually happen in the near future if Mark was no longer there to lead them.

 

**********

 

Oshiro had ordered the nearest of his squads to converge upon the spot that the commandoes of Earth had been ambushed, the ones that Richard had seen earlier being amongst them. Hearing the troopers hurrying along the track he pulled his men off it and quickly gave them some hurried orders.

“If it is just the twelve troopers that John and I saw earlier, we are going to take them out. Ricardo, you take out the radioman and I will take out their officer, the rest of you take out the other troopers. They will be taken by surprise, so that should give us some extra invaluable seconds, in that time I want the entire squad of troopers dead. OK?” Richard instructed the five members of his team.

Moments later and the troopers appeared along the track, Richard and his team waited until the troopers were opposite them and then they opened fire, five seconds later and all of the troopers were dead, they had not even managed to fire one shot at the team. Feeling very elated, all traces of tiredness gone, they collected the weapons from the dead troopers and returned to their camp. As they left Richard looked back at the fallen troopers, and although they were the enemy he said a silent prayer for them, for even the Aldebran troopers were people and they deserved some words to mark their untimely deaths.

 

**********

 

Mark awoke to find himself laying hidden beneath the branches of a fallen tree, the fire caused by the powerful Phaser blasts, and which had raged for hours, had been blown away from his unconscious body by a strong wind that had sprung up and this had saved his life. He listened for signs of the Aldebran troopers, but all was quiet, the wild life having fled the terrible barrage of energy bolts, the troopers in search of his team. He now struggled out from under the branches, his bruised and battered body protesting, he had a multitude of scratches and a large cut above his right eye that had bled leaving drying blood down his cheek. He also had a cut on his head; it had been a heavy falling branch that had knocked him unconscious and maybe saved his life.

As he made to stand he found that he was a little dizzy and his vision was a little blurry, so he sat down on the log that had felled him in the hope of clearing his head. After a minute or two his vision did begin to clear and the first thing that he saw was the body of Karl Meiser, he was dead, killed by a Phaser blast from the North Wind. Mark dragged his tired body over to his dead friend and looked down upon it, then he began to dig a shallow grave using a broken piece of the tree, it took him longer that it normally would have done, his injuries had drained him of his strength. With the shallow grave finally dug he rolled his friend in to the grave and then covered the body with soil.

“I am sorry Karl, you met your death bravely but only because I made you stay behind with me. I promise you two things my friend, I will revenge you and I will ensure that your wife if properly looked after.”

Finally, he rolled a log on top of the grave to keep the wild life from digging the body up, and also to act as a marker, he would come back when he could and bury his brave friend properly. After tending to his friend he sat on a log and took a drink of water from his flask.

Just as Mark was about to collect his rifle from beneath the fallen tree that had knocked him unconscious, a squad of Aldebran troopers surrounded him, had he not been so busy with the body of his friend he would have at least heard them coming, as it was he was now their prisoner.

His hands were tied in front of his body rather than behind his back giving Mark the faintest of hopes that he might effect an escape; then the sub officer moved across to him and indicated with his rifle that Mark should move out, they followed the track as it wound its way towards the prairie rather than take the labyrinth of trails that Mark knew would be far quicker. The troopers were all cock-a-hoop at having captured their first earthmen and as a prelude to the inevitable torture that he would receive when he got back to the Aldebran camp, the troopers jabbed him in the back to make him walk faster. From up ahead of them Mark could hear a faint roar that told him that they were near to one of the many rivers that emptied into the prairie, if he could not escape then maybe he should kill himself, rather than be interrogated and give away the location of his peoples camp, which he knew he would do, especially if they used drugs on him.

Mark found that he was already feeling the strain; he was badly in need of a rest and had stumbled a few times already as he tried to keep up with the troopers. When they reached the river bank Mark saw a chance of escape, the Aldebrans had spanned the fast flowing river with a plank bridge and he wondered how many more bridges they had built in their efforts to move their men quickly through the forest. The river was only a foot away from the trail, the water looked to be quite deep here and only a steep bank separated Mark from it. He was only one hundred yards from the bridge when he stumbled again, but this time he had done it purposely, he turned the stumble into a dive and entered the water before the troopers realised that he had escaped. He did not hear the cursing that followed his entry into the fast flowing river, but he saw the Phaser bolts that pierced the water all around him. He quickly sank down to the river bed and allowed the swift moving river to sweep him along, rather than come to the surface, only when his lungs were bursting did he struggle to the far side of the river and carefully poke his head up amongst the reeds that lined both sides of the river. He could see the Aldebrans searching along the river bank, looking for any sign that might indicate that the fugitive was nearby. Knowing that they had most probably asked for a drone to assist them in the search, Mark took his exhausted body back into the river and allowed it to carry him away from the searchers. It was only when the river took him by a rocky shore that Mark dragged himself out of the water and headed back towards the meadow where the body of Karl Meiser lay, for his powerful Phaser rifle was also there and he was adamant that he would not lose it, not when the war was still raging.

It was a long walk, especially in his exhausted state, but he finally got back to the meadow and smiling he picked up his rifle and turned for home, but he did not head directly back to their camp, he first headed further east before turning south into some of the most overgrown forest on New Caledonia, he wanted to ensure that he did not walk into another squad of troopers, or lead the Aldebrans towards the colonists` camp. He knew that the headache that he had probably meant that he was suffering from a mild concussion, however he did not allow this to stop him, he knew that Susan and his friends would be worried sick when he and Karl did not show up. The next morning Mark was nearing the camp, walking along a narrow track that led in the general direction of it, and it was now that he heard the smaller of the tracked vehicles moving along the track. Just moments later he broke through the thick undergrowth that bordered this part of the track and saw them, Martin Joyce and Joe Finney were on the way to the pickup point in the hope that their missing friends would be waiting there.

“Mark, my god are you all right?” Martin Joyce cried out when he saw the state of Mark, who had stopped and sank to the ground when he saw them, exhausted by his ordeal.

“Yes I am all right Martin, Joe, just bloody tired, and I have one hell of a headache. I am really glad to see you two, and the taxi, take me home please.” Mark replied wearily. However he still managed a weak smile.

“Where is Karl, is he OK?” Martin asked hesitantly, hoping that both of their friends had survived the bloody fire fight.

“No, Martin, I am afraid that Karl was killed back there, however he died a hero`s death, fighting for the colony.” Mark replied sadly.

Everyone came out of to meet the returning vehicle, curious to see it return so early, Susan however bolted out of one of the caves, certain that it meant that Mark had returned to her. When she saw that it was him, and saw his bloody face, she rushed across and threw her arms around him and burst into tears. Behind her, and unnoticed by her, Marion Meiser came to an abrupt halt when she saw that Mark was alone. Mark saw her struggling to contain her tears as she looked towards him, Mark disengaged himself from his wife`s arms and went to her.

“I am so sorry Marion, you should know that Karl died a hero`s death, staying by my side allowed the other four members of the team to escape. I am sorry but I had to ask him to stay behind, he was such a good shot. He did not go easily, it took a starship to stop him, the troopers were about to flee in terror before it showed up.” Mark said gently and feeling so very bad at surviving when Karl had not.

“Thank you Mark, I do not blame you, he was a very good shot, it was those evil Aldebrans who killed him, and it was so very unnecessary, we could have shared this planet.” Marion Meiser cried out in rage. Then she turned and ran into one of the caves where Mark heard he break down sobbing, two women who were her friends went in after her to try to comfort their friend.

Doctor Tattersall arrived on the scene and led Mark off to their makeshift clinic, here he tended to his wounds and gave Mark some advice. “Take it easy for today, and tomorrow if possible, you do not appear to be badly hurt, but you probably do have a mild concussion.”

“I will do as you say today Doctor, but I fear the Aldebrans will not allow me to rest for as long as tomorrow.” Mark replied with another weak smile at his friend.

 

**********

 

Oshiro was still raging over the loss of fourteen more troopers while only being able to kill one earthman, and it took a starship to do that! The moral of his troopers was at rock bottom, all fearful of encountering any more of the Earth commandoes, and he too was at his wits end. He knew that his new plan could give him victory, but not if his men were too scared to venture out. He decided to rest them for a while in their present locations, he would rely on the drones and the starship to find the earthmen`s camp, then he would blast it back to Earth.

 

***********

 

Aboard the freighter Genesis, Magnus Smart has been following the movements of the Aldebran troopers, his instruments keeping track of each of the squads and the two remaining starships. He had hoped in this way to find the colonist camp, his central computer showed each squad of troopers on a small monitor, and the direction that they were moving at any one moment. When clouds did not cover the area it notified him of the energy bolts being fired by the rifles, and he was really excited when the North Wind joined in the last battle, however in a short time the Aldebrans began to move in ever decreasing circles and he still could not find any trace of the colonists, he was still unable to use extrapolation to find where they were camped.

Mabel Smits now interrupted his thoughts. “Sir, a large weather front will soon blot out our view of what remains of the Aldebran camp, the storm will then cover most of the prairie and even the area of forest where the Aldebrans are currently operating.”

As Magnus Smart looked across at Smits, Captain Isaacs spoke. “Sir, if we took out the two remaining starships, and the drones, the colonists would get bolder, they would feel sufficiently confident to take on the aliens using the tactics that they are using now, but on a much larger scale. They would then move back to their original camp site where we could eradicate them and the alien farmers.” Captain Isaacs suggested. “Although we would need to act quickly if we are to beat the approaching weather front.”

Magnus Smart looked across at his captain and a smile slowly spread across his face as he took in all that Isaacs had said.

“Captain Isaacs, let me congratulate you on a marvellous plan, where are the two starships, we should take out the smaller attack craft first, as it is armed, and then the drones and finally the salvage ship.” Magnus Smart said before adding. “Mabel, you understand that when we take out the armed starship, we will have to jam any calls from both the colonists and the aliens.”

“Yes of course Sir, that will be no problem at all, in fact when the aliens moved back aboard their starships, they solved one problem for us, with the two starships gone I only have too concern myself with the Communications Centre that the colonists have.” Mabel Smits replied joyfully.

“Captain Isaacs, target the armed attack craft and take it out.” Magnus Smart ordered.

 

Chapter Eleven

 

The Final Battle

 

One thought was occupying the mind of Mark Summers, with the drones now flying twenty four hours a day and the starship up there even after the sun had set, for they could hear its powerful engine whenever it came close to their camp, how long would it be before they found the camp. Should he perhaps be organising a move south for some of the colonists, a move that would mean that they at least would no longer be targets, as long as they were careful of course. The starship was only a mile away from them at the moment, and it was getting ever nearer, would today be the beginning of the end for one of the two sides. He had climbed one of the taller forest trees to look out across the forest, clad in an outfit made from the survival blankets, looking for signs of a smokey camp fire or one of the drones. He was pondering this when he saw a powerful Phaser bolt streak down from the sky and hit the Aldebran starship, a massive explosion was followed by two more as the Genesis fired twice more. The debris of the North wind rained down into the forest, watched by a stunned Mark Summers. The Aldebran drones, now without any operators directing their movements, were then targeted, more energy bolts rained down from the sky followed by more explosions, but these were too far away for him to witness. What he also did not see, but all of the colonists heard, was the massive explosion that was followed by the terrific thump when the Salvage vessel crashed down upon the Ark, the starships of the Aldebran task force were no more, now all that remained was a demoralised force of troopers.

The colonists rushed out en masse from the temples of the ancients, where they had been hiding away from the Aldebran sensors aboard the starship as it came ever nearer, they looked up as silence filled the forest, and the sky. People and animals were too stunned to speak; the silence was finally broken by Susan Summers.

“A space cruiser from Earth has arrived, it is finally all over.” She cried out in joy and ran to Mark, who had climbed down from his viewpoint, to hug him. However, although Mark was overjoyed by what he had just witnessed, for now they would not have to immediately move further into the forest, Susan could see that something was stopping his happiness from erupting into anything like the rapture that she had been experiencing.

“What is it Mark, what on earth could be wrong now.” Susan asked as her feelings of joy were quickly extinguished.

“A space cruiser from Earth would not have fired upon the salvage vessel, or even the armed starship, it would simply have ordered them away or suffer the consequences, no our saviour is Magnus Smart, the religious fanatic that created the Genesis cult.” Mark replied grimly. “What I would dearly like to know is what he now plans to do?”

“Mark, the Aldebran troopers have lost more than half their men, all their starships, and the moral of what troopers they do have must now be at rock bottom.” Joyce Marley crowed. “Let`s give them until midday tomorrow and then send out another two patrols, to see if we can locate any sign of them. My guess is that they will have pulled back.”

“They may have done just that Joyce, however we cannot let them go, if we do we would live with the sure knowledge that they will return as bandits, to rob and pillage our farms.” Mark warned Joyce, and the rest of the colonists who had gathered about them to hear what they had to say.

“Just how many of them do you think there are?” Susan asked anxiously. The thought of Aldebran bandits suddenly appearing in two or three years’ time to rape and pillage making her shudder.

“Their number must still be approaching one hundred, but no more than that. With their moral sinking through the floor we can win the war against them, but only if we go after them now.” Mark replied.

Richard had been following the conversation and he now chose to join in. “Unfortunately you`re right Mark, I think that you and I should lead two teams and set off two hours before sunset. From what I have seen so far, we should be warned of their presence well before we encounter any squads of troopers, for we shall see the lights of their camp fires and smell their cooking.” Richard suggested.

“I agree that the loss of their starships should make them go into full retreat Richard, and lessen the danger to our patrols walking into one of theirs. However, we will need more than our two teams, if we are to successfully finish the Aldebran menace; we will need four more teams of ten colonists to search the forest. I will issue each team leader a map of the area I want them to patrol; they will each leave by one of the four trails that exit our camp and with orders to not take any uncertain risks.” Mark replied and then said.

“Remember this everyone, the war has changed, we can now use our radios again, but only when we are far enough away from this camp, for be warned, Magnus Smart might just use them to pinpoint our camp if we use them here.” Mark warned. “However, we can talk to each other when we are away from camp to keep each team fully up to date regarding our enemy. Should one of the teams encounters a large number of Aldebran troopers they are not to attack them, they are to call me and request backup. Do not get lost, stay in touch so that we do not fire upon each other, and the old rules still apply, no talking unless necessary, in fact no undue noise at all, I want to win this war, not bury more brave people.” Mark advised his friends. “Those who stay here should still be on their guard, sentries will still need to be posted to prevent a surprise attack. Our enemy is badly wounded now, he may just decide on one last push to find this camp; we cannot afford to relax until our victory is complete.”

Almost as if it were a sign, the storm clouds that had been quickly gathering over their heads chose that moment to open and they drenched anyone not quick enough to get to a cave; if he had believed in ill omens then Mark thought this was one hell of a bad one.

 

**********

 

Commander Oshiro had not been aboard the North Wind when the North Wind had been struck by Phaser fire, he had been on the Ark, he had been urging the members of the salvage team who were based on the downed starship to work harder. Hearing the loud explosions he ran from the Ark to stare above the forest in disbelief, and it was now that the salvage vessel was hit. He stared up for only an instant, then he ran for his life as the doomed vessel dropped out of the sky to land squarely upon the Ark. Flames shot out of the twisted wreckage and it was now that the weather front hit them, the wind fanning the flames, blowing them towards the prairie. He looked at the survivors who were standing there stunned by what had just happened, and looking apprehensively towards the approaching flames. Then they crowded together looking to Oshiro for an answer to their woes, which now seemed never ending. There was now no way now to cut the Ark up, never mind move every piece of it and drop it into the ocean. When an Earth starship finally arrived, they would see just what they had been doing, his mission was quickly coming to an end, there was only one thing that he could do.

“Men, collect anything of use and prepare for a long walk to the nearest of our squads hidden in the jungle, we may have failed in our mission but our dead comrades all scream out for revenge, let us at least give them that so that they can rest easy.” Oshiro said to his men in what he hoped was enough of a rallying call to lift their battered moral.

Oshiro was baffled as to who their attacker was, one who targeted them at his leisure but did not seem disposed to aid the colonists any further. His men just nodded acceptance of his words, no one said anything, they ran to their tents to collect their gear, including food, water and weapons, and it was now that the rain storm hit them, extinguishing the flames around the wrecked starships. From inside his former headquarters tent Oshiro contacted his remaining teams on their radios, and he ordered them to move forward to a position that he thought the colonists from Earth may have made their camp. He had planned to do this anyway, which was why the North Wind had been steadily moving in that direction, it had been searching for it within a fairly small section of forest, but one which still stubbornly held on to its secrets. With nothing remaining of his task force Oshiro led his rain soaked survivors into the forest; he was going to rendezvous with one of the remaining eight teams and then head towards a spot where he thought the earthmen must be hiding. Whether the Aldebran troopers believed it or not, they were indeed heading towards the colonists` camp and a final battle.

 

**********

 

One hour later and the skies were still filled with dark rain clouds that threatened to drench the colonists, but these clouds did possess a silver lining, the low quality scanners and other equipment aboard the starship Genesis could not see anything worthwhile through them.

Under these sheltering rain clouds Mark and Richard gathered forty colonists around them, picked from those who Mark was sure would not panic when fired upon, they would make up the other four teams; they were to be led by Joe Finney, Ricardo Malic, John McIntire and Rogé Patel. He told them to check their gear so as to be ready at first light. With the colonists busy he moved on to other things.

He had already spoken to Captain Larson, to ask him to take command of the camp in his absence, Mark told Larson to increase the number of sentries at each guard post from the ten colonists already posted to twenty five people. Mark had also asked Larson to have four groups of four colonists ready for another task, they were to be posted in a long thin line between the four squads, these colonists would act as a human trip wire, just in case the Aldebrans did attempt to break through away from the narrow animal trails. All of these men would have their smart phones to use if necessary, but only if the Aldebrans did attempt to outflank the waiting squads. Mark knew that it was a risk to use smart phones at the encampment, but one that they would have to accept if the Aldebrans did attempt to break through his defences. Hopefully, the signal would not carry as far as the Genesis starship which was still hanging up there in space on its mission of evil. With this taken care of Mark left camp with his own team and with his wife by his side.

Richard and Mark each had seven colonists under their command and neither of them had found any signs of the Aldebrans that evening, and so the next morning they set off again in search of the Aldebrans. Richard`s team was walking along the trail to the south west of their camp and moving towards the prairie, their pace was even slower than usual. It was just half an hour after setting off that they heard noises that could mean only one thing, they were near to an Aldebran camp. Richard had taken point and so he was the first to hear them, and they appeared to be striking camp; it took but a moment for him to reach a decision, it was just as the rain began to fall, drenching them all yet again, but also making them more difficult to spot.

“There is a squad of troopers up ahead, they appear to be about to move camp, if they come this way we should be able to take them all out. Spread out and move into the undergrowth, only open fire when the leading trooper is opposite me, I will take my place at the far end of the line.” Richard ordered. “If they go the other way then we will have to follow after them until reinforcements arrive.”

The Aldebrans did indeed move toward the colonists` camp and it was just three minutes later that the forest was full of Phaser bolts whistling through the air and the cries of the dying troopers, then all was silent. Richard and his team were once again elated after their victory; however the silence that descended upon the forest hung heavily. They slowly moved back onto the trail to see if any of the troopers had survived the powerful energy bolts, but not one of them had survived. As they looked down at the bodies of the dead troopers they felt a deep sadness at the sheer waste of life, but even this feeling of empathy for the dead was not allowed to last for much more than a few seconds. They pulled the bodies off the trail and after collecting the troopers` weapons, they moved on up the trail to where the troopers had camped. Here Richard decided to rest up a while; he did not want to run into more troopers on the open trail while his team was tired. After an hour`s rest they moved on, they had been moving in a direction that would have taken them to the Ark, and although Richard was curious to know the situation there, he changed direction. He decided to take a more direct line to the prairie; for he thought they had a better chance of meeting up with more of the troopers this way.

Mark`s team also had a quiet evening, but this changed the next morning when the skies opened and the rain fell in torrents. It was in this foul weather that they literally ran into a squad of troopers, a fire fight ensued which saw deaths and injuries on both sides, this changed when the troopers broke and ran, those troopers all died from energy bolts hitting their fleeing backs.

It was now that Mark received separate calls from two of his four other teams, one led by John McIntire and the other by Rogé Patel. They both told him the same thing, twenty four troopers had just struck camp, making a total of forty eight trained men, and all of them were heading in a direction that would take them towards the colonists` camp, they would be there within four hours at the speed at which they were currently moving. Mark immediately ordered his two teams to follow on behind the troopers, ready to attack them from behind should the troopers actually locate their camp, otherwise to await reinforcements that would be on the way in minutes. He now called Richard and then his other two teams of colonists, he told them of the danger to the camp, he asked Richard to head back to the camp while the other two teams were to join up with the teams led by John McIntire and Rogé Patel who were both currently trailing after the troopers. However, he warned them to liaise with the other two teams for up to date information regarding the positions of all the people on the move and to take care that when they attacked the Aldebrans, to warn their people in advance or risk being fired upon. Mark now had to tend to his wounded, two men were walking wounded and two had been killed, these he and his team quickly buried in shallow graves. Thankfully, the injured men were conscious and able to help defend themselves against whatever danger threatened them, so he could leave them behind.

“Malcolm, Peter, I am sorry but we have to leave you here, as you heard the camp is in danger of being overrun by Aldebrans and I need to be there. You have food, water and all our team`s medical supplies, I am also leaving Helen and John with you to see to your wounds, and do not worry, we will come back for you, good luck.” Mark said.

“Go quickly Mark, safe our people, safe our wives, we will survive for now.” Malcom McCuskey replied.

“Go now Mark but don`t you forget where you left us.” Peter Hughes added in an attempt at humour which was followed by a groan as his wound reminded him of his injury.

Mark nodded at the two men. “Don`t worry Peter, we will be back sometime, today, tomorrow, sometime.” He jested. “If we remember where we left you.”

He then turned to the two colonists left to guard their injured comrades. “Look after them and look after yourselves, remember to keep the noise down to a minimum, we do not know if any more Aldebrans will come along this trail.”

His team had just finished cutting some of the smaller branches down from the nearby trees, these they put in front of their friends, to hide them away from any passing Aldebran forces.

With this done he and the remainder of his team turned around and headed back to camp along a very narrow but overgrown animal trail. Mark and his team were moving fast, with only their rifles to carry, having left everything else behind with the others. He hoped that they would get back before the troopers found the colonists` camp, if these two squads were part of a large scale campaign, it meant that the two squads that his and Richards` teams had just taken out had also been heading there. Mark knew that he had been wrong in thinking that the loss of their starships would cause the Aldebrans to retreat; he now saw that their commander was pinning everything on a last throw of the dice. The odds were that any other squads of troopers would be behind his and Richard`s teams, they certainly should not be ambushed while hastening back to ensure the safety of their friends and loved ones. There were fifty six men and seventy four women back at the camp, but would it be enough colonists to repel an attack, should the remaining troopers attack en masse, the result would surely prove fatal for many on both sides.

 

**********

 

Captain Larson had just finished positioning his forces when the rain began to fall over the camp, it was a cold rain that fell, but at least the wind was light. He knew that they had more than enough Phaser rifles to go around, should any of the Aldebrans be brave enough to continue the war and continue on towards the camp. He prayed that by the end of the day the Aldebran threat would be finally over once and for all, they would then only have the possible Genesis threat to worry about. Larson smiled grimly as these thoughts went through his mind, but the thought that they had already accomplished the impossible against the Aldebran military gave him cause to feel that they would live through whatever Magnus Smart threw at them. Larson had 130 men and women at his disposal; they were divided into nine teams, four forward teams of twenty five colonists positioned at the four narrow trails that entered the camp. Three on one side of the river, to the north, the west and the south of the camp and one on the other side of the river to the east of the camp, any of these four teams would most likely be the first ones to engage the enemy. Then there were the four smaller teams of four colonists acting as tripwires, and finally there was the balance of his force who were acting as his strategic reserve. Larson hoped that he would not have to call upon them to go to the aid of one of the forward groups, but he also knew that by the end of the day everyone within the camp might well be involved in the fighting.

He personally took command of the strategic reserve; which was based in the cave which held their prisoners, the Aldebran had been given food and water and left in their cell; Captain Larson had warned them that if they caused any trouble then he would execute the lot of them, regardless of who was the trouble maker.

Crouched down behind a large tree sitting in the middle of the western defensive position, Robbie pulled his wet weather clothing tightly around him; he was attempting, unsuccessfully, to keep out the rain. He was in command of this team, he had been given seventeen women and seven men, Captain Larson had told him to ensure that their lives were not thrown away needlessly, and Robbie had promised to look after them. He had spread them along just one side of the narrow western trail, in this way they would not accidentally kill their own people. He did not know that it was upon this trail that John McIntire was following twenty four troopers who were still coming their way; Robbie thought that the Aldebrans were unlikely to choose this trail as it was not suitable for their armoured personnel carriers, he would soon find out that he was wrong. For he did not know that Commander Oshiro was now fighting an anti-insurgency war which meant that he had decided against the use of his armoured vehicles and had purposely sent his men along this sort of trail in search of the enemy. However, Robbie felt that if they were attacked then with the moral of his people being quite high, the chances of them winning through were also quite high, especially as they were all keeping silent, the wet making even the most talkative amongst them quiet but just a little chilled. They would also have the initial advantage of any firefight, should it occur, hidden as they were behind trees, or in fox holes or underneath large shrubs. There was also the strategic reserve waiting within the main part of the camp, there to back up any of the teams that needed assistance. The moral of the troopers though must be rock bottom by now, Robbie thought, and there was every chance that the troopers would surrender as soon as they were fired upon by such a large force who also had the advantage of surprise.

Mark and Richard`s teams after a long tiring trek back had met in the centre of the camp, Richard having entered from the south and Mark from the east, and Richard was shocked on seeing that Mark only had three other colonists with him.

“My god Mark what the hell happened, where are the others?” Richard exclaimed.

“It is not as bad as it looks Richard; we had to leave two injured people behind along with two more of my team to guard them.” Mark explained. “The two who were injured will be all right as soon as we can get them back to camp, however two more of my team were killed when we walked slap into an Aldebran patrol who were moving as silent as we were along the track.”

With this they sought out Captain Larson to offer their help, it was just as Robbie`s team opened fire upon the troopers moving along the trail towards them. Fourteen colonists moved as one to help their friends, the first thing that Mark did was to seek out Robbie.

“Robbie, John McIntire and his team have been following on behind these troopers, they should soon be attacking them from behind, so warn your people, to take care that they do not fire upon them.”

“We know Mark, John just called in to tell us to watch out for his team.” Robbie replied and then let loose another Phaser bolt at an unfortunate trooper.

Knowing that another twenty four Aldebrans were approaching from the north, Mark left their western flank in the safe hands of Robbie, Richard and John. He took the remainder of his team to bolster the twenty five men and women spread across the northern trail, the one whose entrance had been hidden from the main trail, he was just in time. Oshiro had entered the narrow Northern trail below the camouflaged entrance, using the same overgrown track to reach it that Mark had used just days before.

 

**********

 

What Oshiro did not know was that he was expected, twenty nine colonists to the front and ten colonists led by Rogé Patel to his rear. As he moved ever forward his anxiety increased, for he could not contact two of his teams, ones that he now expected no longer existed. It was at this point that he received a call from the sub-officer in command of the two squads moving in from the west.

“Commander, we need help immediately, we have been outflanked, we are under attack by superior forces on all sides, my men are being cut to pieces.” Sub-Officer Go-lang screamed.

“I am almost at the northern edge of where I believe their camp is located, it is less than half a mile from your position, I will crush them like an egg shell. This should relieve the pressure on you, for they will have to send some of your attackers against my men, take heart Sub-Officer Go-lang.”

Oshiro had said this more in hope than belief, as without the other two teams his force was relying on surprise rather than overwhelming manpower. As his troopers moved warily forward they were met with a long banshee scream as twenty nine Phaser rifles fired almost together, all around him he saw his force cut down. He hurriedly slipped behind a stout tree and tried to think of an alternative to death that seemed to be waiting for him; unfortunately he could not think of one. Determined to meet a warrior’s end, for he could only expect to be sent to a Gulag if he surrendered and was allowed to return home, he rose from his position behind the tree and cried out to his remaining forces.

“Forward into history men, fame awaits us, forward to victory.”

He now made to charge forward, however three Phaser bolts exploded against his body, and his expensive body armour that he had been so proud of was not up to stopping the powerful energy bolt that came from Mark`s rifle, it tore through it to find the soft flesh beneath it. He fell down onto the soft undergrowth, around him he heard the sound of battle coming to an end, “We have won, the glory is all mine.” He screamed out before dying.

On seeing their commander fall to the ground the other troopers either surrendered or ran, those who ran were cut down by the Phasers in the hands of Rogé Patel`s team. Mark as usual had all the Aldebran weapons collected for safe keeping and stored in the armoury.

To bring an end to the senseless death Mark looked for and found the troopers` radio, he now took this, and the Aldebrans who had surrendered, to Commander Lu-Song and begged him to bring the killing to an end.

On hearing from the trooper who manned the radio, of the death of so many of their fellow comrades, and that little more than thirty or forty troopers still remained alive, all of whom were approaching the deadly killings fields that surrounded this camp, Lu-Song agreed to call all of the survivors and order them to lay down their arms and return to the death bed of the two downed starships on the edge of the prairie. All the three Sub-Officers he spoke to were shocked to hear just how many troopers had died that day, and they all agreed to turn around and march back to their old camp, there they would await the victors of this one sided war.

Sub-Officer Go-lang and his remaining men had been pinned down, and when the help failed to materialise he had surrendered, and so they lived to see another day. Robbie remembering past orders had all the troopers` weapons collected from wherever they lay and had them taken to the colony`s armoury.

 

**********

 

Mark sighed with relief, they had won through against the Aldebrans, and against all the odds, some thirty good men and women had died during the battle for New Caledonia, but this undeclared war was now over. The Genesis cult, if they were indeed up there in orbit around New Caledonia, had still not shown themselves, now one thought ran through Mark`s mind, was Magnus Smart simply waiting for them to show themselves on the prairie before he commenced his attack on a people he hated with all of his dark soul. First though he sent John McIntire back out with a team of ten men to collect their injured comrades and to collect the bodies of the two who had fallen, they would be reburied here in the camp of the ancient temples. Later the body of Karl Meiser would be buried here, as soon as the chances of being attacked by this or that enemy was truly over.

Of course one other major problem also remained, what were they to do with those Aldebrans who had survived the battle of the temples, as Mark now called it. Joyce Marley now walked over to him; and she seemed to know just what he was thinking.

“Mark, the Aldebran prisoners, we will soon have more than we can deal with, if we treat them as such. Over the coming days and weeks some of them will rebel and there will be more deaths amongst both of our peoples. From what you have told me about them, if we allow them to return to their home they will be sent to a Gulag, that or executed as traitors or cowards, Mark, please think about another solution to the problem, one that I now offer up to you. We release them and ask them to become part of the population of New Caledonia, one that would include our own people, the prisoners and the Aldebran farmers.”

“You are willing to forgive the death of your husband, Joyce, he was not just killed, he was tortured by their commander until he died.” Mark replied.

“To forgive is said to be divine, do we not strive for perfection?” Joyce Marley asked looking directly into Mark`s eyes.

“We do, poorly, but we do Joyce. Have you mentioned this act of forgiveness to anyone else?” Mark asked.

“No, I thought that after you had thought the matter over, we would approach Lu-Song together and then speak to our people. However Mark, we do not have too much time to ponder on the matter, the Aldebrans waiting for their gaolers by the Ark might soon take it upon themselves to scatter into the forest and then attack our farms after we have set them up, a problem that you admitted was a dangerous possibility not too long ago.”

“You are right Joyce, and Vernon would have been proud of you, as I am, and you now have my agreement; however I believe that we should speak to our people before approaching the commander.” Mark said. “You know Joyce that we are more than lucky, if the rain storm that is still drenching us was not over this part of New Caledonia, then Magnus Smart would have easily found our camp, what with all of the Phaser fire blazing around its perimeter.”

“Maybe the rain is a sign that God is on our side Mark, rather than that of Magnus Smart, should we survive this war I will send him a message to that effect, Magnus Smart that is.” Joyce said grinning for the first time in a while.

 

**********

 

The eight teams were still at their posts, just in case a new group of Aldebrans arrived and decided to attack them, which they could well do if they found that the colonists had let their guard down, so they called in half of the sentries, leaving just twelve colonists at each compass point. They then asked the question to all those not on duty, paying extra attention to all those who had lost a partner. As for the colonists on the human trip wire, Joyce spoke to them personally over their smart phones. Initially Mark and Joyce were met with a stunned silence, but the many deaths over such a short period of time had shocked any who had witnessed it close up, and they agreed to the plan, for they all wanted a lasting peace. The remainder were for keeping their prisoners locked up and shooting any of those still free who resisted them. It was only after Mark and Joyce reiterated the problems that went along with this, and John McIntire and some of the others, who had been the mainstay of the teams that had ventured forth from the camp, had explained why they had agreed to the peace plan, that the doubters amongst them finally agreed to offer the Aldebrans peace and not humiliation. Finally, those who had been left at their posts also heard the proposal, and they also agreed to the plan. The majority of the colonists had all thought that murdering their prisoners, or sending them to a Gulag was not the Christian answer to their problem, forgiving them would show the galaxy how to act in victory. Mark was proud to be a part of this colony, one who could now look anyone in the eye knowing that they had acted upon their beliefs.

Mark, Joyce and Captain Larson now asked Commander Lu-Song to join them. When they made the suggestion to him, adding that the Aldebrans would all enjoy the same rights held by the colonists, by becoming New Caledonians, Commander Lu-Song was stunned; he had anticipated a quick end to the lives of all Aldebrans on P1056, now he was being offered citizenship. Tears rolled down his cheeks and his legs almost gave way beneath him, to know such a people must mean that god was looking kindly upon him, and as long as he atoned for his many sins he felt that he had a chance of a good afterlife, assuming that there really was such a thing.

“I do not know how to respond to your kindness, to treat the people responsible for so many deaths and anguish with such generosity of heart makes me ashamed to be an Aldebran. I can only offer up these humble words, on behalf of the Aldebran forces on P1056, or as we shall all call it now, New Caledonia, I accept your offer to become citizens of this planet. However, I do not know how we will support ourselves in the months to come, but that is a problem that we will overcome, for surely nothing is beyond us now.”

“You can help us recover some lost time by helping to cut down the trees that we will all need if we are to build log cabins for all of the colonists of this world, and with the coming of winter we shall certainly need them.” Mark replied kindly.

“We will be only too willing to do so; I have noticed before that any planet undergoing colonization is short of strong hands and strong backs.” Lu-Song replied in a voice that he hoped carried his wish to be helpful, and also showed that he was grateful for the chance of a new life here on this beautiful blue and green planet.

“There may be another problem that requires careful thinking about; the armed freighter that took out your starships might still be up there.” Mark said pointing up to the sky. “We have an idea who it might be but no way of proving it.”

Mark then told the commander of the Genesis cult and the danger it posed for anyone currently on the planet, both from Aldebra or from Earth.

“However, we can worry about that later; first you should inform all of the Aldebrans on the planet of our offer, to stop them from worrying about their future.” Mark said not adding that he also wanted to stop them from disappearing into the forest to become problems at a later time.

Using the captured Aldebran radio, Lu-Song first contacted the scattered troopers who were slowly returning to their old camp site, and then he went to the prison cell and spoke with the Aldebrans there, their answer was the same, they all jumped at the chance to stay on the planet, to become one with the colonists from Earth. Lu-Song now returned and gave Mark and the others the Aldebrans` answer.

“That is great Lu-Song, then tomorrow you and I will visit our old camp site to speak to the troopers and the farmers.” Mark said feeling a lot better than he had for a long time.

Commander Lu-Song now asked Mark a question. “Commander,” Giving Mark a title he thought appropriate. “I must ask you one question; will my men still be confined within their prison cell, now that we have agreed to join you, now that we are citizens of this planet?” Commander Lu-Song now waited for an answer, one that would tell him how much he could rely on their previous words. He felt a little guilty for testing his new friends but he had a duty to all of the surviving troopers.

Mark looked at Joyce Marley and Captain Larson, this was a request they had not anticipated, although it was an obvious one, Mark took it upon himself to answer.

“For the moment Lu-Song, your men will be confined to the limits of the camp, after we have spoken to your men and the farmers at the old camp site they will be permitted to re-join their comrades, or not, it will be their choice.” Mark said.

Commander Lu-Song smiled at his three friends, for that is how he now saw them. “Those terms are acceptable my friends, and we will now show you that we are to be trusted, I will go now and tell my comrades of their imminent release.”

“Lu-Song, before you go, the troopship brought with it a quantity of armoured vehicles, they could be very useful for our new colony, both for transporting people or goods when we move back to the original camp site, and after when we begin to build our colony. Could you ask your men where the vehicles are so that tomorrow morning they can assist us to bring the vehicles back here?”

“Of course Commander.” Lu-Song agreed and went off to speak to his men, accompanied by Joe Finney who had been asked to release their former prisoners.

Mark now spoke to Robbie. “Robbie, I want you to take ten colonists with you and move the Communications Centre to the cave that Richard`s team found, once there I want you to attempt to contact Earth. However, be very careful, if that armed freighter is still in orbit, and is indeed hostile to us, it might well fire its Phaser weapon at your location.”

Mark now turned to Captain Larson and Joyce Marley who were both feeling very happy now that their main antagonist had not only surrendered but agreed to join their colony.

“Captain Larson, Joyce, we should leave a reduced guard of ten colonists at each of our four defensive points, just in case trouble rears its head. Although I firmly believe that the war is over and that the Aldebrans pose no problem to our wellbeing, I believe it might also be wise to have a rapid response team ready. When Commander Lu-Song and I head off tomorrow morning for our original camp site, please keep an eye open for trouble and stamp on it hard. It could come from the Aldebrans who are angry at the deaths of their comrades, or from our own colonists for the same reason, it could even come from the Genesis cult if they finally locate our camp. Put a strong guard on the armoury, but try to make it as covert as possible, so the Aldebrans do not feel slighted.” Mark said.

“I agree with you Mark, we do not have anything to fear from the Aldebrans, but as you say we should take precautions for the moment, just in case we are both wrong.” Joyce Marley replied. “However, all three of us here should bear in mind that now we have won the war we now need to win the peace, and while we need security, our former enemies need to see our trust.” Joyce said levelly. “There is one more thing Mark, I have not had the chance to tell you how grateful we all are to you, your leadership kept the number of our people killed to a minimum after the first surprise attack, thank you for keeping so many of us alive.”

Mark blushed at her words and Susan, who had just appeared at his side, put her arms around him and kissed him.

The next morning the skies were clear, the rain storm had finally moved on, however it meant that the Genesis cult could now continue with their search for the colonist camp. Within the camp there was much activity after breakfast, it started when Mark and the Commander Lu-Song left for the old camp site in one of the small tracked vehicles. A little after they had gone the Aldebran troopers along with some of the colonists boarded the larger tracked vehicles and went to locate the Aldebran armoured vehicles and then to drive them back to junction where the wider track met their own personal track that led down to their camp. Finally, Robbie took his team to the cave where they set up the Communications Centre.

 

**********

 

On reaching the old camp site, Mark gathered the troopers and the Aldebran farmers together and told them that they were now all colonists of Earth, that they enjoyed all the rights possessed by the Earth colonists, that they were citizens of New Caledonia. He then spoke solely to the troopers.

“The colonists from Earth knew that the first few years would be hard and that they would have to give some of their time to help the other colonists. Your initial time, if you agree, will be filled doing one of two tasks, first to fell the trees and then to build the log cabins that will be the homes of all of the citizens of New Caledonia, so that we can all pass the winter in relative warmth and comfort, yourselves included. Each home will have fresh water and electricity and you will be able to turn to our doctor if you are injured or fall ill. The other task during this time will be to hunt the wild animals of this world and so provide food for all of the colony until the farms are able to supply us with our needs. If you feel this is not for you then you can become a farmer, or a miner, we will be happy to provide you with whatever assistance that you require. If anyone here has a talent for any trade, whatever it may be, please come to me, we need you.”

Mark then turned to the farmers. “You will all receive our help to carve out your farms, for we have farming machinery to clear the ground for all of our new farms, and tractors to do the manual work, this should ensure that all our farms will be up and running before the winter returns. If you need any specialist assistance then feel free to speak to my wife who is far more qualified than I am to speak to you about farming, as indeed are many of the colonists from Earth.”

Mark now addressed all of those before him. “As soon as an Earth ship arrives I will ask them to inform Earth of the situation here, and ask our Church to send more supplies for all of the colonists on New Caledonia. No one here will be left out in the cold; all we ask in return is that you help build our colony.”

Both the troopers and the farmers seemed happy with their new future and Mark was able to breathe a sigh of relief, and he thought that soon he might even be able to get on with his honeymoon.

 

 

**********

 

Robbie and his team arrived at the cave and quickly set up the Communications Centre. The next task was to set up one of the solar-powered photovoltaic panels, this they hooked up to the small but powerful transformer that was attached to the Communications Centre. With this attended too Robbie ran a systems check on the Communications Centre, with everything looking good he set up the subspace transmitter. Robbie and his team had to wait two long hours before the planet moved into its optimum position, the transmitter set safely within the cave was now pointing in the general direction of Earth. He now ordered everyone to move at least one hundred yards away from the cave, taking their transport with them. Only now did Robbie turn on the communications send and receive software, to have done so before might have sent an invitation for the ship in orbit to fire down on their position, and with his team still in or near to the entrance of the cave.

“Come in Earth, this is the colony on New Caledonia calling…”

That is as far as Robbie got before his receiver blasted him with static, once again his broadcast was being jammed, confirming that the freighter that destroyed the Aldebran starships was no friend of the colonists.

On board the Genesis, Magnus Smart laughed as he imagined how the colonists must have reacted to the jamming of their message. “Ms Smits, have you located where the colonists are broadcasting from?”

“Yes Sir, I am training out cameras on them now, you should see the area on your monitor in just a few seconds.”

On the monitor before Magnus Smart he saw the forest of New Caledonia appear, he zoomed in searching for signs of their camp, and swore when he could not find it.

“They appear to have had the foresight to position their Communications Centre in a different location to their camp, and it appears that they have hidden it within a cave, how very clever of them. Ms Smits, return the cameras to the crash site, I think they will soon show themselves there.

 

**********

 

The skies were still clear on the day of the big move; the day after Mark had told all of the Aldebrans that they were now citizens of New Caledonia. This time the big move would take the colonists back to their original camp; however Mark had decided that only a small number of the colonists would initially make the trip, and they would only take a small quantity of their goods with them. The reason being that Mark expected the starship belonging to the Genesis cult to fire down upon them as soon as Magnus Smart had enough of the hated colonists in his sights.

“But you are only taking thirty colonists with you; Magnus Smart will never believe that this compromises the entire colony.” Richard argued.

“Magnus Smart has no idea how many of us survived the crash, or how many have survived the war, no he will believe it.” Mark replied.

Joyce Marley was of the same opinion, and anyway she did not want to put all of their lives in harm’s way, so Mark`s plan was put into operation. The day before they were due to leave, the Aldebrans had brought the armoured vehicle to the junction where their narrow trail met the main trail, the nearest point that they could manage in the large heavy vehicles. Mark had arranged for the drivers to have some of the survival blankets to lay across the engines, to hide their heat signature from above, in this way Magnus Smart could not follow their heat signature to their new camp.

At first light the next morning the thirty colonists used their tractors to haul them and a small amount of equipment in the wagons to the junction where they boarded the vehicles, they then drove through the forest to the old camp site, arriving at dusk. Mark had the drivers’ park alongside the river; he needed them later to complete his deception. Mark had decided to use the same trick as he had used to fool the crew of the North Wind.

He had asked Joyce Marley to have all of the colonists move inside of the caves before the sun went down, for they now had no survival blankets to hide their heat signature. He and Joyce had agreed that although there would not be room to even swing a cat, she hoped that it would only be for the one night, so it would not be too much of a hardship to ask of them.

Back at the old camp site the first thing he did was to seek out Andreas and his family, and on finding them he told them of his plan to fool their latest enemy, then together with Andreas he spoke to the Aldebran farmers and asked them to light their usual camp fires that evening. He then went with Commander L-Song to ask the same thing of the troopers and with all the Aldebrans promising to cooperate he returned to the colonists. Mark and the colonists now lit many more camp fires in the prairie, alongside the river; there they laid out their bed rolls and some of the equipment that they had brought along. When the sun had set and darkness ruled the land Mark had the heavy vehicles, their heat signature hidden, drive along the line of the colonists to pick up all of the colonists, their disappearance being hidden by the use of their own survival blankets. The colonists were taken far into the prairie to the small temple that they had used before. Mark now returned to the camp site and picked up the troopers, and using the same technique he had them taken to the old temple that was fast filling up, in fact most of them had to bed down along the narrow gully that ran away from the temple. He left Lu-Song in charge to ensure that each person not inside of the small cave was hidden beneath a survival blanket, for Mark knew that they only had one shot at this. As for the farmers he had given the colony`s remaining survival blankets to them, and he told them that after midnight they must move deeper into the forest, and seek cover there, for Mark did not expect the Phaser fire to begin until the early morning.

The low tech scanners and cameras aboard the armed freighter Genesis easily located the many extra camp fires, and Magnus Smart decided that he would open fire on the sinners at four in the morning, when everyone should be asleep.

“It seems Captain that the colonists have made peace with the Aldebrans, how very Christian of them, pity it will not last through to the morning.” Magnus Smart sneered.

When the time came around the camp sites alongside the small river exploded in flames as Phaser bolts whistled down through the night sky to explode against the hard ground, and had the colonists still been they would have been killed to a man, or woman. When he was satisfied that he had killed enough of these sinners he ordered the Phaser to target the troopers` campsite, and this too was destroyed, the heat of the explosions setting fire to the surrounding prairie. Then the Phaser targeted the camp fires of the farmers, and soon the forest alongside the prairie was in flames, driving the farmers further away from whatever meagre possessions they had not taken with them and now never would, for they were burning into so much ash.

Mark looked at the flames lighting up the night, destroying everything they touched, and he prayed for yet another rainstorm to come to their aid. Up in space Magnus Smart simply laughed, until Mabel Smits interrupted his good mood.

“Sir, a large starship has just come out of hyperspace; I think that it is a space cruiser from the space fleet of Earth.” Smits reported anxiously.

Fear flickered across the face of Magnus Smart as he turned to look at the scanner monitor, then he turned to Captain Isaacs. “Get us out of here Captain, return to Earth, quickly.”

As they fled the scene, a massive rain storm swept across the forest and prairie and once again drenching the land and quenching the flames.

 

**********

 

Robbie and his team had stayed at the cave, following Mark`s orders after he had heard of the lack of success, and it was a very surprised Robbie who heard an English voice coming from the Communications Centre that had been left switched on.

Space cruiser Illustrious calling the colony of New Caledonia, are you all right down there?” Lieutenant Miles, the communications officer aboard the space cruiser asked.

“This is First Officer Jenson of the starship Ark, we are really glad to hear from you, we have been fighting a war ever since we crashed landed upon this planet.”

Captain Reynolds of the space cruiser Illustrious took a shuttle down to the surface of New Caledonia and landed on the scorched prairie near to the twisted ruins of the dead starships.

“Our agents in deep space traced signals from Aldebra to New Caledonia, Space Command feared that the colony could be in trouble, especially when individual colonists could not be brought to the radio to speak to their relatives on Earth, so here we are. But please, tell us your story, and how so many of you survived.”

Joyce Marley had joined Mark and Susan and she told the captain and his officers their story, of death, of heroism, and of one man who beat the Aldebran army and outsmarted Magnus Smart.

 

The End

 

 

If you enjoyed this story then please leave a positive revue, your support really does make a difference.

 

Also, why not visit my author page by clicking on the link. Shakespir Books.

 

About the Author

 

I was born in London, England. Like most of the world, I had to work hard to pay my mortgage and all the other bills, so I only had the time and the energy to write some short stories. My wife and I have a son who is now married to a lovely wife and they have five children of their own. Since retiring to the Greek island of Crete, I have finally found the time and the energy to write some full-length Science Fiction stories.

 

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Other Books by the Author

 

Colonies of Earth Series in order

 

Galaxy Spies

Time Storm

Rebirth

Trial by Ordeal

The Colonies of Earth Collection

 

Horror Stories

Strange tales; three short mild horror stories

 

Rob Hinds black magic stories

Kidnapped and Bound for Hell

The Satanists

Dreamscape

Rob Hinds science fiction horror story

The Harvesters (coming soon)

 

David Charlton stories, a science fiction series

Rescue Mission to the Stars

The Treasure of Altaraus

Return to Mazere

 

Other science fiction stories

Quasar

The Venetou

Invasion Earth

 

Short children`s stories

Three Journeys of the Scary Kind

 


A New Colony amongst the Stars

A starship sets off to colonise the planet New Caledonia, little do the colonists realise that the ship has been sabotaged by a weird religious cult. One that believes that the planets outside the solar system are all part of the biblical Eden, and that Man would be committing the greatest of sins to try to re-enter Eden. They survive the crash landing upon the planet only to find themselves under attack from both a planet ruled by a meglomaniac who has sent a task force to kill them, and the religious cult. Cut off from contacting Earth an ex-Marine leads them in a war to win this world for the colonists against two ruthless enemies who will stop at nothing to succeed.

  • ISBN: 9781370741397
  • Author: Philip R Benge
  • Published: 2016-12-25 14:20:11
  • Words: 73368
A New Colony amongst the Stars A New Colony amongst the Stars