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Adamanta (Season 1, Episode 1)

Adamanta

Season 1 – Episode 1

T. Y. Carew & Jess Mountifield

 

 

Episode Copyright © 2017 Jess Mountifield

Series Copyright © 2017 Jess Mountifield

Cover Copyright © 2017 Elizabeth Mackey

Published by Red Feather Writing

Shakespir Edition

All rights reserved.

 

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organisations, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author.

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please go to any online ebook store and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

[]Acknowledgements

Thanking people is always quite a fun part of any book release, and this one is entirely from my heart. So many people helped with this story and this universe. I am blessed by the number of amazing people I know and have in my life.

A huge thanks to the folks in The Retreat for being the initial sounding board for this idea. You guys totally rock in so many ways and for so many reasons. I think I’d have stopped being a writer by now if it wasn’t for the help you’ve given me in my toughest moments.

Also a big thank you to my husband, Phil, for listening to me as I excitedly bounced around the kitchen one morning telling him about this idea. You have an ability to listen almost entirely unrivalled by anyone.

An absolutely massive thank you to Ella at Paper Gold Publishing for being as excited about this project as me and believing in it. It’s not conventional, and it’s amazing to have someone to take a leap of faith with on any crazy journey. I hope I can reward your faith with plenty of fun and adventure along the way.

I also am very grateful to Stephen Scott and Andrew Bellingham for your ideas and input, especially your contributions to the series. It’s a pleasure to have such lovely writers alongside me on this project.

Once again, Elizabeth has blown me away with her cover designs, so thank you for all your awesomeness.

Finally, thank you God, for making me the adventure-filled, kick-ass-heroine loving, star gazer I am.

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[]Dedication

To James. For introducing your little sister to Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and online gaming, and starting the journey that turned her into the Sci-Fi and Fantasy loving gamer-chick she is today. You’re the perfect elder brother.

 

 

[]Chapter 1

“Drew, get your ass in here!” Colonel Xander yelled over his right shoulder as he sat down in the pilot seat of the small transport pod. A few seconds later, Drew’s slender frame came running up from behind, pounding along the metal floor like there was a whole ship of Beltine after him.

He lumped down into the co-pilots seat, almost scattering the armfuls of equipment he was carrying.

“Do you really need all that?” Xander asked.

“They want as many different readings as possible. With the briefing being so vague…” Drew shrugged. The medical scanner balanced on the top of the pile slipped and clattered to the floor. Xander sighed and grabbed the spare rucksack he’d shoved down by his feet.

“Get it loaded into that and hurry up. We’re late.”

“Yes, sir.”

Xander tried to ignore the noise and commotion Drew was making so he could concentrate on getting the pod up and running. It had been a little while since he’d flown one but he’d had all the refresher training he should need. He looked for the right switches and buttons to press until he heard Tyra’s voice come in through the comm system.

“Are you sure you don’t want me and Trey to come?” Despite the mechanical edge the speaker added to the voice, Xander picked up on the higher pitch. She’d wanted to come on this mission since she’d first heard about it.

“I can manage. Keep our lady in orbit and take care of her. I’m hoping we won’t be gone long.”

“Right, I’m ready,” Drew said a moment later. When Xander glanced over, he noticed the tech geek was jiggling in his seat like a kid on Christmas Eve. Xander grinned, hoping the kid wouldn’t be disappointed, and pressed the comms to broadcast to whoever waited down on the planet.

“Colonel Finlay, departing for research post beta, nine, echo. ETA, twenty minutes and counting,” Xander said.

“Roger that, Colonel Finlay. We’ll leave the hangar doors open for your arrival.”

“All right, then,” Xander muttered, and edged the pod out of his ship’s bay doors. Immediately, his view was filled with the surface of the planet Caprin below. It was only three quarters the size of Earth but its gravity would be similar, and it had plenty of lush green vegetation, making it one of the few worlds that looked the way they said Earth had.

“Do you think this metal can really do everything they say it can?” Drew asked a few minutes later.

Xander shook his head.

“I doubt it. Maybe in a few decades, but not yet. They’re only prototypes, and they’ve got their own kid demonstrating. No parent lets their kid handle the kind of weaponry the commanders mentioned.”

“They seem pretty excited. I thought General Kelton was going to start drooling.”

Xander chuckled. It wasn’t a far-off assessment of how the general had reacted to the news, but they were getting their asses kicked by the Beltine. If this metal was really what fueled the relentless nature of the Beltine’s Dairos soldiers then it was worth looking into. Hope was hard to come by, and a part of him wanted this demonstration to be good, just as much as every general had back at military HQ. They needed it.

As the pod shuddered in the grip of the ground clamps and stilled on the flight pad, Xander let out the breath he’d been holding. It had been too long since he’d flown. He made a mental note to get Tyra or Trey to give him some refresher lessons during their next down time. If this technology was really ready to be deployed, he’d be in the thick of battle even more often, and he didn’t want to get caught out in an emergency.

The first thing he noticed when he stepped out of the pod was how few military personnel there were. Only two soldiers stood nearby, both armed with the basic laser pistols, and neither looked particularly old. In front of him stood a man and woman, both dressed in lab coats and carrying clipboards.

“Mr. and Mrs. Adair.” Xander nodded. “This is Drew Raynor. He’s going to run some tests during the demonstration.”

The short scientist scurried forward to shake hands with the husband and wife researchers. They talked of technical matters while Xander took in his surroundings. The hangar was small and only had enough room for another pod at the same time as his. He couldn’t see any sign of an escape ship in the event the planet was attacked. The military really were counting on the planet’s secrecy to protect it.

“Come this way, Colonel, and we’ll get the demonstration underway,” Mr. Adair said, breaking into his inspection of the facility. He gave the man a brief nod, and allowed the scientists, followed closely by Drew, to lead the way.

“You said the metal can be used to harness brainwaves?” Drew said, speaking so fast Xander had to replay the question in his head to work out what had been asked.

“Yes. It is molded to a particular person’s thoughts and then responds to those thoughts. With some people it’s easier than with others, however.” The scientist grinned as they were led down a corridor and around a corner. The right hand side switched from the standard metal paneling to glass-filled sections running across the side of a training area. Inside, a young woman stood. She was barely above five foot, blindfolded, and her face was stern. Xander took in the array of dull gray shortswords criss-crossing down her back. A matching small circle of the same sort of metal was fixed to her temple in line with her eyes, and several more were dotted about the floor, ceiling and walls.

Opposite them was a row of screens, each of them showing the picture of a camera feed that matched up with the dots around the room, except for one in the center that was almost black, but not quite the blank color when off.

“Our daughter, Mattie, will be demonstrating for you today. Of everyone here at the facility, she is the most proficient with the technology.” Mrs. Adair took a small step forward and pressed an intercom button on a small control panel set into the wall. “You ready, honey?”

Mattie gave an almost imperceptible nod. She then inhaled as her mom pressed a few more buttons. Three drones, designed to imitate Beltine Dairos, sprung from containers in the room and rushed the girl in the middle.

Still unable to see, she side-stepped the flailing arms of one as the two topmost swords in her stack of six flew out of the sheath and into her hands. Whirling, she cut down the second drone. The move was followed by a ducking roll underneath the live laser fire of the third. She landed in a crouch, facing it, and the sword flew in a straight line out of her hand to impale the drone right through its central nervous system. At the same time, another sword flew from the set on her back to block the downward strike of the first drone.

Xander’s mouth fell open as four small pellets darted out of a pocket on her thigh and tore into the circuits of the final drone standing. While Mattie stood up, the training robot hit the deck, sparking as the pellets ran a high voltage charge through it.

“Miss Adair!” her father yelled.

“Mattie?” Concern played in the mother’s voice, and Xander found himself wondering what had happened to make her parents cross with her after that demonstration. She evidently felt the same, as she ripped off her blindfold and looked their way. Immediately, the dark on the middle screen changed to a view of him, Drew and her parents through the glass that separated them. It was her own viewpoint on the display.

“What?” she asked when her father shook his head and her mother tutted.

“There was only meant to be one drone.”

“Why? I can handle five now. Three’s easy.” She grinned and nodded at Drew and Xander. Without her even looking, the swords moved around in the air until all of them were back in the holder strapped to her back. “Hi.”

“That was amazing,” Drew said before Xander could close his mouth and think of a suitable reply. Her smile widened, showing her teeth and lighting up her deep brown eyes.

“And live-fire, young lady… what were you thinking?” Mr. Adair said as he walked through the door that had just opened in one side of the room. Xander followed and went up to the nearest drone to inspect the damage Mattie had done. Mattie shrugged and walked over to him.

“How badly damaged is it?” she asked.

“Its circuits are probably fried.” Drew hurried to stand beside Mattie and gazed at her, still impressed.

“You punctured the right fluid system, too.” Xander straightened and met her gaze. While she stared up at him, the small metal pellets she’d fired at it worked back out of the holes to come together in a group in front of him. After a few seconds of holding them there, Mattie reached out with her hand and plucked them from the air.

“Wow.” Drew stared, wide-eyed.

“What tests do you need to run, Drew?” Xander asked, wanting to get as much data as he could. He’d been wrong about the possibilities of the metal, and now he wanted as much hard evidence as he could get that this was a formidable weapon. The geek took a few seconds to respond to the question and then fumbled with the rucksack full of equipment, almost dropping it in his haste to get the first scanner out.

“Walk me through what you did a moment ago,” Xander said as Drew moved over to the only table in the room to unpack. Mr. and Mrs. Adair were already there, also laying out an arrangement of different objects.

“Well, this little piece here and here…” Mattie tapped the little discs on her temples, “interact with my sight and the visuals from the little cameras scattered around the room.”

She held up her hand and all the little discs he’d thought were fitted cameras came whizzing over to land in her palm. At the same time, the outer screens on the wall all turned to fuzz, leaving his face plastered on the middle one.

“I can see what they can see, and my sight can be picked up and displayed over there.” Mattie pointed to the middle screen. As she turned to follow her own indication, the picture went with her until it showed the wall it was mounted on.

“And you can move anything made out of this metal with your thoughts?”

“Not anything. It has to be molded, or tuned to my mind first.”

He nodded, realizing that was the weak spot of this technology. Mattie could only control the items made for her in particular. That meant each soldier would need to have his or her own equipment.

Two lab technicians came scurrying in and moved to the nearest drone. One carried several spare parts. Xander smiled at the mess the technicians were going to have to fix. Rather them than him. As they bustled about the lab, Mattie motioned for him to follow her over to where her parents and Drew were talking.

While Drew placed wires and pads on Mattie’s head to monitor her as she performed basic tricks with the metal, her parents focused their attention on Xander.

“Colonel, we’ll take patterns for your mind first, if that’s all right. The sooner we get your data in, the sooner we can get some metal attuned to you.” Mrs. Adair held out pads to stick to his forehead and temples.

He let her usher him into a chair and attach what she needed. As soon as she was done, she gave him a series of instructions to give his body, and topics to think about and imagine. While they were doing this, Mr. Adair stood by a small station with a container of the solid metal. After Xander had obeyed each command, Mr. Adair pressed a few buttons on a small panel, and diagrams of different wave patterns appeared on the screen.

Although Xander didn’t entirely understand it, he knew the general idea. His thoughts were being transmitted to the lump of metal somehow.

“Try and lift it,” Mattie said only a few seconds after her mother had declared him finished. He frowned, surprised he’d not noticed Drew finishing up with her, and then saw his civilian techie following her, trying to stop the wires still attached to her from being pulled off her forehead as she moved.

“How do I do that?” he asked, when they all looked at the lump of metal.

“Imagine it lifting up.”

Several minutes later nothing had happened.

“Sometimes it can take several tries,” Mrs. Adair said, and gave him a small smile.

“Or more emotion.” Mattie screwed up her face in thought, then, without warning, flung her arm back and slapped him. Xander gaped in shock.

“Matilda Adair!” Her father put himself between them but she ignored his outburst and peeked around his shoulder.

“Anger makes it easier. Try it again.”

He nodded, understanding her violence now, and focused on the metal again. Even if he didn’t approve of her methods, he supposed that was the point. It still didn’t move.

“I can hit you again if you want.”

Drew laughed but stopped when the metal shook and rattled in the container. It rose a centimeter before it fell back down again. Xander felt pain flare in the depths of his head, but he kept quiet.

“There. A start.” Her father picked up the lump of metal.

“How long does it take to get as good as Miss Adair?” Xander asked, looking at her father.

“Call me Matt. And I started learning fifteen years ago, but you may never get as good as me,” Matt said, answering for herself.

“Fifteen years? But the program has only been running for five,” Drew said as they hooked his mind up in place of Xander’s.

Mr. and Mrs. Adair shuffled and gave their daughter warning glances.

“It took a long time to get convincing data and research. For several years, I was the only one who could even move the stuff.” Mattie shrugged and drew one of her short blades again. She sat down where Drew had originally wanted her and spun it in mid-air while his devices clicked and beeped at the data being fed into them.

“We kept our research very secret for the first few years after our initial breakthrough, and, even now, only a select few in the military and finance sector know of what we do here,” Mr. Adair explained further. “It has been important to have little information for the Beltines to find.”

It took a little more time for Drew to go through the required tasks and have his mind molded with a second, smaller lump of metal, but he lifted it sooner than Xander and didn’t need any painful encouragement from Mattie.

The two lead scientists then excused themselves to get back to their research, assuring him that Mattie could provide any more information they might need.

“I think I’m done, until our equipment is ready to practice with.” Xander stood up and nodded goodbye to the senior members of the Adair family.

“You should eat and sleep until then,” Mattie said. “None of it will be ready until tomorrow.”

“Can I stay and run more scans?” Drew asked, staring at a screen on a small medical device while Mattie projected what she could see onto the screen. Xander nodded and let one of the nearby research assistants take him to a small guest room off to one side of the research facility.

He didn’t know exactly what they were making for him and Drew with the metal, but he had been promised an array of technology to try that would be suitable to the military.

If it worked even half as well as Mattie’s display that day, it would be a leap forward in equipment needed to save the human race. For the first time in many years, Xander allowed himself to feel a glimmer of hope for their future. Humanity might just survive this war.

 

 

[]Chapter 2

A shrill buzzing dragged Matt from her dreams of slaying Beltine in their droves. She sighed and rubbed the sleep from her eyes, not wanting to get up. When she remembered what the day entailed, she found the sudden motivation to push back the covers, turn the alarm off and take a shower. The two guys from the military were there, and that meant she had someone to show off for. Someone who might help her get off this planet.

As much as she loved her parents, it was time to move on and do something with her life. She couldn’t spend all her best years being their guinea pig, or waiting for Simon to decide he wanted to come spend some relaxation time on her planet. And it would surprise Simon for her to turn up at his condo on Netera without telling him.

With this thought, a grin spread across her face. Their relationship was pretty loose and could barely be called a relationship in the real sense, but it suited them both. It was a pleasant surprise when he showed up at the research lab, but neither of them expected more than some fun when they were together. For several months now, she’d wondered how he’d react to an unexpected visit from her. There was only one way to find out.

Half an hour after her alarm went off, Matt made her way out of the box she called a bedroom and through the narrow corridors to the canteen. Only about half the workforce was at breakfast, scattered across the three tables big enough to seat eight each, but the room was mostly full. Even with the security and scientists combined, there were only around forty people on the planet at any one time.

Drew was sitting with his colonel alone, and it gave her little choice but to grab some fruit and join them. Not that she minded. Newcomers were always more interesting than the same middle-aged scientists day after day.

“Good morning, Miss Adair,” the Colonel said as she gave them both a nod.

“Seriously, call me Matt, please.”

“Not Mattie?” Drew asked. She shook her head flicking a few drops of water from her still wet ponytail.

“Nah, that’s what my parents call me. They think Matt is too male.” She bit into her apple and chewed but no one said anything before she’d finished. “Have they made all your tech yet?”

Drew sighed. “Most of it. They said we could head to the lab at ten.” Of the pair, he was definitely the most keen, but she knew the colonel had liked what he’d seen. He just wasn’t much of a talker.

“What’s the most you can do with the metal at once?” Xander asked as he pushed his empty plate away from him.

“On a good day, I can keep the six blades in the air while keeping track of eight little cameras and project my own vision. If I want to use the little zappers or some bullet-like pellets, I need to put a few swords down or take them in my hands.”

“Can you move the cameras at the same time as using the swords?”

“No. There’s a limit on how many you can keep track of at once. It’s like multitasking. It’s hard.”

“But you did all three together yesterday,” Drew said around a mouthful of porridge.

“I’ve had a lot of practice.” Matt shrugged. Both her parents had struggled to grasp the technology as well as she had, and she’d not seen anyone else take to it as well, but she knew she had learnt from a young age, and it was easier to learn anything while young.

“Can you teach it to others?” Xander stared at her and she knew this was where he’d wanted to take the conversation the whole time. If it meant she could leave the research facility, she would volunteer for anything.

“Of course. It might take some time, but if I can get this good, so can others.”

Before she could ask what he had in mind and try to encourage him to take her with him back to the military base on Netera, the lab alarm went off. Xander sat bolt upright and Drew dropped his spoon into his porridge bowl, but Matt barely reacted. After a moment, she glanced at the rest of the canteen. No one else was paying it any mind either.

“We got a drill scheduled?” she asked the nearest scientist. He shrugged.

“If there was a drill scheduled, I’d have known about it.” Xander got to his feet and pulled his laser pistol from his thigh strap. Drew gulped and stood up as well. When the alarms didn’t stop and the radio of the nearest security guard crackled into life, she realized something must be wrong. The guard’s face drained of color.

“Everyone to the nearest bunker,” she yelled, motioning for the scientists to get to their feet. As soon as they were moving, she rushed past them towards the exit.

“Where are you going?” Xander called after her as he followed behind in a jog.

“My equipment is in my room. It’s not far.”

“Aren’t you meant to head to the bunker, too?”

“Yeah, but I’m not going anywhere without my kit.” Matt stopped in the doorway to the living areas and Drew almost smacked into the back of her. She closed her eyes and concentrated on finding her pack with her mind. Lifting two of the six blades in the right way created enough force to carry the whole neatly packed bag towards her. Soon it came into sight, floating through the open doorway to her bedroom.

The loud bang of an explosion broke her concentration and the bag hit the floor with a thud. Seconds later, she felt the tug of air trying to pull her backwards towards some hole in the lab’s external areas. Immediately, the compartment doors to the canteen and living areas responded to the threat and started to slide shut.

With a growl, she used the handles on the side wall to fight the wind and pull her body through the narrowing gap to the living area. Once on the other side, she fixed her eyes on the bag she needed, vaguely aware that both Xander and Drew had followed her before the door slammed shut behind them. They were stuck in the living section with no idea what was happening when they should have been in the bunker along with all the other base personnel.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Xander rounded on her as she met her pack in the air. Ignoring him, she pulled out the blade sheaths and strapped the pack in its usual place on her back. “If that’s the Beltine, then—”

“If that’s the Beltine, then I need these,” she snapped, cutting him off. “Why did you follow me anyway?

“I’ve got orders to keep you alive.”

Matt stopped gearing up and raised her eyebrows at him.

“Yesterday evening I sent a transmission back to HQ. They ordered me to report back as soon as I had an idea of what that metal could do.”

She groaned and shook her head.

“They followed the signal?” Drew came closer.

“We don’t know for sure it’s the Beltine yet.” Xander exhaled and surveyed the area while Drew looked to her.

She finished strapping all the different items to her, making sure she had easy access to the zappers and her extra eyes.

“So we need to get some information and find out what’s going on,” she said when she was kitted up.

“Yeah. Can I hook something up to those cameras of yours?” Drew asked, snapping out of his fearful daze. She nodded and pulled the pads out of her main pouch to attach them to the sides of her face. A few seconds later, she felt the familiar sting of them clamping into her skin. By the time it had fizzled out, she had four of the camera discs in her hand.

Matt walked back to the security door and placed them in a small recess to one side of it. As Drew came back from the guest area with a portable monitor in his hands, she pressed a few buttons and transferred the eyes to the other side of the vacuum-sealed doorway. She was grateful the people who’d designed the base had thought it sensible to put this functionality in every door, and not just to the labs, where explosions were more likely.

Closing her eyes again, she moved the discs out on the other side and sent them moving through the corridor towards the far edge of the building.

“How do we see what you see?” Xander asked, breaking through her concentration. Taking a deep breath to steady her focus and keep the four eyes moving, she quickly explained how the transmitter on her temples worked. The colonel looked to Drew, but Drew was already pressing buttons on the device. A few seconds later, a blurry image appeared on the screen.

“You need to split it in two,” she said. “I can flick through two images at once, one for each of my real eyes.

“Man, that must seem strange to you.” Drew pressed a few more buttons.

“Yeah. If I do it too much, I get a headache.”

“Can you cope with more than four now?” Xander asked as he took a look through the glass on the security door.

“Yeah, I can do up to eight, but six is more comfortable for my mind.” She pulled another two from her pouch, anticipating his next question.

“To check the scientists all got to the bunker all right.” Xander’s eyes met hers, and she saw the concern in them. He wanted to keep as many people alive as he could, even if his orders were to protect her.

After using the little transfer box on the side of the door for the second time, she closed her eyes again and focused on what the six eyes could see. Using them in pairs, similar to her own eyes, helped minimize the confusion to her mind and the subsequent pain she felt, so she sent them in three separate directions.

As they moved, she flicked between them every couple of seconds, knowing the screen in Drew’s hand would do the same. The first pair arrived outside the bunker door off the canteen and roved around the area to check everyone there was inside. At least the second breakfast shift was hidden out of the way.

Matt left the eyes to watch over the canteen and the bunker entrance while she focused on the other two pairs. Not far down the corridor from the living area, there was a T-junction with the laboratories one way and the hangar the other. There was no sign of damage in either direction until the right hand pair got to the hangar bay entrance. The doorway was a smoldering mess. She had to pull the metal discs back to a safe distance as fire erupted from the doorway. Anyone who’d been in that area wasn’t alive anymore.

Not long after flicking to the other set, Xander’s voice made her jump.

“Go back to the others,” he commanded. The sternness in his voice took her by surprise, but she obeyed, leaving the other two to watch over the lab area entrance for a moment.

For several seconds, she could only see a fire-filled doorway and black smoke billowing out into the hangar, but then something moved on the other side of it.

“Find a path past the fire to see what that was,” Xander said, but he needn’t have bothered. Already, her mind was searching for a route through. The discs moved forward, more slowly than normal but still forward, as she tried to get around the fire and loose electric wires dangling from the broken ceiling.

Eventually, she could see the other side, and she gasped as she took in the destruction. The colonel’s pod was gone, and in the wreckage stood a large Beltine transporter. Dairos poured out of the hatch, followed by three of the larger Kyraos.

“That’s a lot of Beltine,” Drew said. Matt just groaned. Even she couldn’t handle this many. She bit down on her lip to help herself focus through the fear and worry tugging at the inside of her stomach, and switched her view back to the other eyes. Both her parents would be in the direction of the laboratories. She needed to know if they were safe.

 

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[]Chapter 3

It took Xander’s brain several minutes to catch up with what his eyes were seeing. There were over a hundred Beltine pouring out into the hangar of the facility, and the only good thing about seeing that was knowing the building must have sealed itself again from the outside. The enemy couldn’t breathe the atmosphere on this planet any more than the humans could.

While Matt strove to control her panic and flitted the eyes she controlled towards the laboratories, Xander knew he had to decide what to do. Yet again, he was faced with the worst sort of decision. No matter what he chose, people were likely to die.

His primary mission on the planet was to ascertain the usefulness of this new metal element and secure both the research and the best equipment and personnel who would be most effective at using it. It was an amazing substance, and that brought him to the second part of his instructions. He needed to try and protect Mattie, her parents and their work, while also obtaining his and Drew’s gear, if he could manage to do so.

Xander gritted his teeth. With the Beltine halfway between them and the labs, he knew he had to choose, and he knew which was the most logical option. Whether Mattie had worked it out yet or not, her parents were both going to die.

“Is there any way we can download your parents’ research?” he asked Mattie, but she ignored him, still focusing on the pair of eyes rushing towards the labs. Occasionally, she flicked back to the other sets to check on the Beltine in the hangar and the canteen, but it only told him that he didn’t have much time.

Xander gave up on Matt and looked at his usual companion.

“We need to get to the bunker by the canteen. There’s a back exit from it out onto the planet.”

Drew nodded at him and handed over the screen.

“I’ll get my stuff.”

“Can we get this door open now?” Xander turned back to Mattie but she still didn’t acknowledge his presence. Her eyes were closed, and he could see from the screen that her parents had her sole focus.

Inside the lab, both scientists were working furiously at a couple of work stations. Two technicians were nearby, placing wrapped bundles into a medium-sized metal box. It appeared to be the kit they’d made for him and Drew, but there was no way to tell for sure.

Matt didn’t focus on them long, instead moving her eyes to sit right in front of her father’s face. She then flitted towards the door, but Mr. Adair didn’t stop his work. When Matt made the same movement a second time, her mother and father came together into the view, and he could see tears on Mrs. Adair’s face.

“We love you,” she mouthed to her daughter. A small moan escaped from Matt. They then pulled a data chip from the computer console in front of them, placed it into a little metal box evidently designed for it and held it up so Matt could see it.

Her father mimed for it to come to her by pointing his fingers at it and then through the camera to her several times. At the same time, he mouthed words.

“Get to safety.”

“No, no…” Matt’s swords all exited her sheaths at the same time.

Seconds later, Drew came running back through from the guest quarters.

“Got everything,” he said, stating the obvious.

“Good, get this door open. We have to get out of here.” Xander glanced at the screen, but for now it was blank.

As Matt kept her eyes closed, trying to fight off the falling tears, her entire arsenal of weapons readied to attack. Xander lifted his gun and kept one eye on what Matt could see and the other on Drew and his progress.

Mr. Adair had obviously attuned his mind to the data chip’s box, because it moved out of sight towards the door. Matt followed its movement long enough for him to see it be put through a small airlocked item-transfer recess, identical to the one beside their door. At least he could count on her father to help him preserve the research. But no matter how many times he tried to call Mattie, she ignored him and wouldn’t follow it with her eyes.

Instead, Matt flicked between the Beltine and her parents. Xander could only watch and wait beside her as the four people in the lab tried to protect the metal that was left, stowing it in a small safe at the back of the lab, and then came together to stand around what looked like an energy device.

The Beltine evidently knew where they were going, as they walked right past the junction in the corridor that led their way and hurried towards the labs. The cameras could only hover and watch.

“Get that door open, Drew!” Mattie yelled before Xander could. Her eyes flew open and he saw the anger and aggression in them.

“I’m working on it, I’m working on it,” Drew muttered to himself as her breathing increased in speed and she gritted her teeth. Even Xander felt a small tingle of nerves in the base of his neck at what she was about to unleash on the Beltine.

But looking at the view on the screen, he knew it would be too late. She wouldn’t be able to cut through the aliens in the way fast enough to save her parents.

“Come on, come on,” he said. As much an encouragement for Drew to open the door as the small dull-gray box containing the data chip to get to them. It had just rounded the corner in the corridor outside but several Dairos were close behind, made curious by the floating mass.

“Open!” Drew yelled, as he dived to one side of the doorway and shoved the device and small probes back into the top of his rucksack. Xander fingered the trigger of his pistol, and red laser bolts flew towards the Dairos. Most dodged the fire, but one crumpled into a squealing heap, its chest sporting a smoldering pockmark.

Six large metal blades rushed past Xander less than a second later, as the data chip’s container faltered and almost fell to the ground.

“We need that box,” Xander yelled as he moved out into the hallway and faced the charging Dairos. Matt’s swords cut down the nearest before Xander could blink, and moved on to the next as she stepped after him. She didn’t take her eyes off the whirling blades, yet, somehow, managed to divide her sight between the view in front of her and the eyes she had scattered around the facility. He had no idea how she was doing it, but he was glad she was. It gave him the information he needed to make an informed decision.

“Get to the canteen, Drew, and get them to prep for the environment outside. We can’t fight this many Beltine.”

Drew came up behind him as he and Matt took step after step towards the aliens at the end of the corridor. As soon as they were close to the right hand opening, Drew darted off and down it.

Rather than come up close and fight them, the Dairos were commanded to hold back. They simply blocked the passage, doing everything they could to hinder the movements of Mattie’s swords.

She let out a guttural growl as she lost control of one sword. It came flying down the corridor towards them, blasted that way by a Dairos gun shot. As they concentrated their fire on her, she found herself unable to stand out in the open without protection. A moment later, she moved to the side of the corridor to shelter behind a wall brace and pulled back two swords to help deflect any shots coming her way.

Unable to help her any more, Xander crouched in the right hand tunnel and focused on the screen he was still holding, watching everything she could see. Now that she was in the middle of battle, she ignored four of the eyes and kept flicking her concentration between her natural sight and the two she’d placed in the lab. She’d split the pair up. The left showed her parents and the technicians frantically fiddling with something, while the other showed the Beltine blasting at the door to the lab, trying to get in.

Xander could barely watch as each shot caused more damage. It wouldn’t be long before the door gave way. With only a few shots to spare, Mr. and Mrs. Adair stopped working and took each other’s hands. They both glanced one last time at the door before all four occupants reached out as one and pressed the same button.

Matt half yelled and half snarled as another explosion came from the far reaches of the base. The eyes she’d used to watch the lab were blank, and the data chip container smacked into the floor. Her parents had just sacrificed themselves to ensure their research didn’t fall into enemy hands, taking all the scientists and technicians on that side of the base with them.

“We need that box!” Xander yelled, and tried to rush out of the side corridor to get it. A barrage of shots from the Dairos sent him back under cover.

“Grrrrrrr.” Matt reached out her hand and stared intently at the box. He saw it twitch and judder towards her as her six blades whirled around in front. At the same time, another two blades tore through the top of the pack on her back and joined the fray.

He froze, amazed that she could handle so much, but it soon appeared to take its toll. Blood dripped from her nose and she let out a pained moan, yet she didn’t stop or falter.

As the box inched close enough he could retrieve it, he threw his body to the other side of the corridor, sweeping it up in his arms.

“Time to go,” he said, intending for Matt to lead him back to the canteen, but she didn’t respond, her attention still on the Beltine. Now both nostrils were bleeding, and even her eyes looked like they might burst out with blood.

Xander knew he had to do something before she pushed herself too far. Her rage was fueling her ability but at the detriment to her body.

After a deep breath, Xander rushed back across the corridor, wrapping his arms around Matt’s torso on the way. She tumbled sideways with him on top.

“Get off me!” she yelled, and tried to wriggle back to the Dairos.

“We have to save the others. They need you, Matt.”

“I’m not…”

“It’s too late, Matt. You can’t help them. Come on.” He tucked his arm underneath her shoulders to lift her to her feet again. She struggled to get upright, suddenly dazed and unfocused. Eventually, he had her cradled against him enough to move.

With the swords following them, he rushed her towards the canteen, half carrying her, half pulling her along. As Dairos came sprinting after them, he did his best to move her faster.

Up ahead, Drew lingered in the doorway to the bunker. The kid’s face relaxed with relief when he saw them, but his widening eyes a few moments later let Xander know how close the Dairos were behind them.

“Get inside!” Xander waved for Drew to go back and move out of the way. After giving Matt a shove down the flight of four steps, he grabbed the other side of the bunker door and yanked it shut behind them. Thankfully, Drew had caught her.

He rammed the lock home as he took in the bunker full of frightened faces. Other than Matt and Drew, all of them were already wearing breathing masks. His techie had noticed the blood still seeping out of Matt’s nose and was tending to the groggy girl as she tried to stand on her own.

The first gun blast slamming into the other side of the sealed door let him know how little time he had. Within this bunker were twelve scientists, the remaining six-person security team, Drew, and Mattie. It wasn’t a big force.

As Drew helped Matt put on a mask and fixed his own in place, Xander motioned the security team towards him. Trying to block out the gun blasts for a moment, he focused on the men in front of him.

“Is there another structure on this planet we can aim for? Somewhere more easily defended with only a few people?”

“Yes, a military outpost,” the security chief said, only just loud enough for Xander to hear above the din. “But it’s not close; about seventy kilometers, and in need of a few repairs. It was here before the lab was made.”

“Then we’ll head there.” Xander grabbed his own breathing mask and hoped it would be enough to keep them alive until help arrived. Of all the missions he’d been on, he knew this was one of few where he could count on the military at least trying to get to them in time.

The masks each of them now wore had small oxygen tanks attached. The planet had some oxygen in the atmosphere, so no one would die right away if the supplies ran out, but it would make it difficult to travel, and over enough days could prove fatal.

When Xander gave the room his attention again, he noticed Matt looked her normal self, except for a sheen in her eyes as she battled back tears. In each hand she carried a short sword, and the other six were nestled in the holder on her back. The screen, now in Drew’s hands, flicked between the view in the canteen outside, the view in the hangar where the three Kyraos lingered with a small contingent of heavy armored Dairos, and her own viewpoint.

“Right, let’s get everyone out of here. Lead the way, Sergeant.” Xander motioned for the security chief to get the exit open. He then issued instructions to the rest of the waiting team. “You, with him. Two of you on either side of the middle. The final two can protect the rear with me and Matt. Everyone else, double file.”

“Where do you want me, Colonel?” Drew asked.

“Near us but out of danger, and keep an eye on that screen while Matt gives us strategic viewpoints.”

Drew nodded and joined the queue of people filing into the tunnel that led out of the building. Matt hung back at his side, composed once more.

“Can you keep a pair of those cameras in the hangar bay with the Kyraos?” he asked when they were backing up behind the last of the survivors.

“For a while, but it will get harder to use them the farther away I am. If I leave them there for too long I’ll struggle to move them back to me.”

Xander nodded.

“Don’t push it that far, but keep them in the hangar as long as you can.”

“All right.”

“Good, let’s get this lot to safety,” Xander said and gave her a grim smile. It wasn’t going to be easy. His main asset had just watched her parents die.

 

 

[]Chapter 4

The eyes in the canteen flicked into Matt’s mind on command, and she knew it wouldn’t be long before the Beltine broke through to the bunker and realized they were heading down an escape tunnel.

She and Xander had moved crates and boxes across the tunnel on the inside of the door to make it tougher to follow them, but the Beltine wouldn’t need to remove the obstruction once they figured out what had happened. The Kyraos would know they were heading out onto the planet surface, and they’d divide the Dairos.

At least they’d had the foresight to stash food, drink and spare oxygen tanks in lightweight rucksacks within the bunker, as well as the crated supplies. Every other person in the group up ahead carried a rucksack. Xander carried one, and protested when Matt grabbed one for herself, but they both knew Drew couldn’t take one along with all the technology he had in his pack. She didn’t want to be a burden on the group’s resources without at least trying to help.

She jogged beside him down the tunnel, letting him guide her when she focused on the viewpoint of the other eyes. For now, she was quite happy to be busy helping everyone escape. It kept her mind occupied and gave her little room to feel anything but numb or angry.

A pounding in her head also kept her from thinking too hard. It required more concentration to control only a little amount of the metal than it had earlier, after her rage-fueled attack. The effort to move the box of metal tuned to her father had proved draining, and at some point Xander would want her to explain how she’d done it. That possibility wasn’t mentioned anywhere in her parents’ research and had been contradicted by their explanations the previous day.

In truth, she didn’t entirely understand it, but she suspected it had something to do with the anger she’d felt, and how good she was at controlling the metal, or at least in moving it. She wouldn’t have been able to do anything else with it.

“They’re through,” she whispered just loudly enough Xander would hear her over the echo of hurried feet on metal flooring.

“Keep an eye on any that follow us. And watch how the Kyraos react.”

Xander caught her arm as she almost tripped on a strut, and helped her continue out of the tunnel. For a moment, she forgot her eyes and stared at the beautiful planet around her, but Xander didn’t give any of them long to take the sight in.

“Keep moving, everyone. We’ve got a fair way to go.” Xander motioned for the whole troop to continue following the security into the forest.

Already several of the scientists were puffed out, but they returned to the same jogging pace as before, letting the sergeant lead everyone in what Matt could only hope was the right direction. After a few seconds to find a rhythm, she resumed her vigil with the eyes.

The containers had only slowed the Beltine a little. Already many of the Dairos were rushing down the tunnels after them. None of the Kyraos seemed concerned that they were tiring their own troops out, but they’d increased from their previous comfortable state to a more animated one. As she watched, the Kyraos withdrew into the nearest fighter class ship and lifted off.

Before she could relay this to Xander, Drew slowed to show him on the screen. The pair of eyes in the hanger soon outstayed their use. From this far away, she couldn’t move them fast enough to follow the aircraft. After giving Xander the best view she could of the movement right after take-off, she hurried the eyes through the base to join up with the pair following the Dairos through the tunnels.

It appeared all of the enslaved zombie-like Beltine were being pushed through the tunnels to pursue them but the twenty or so elite Dairos with armor and bigger guns had accompanied the Kyraos, and there was no way to know for sure where they would turn up.

Xander had the scientists running so fast they were huffing and puffing in front of them, but she could tell the Beltine were catching up. They exited the tunnels, and the front few paused just long enough to sniff the air and look for footprints or other signs of the humans passing. In such a damp forest, it didn’t take them long to see the trail and follow.

Matt glanced sideways at Xander. The grim lines on his face told her everything she needed to know.

“Come on, everyone, run a little faster,” Xander bellowed right near her ear, causing Matt to wince.

“We’re going as fast as we can.” One of the male scientists dropped backwards in the group. Matt couldn’t remember his name. At some point someone had probably told her, but he was close to retirement and not interested in talking to a young woman who spent her time training to fight an enemy she’d never met. Several of the scientists had mocked her like that, although he was one of the few who’d done so to her face.

The annoying researcher slowed even further, and Matt almost bumped into the back of him. She’d been watching the Beltine again, and Xander’s arm was all that stopped her from smacking right into the forest floor with only her face to break her fall.

“I can’t run another step.” Another scientist stopped, then another, until everyone was standing or bent over, panting for air.

“They’re not far away,” Matt said and let out a deep rumble of anger. These idiots were going to get them all killed.

Even Drew tried to cajole the researchers into moving, but the most they would do was start walking again. None of them had seen the enemy or how many of them were behind. And not one of them knew what Matt had recently learnt. Dairos were harder to kill than the drones she’d been training against. They moved quicker and worked as a team in the way the fighting robots hadn’t.

A shiver ran down her spine when she remembered seeing them for the first time. Had she not been so intent on trying to get to the lab, and so angry when she had been thwarted, she knew she’d have contemplated running in terror.

The Dairos had soulless metal eyes, each with a red dot in the center, and a dark, almost black, inhuman face. They had no ears and only a crushing hole for a mouth. They looked half mad and were relentlessly pushed by the Kyraos. No horror story she’d ever heard about them had come close to being accurate. In the flesh, they were far worse.

Seizing an idea, she moved both pairs of eyes around to prepare for the best angle, grabbed the screen off Drew, and held it aloft in front of her.

“This is what is after us!” Instantly, the scientists stopped and looked her way. She closed her eyelids to concentrate and spent the next few seconds getting the scariest up-close footage of the Dairos behind them that she could. Finally, she pulled up and out so they could see the mass of bodies after them.

When Xander touched her shoulder, she jumped, and her eyes flew open again. All twelve scientists along with the six security guards were sprinting off.

“Thanks,” Xander said as they hurried after. “That should keep them running for a good while.”

“I’m not sure it’s enough,” she replied, voicing her fears for the first time.

“I know. How’s your head? You up to do some more of that crazy fighting?”

“Maybe, but…” Matt trailed off. She had no idea how to voice the emotions she felt. This was nothing like the battles in her dreams. When she’d envisioned herself being a hero, it hadn’t been so overwhelmingly difficult and no one else had been depending on her to survive. The way she’d imagined it, the Beltine had fallen to her clever sword fighting and she’d walked away without a scratch.

Xander took the screen from her and continued to guide her running direction as she cycled through the different viewpoints she commanded. The pain in her head had dulled, and her nose didn’t feel so stuffy, but she had no idea how much longer she could keep using the metal. She’d never trained this intensely for this long.

“They’ll be able to see us soon,” Xander whispered.

“We need to do something. Any ideas?”

“A few. Can you buy me some time?”

She nodded. After making a point of letting go of her arm so she knew she’d have to focus more on where she was going and not what was following, Xander ran off to talk to Drew.

They whispered together for half a minute. After nodding at her, Xander moved to the front of the group while Drew pulled his rucksack around to sit against his chest and rummaged through it for something.

Matt stopped running and turned to face the Beltine. The next time she glanced behind her, the entire group was gone. She gulped. She’d always wanted this, but now that it was about to happen her legs felt weak, and it took all her concentration just to remember to breathe.

With a sword in each hand, another four floating in the air either side of her head, and all her zappers on the ground a few meters ahead of her, she waited and watched for the first alien. Behind her, she could hear the sound of Drew muttering to himself, but it was soon drowned out by the rustle of trees and branches ahead.

The second her eyes spotted the expressionless face of a Dairos, all four of her floating blades shot in that direction. For now, she left her zappers on the ground in front of her. With any luck, they would buy her a little more time before she was in close-quarters combat.

Less than a minute later, three more Dairos were dead but she only had a gap of fifty meters before they’d be right up beside her. There were just far too many of them. Laser blasts from her right let her know Xander had returned to her side to help.

“We need to buy Drew another couple of minutes,” Xander said, confirming her assumption.

“Gotcha,” she replied, not taking her eyes off the aliens in front. Another fell over, its head cut off by two of her swords. Ten of them were dead by the time they were within touching distance, but the movement was relentless. The control from the Kyraos made them emotionless to the deaths of their fellow soldiers, all of them leaping over any bodies in front as if they were merely shrubs or boulders. No matter how many they killed, if the Kyraos thought they would succeed, they would keep the Dairos coming.

Knowing they needed more time, Matt lifted all her zappers at once and took out another five Dairos. Pain flared in her head as they writhed in the electric charge. She stifled a moan as she yanked them all back out the bodies and into her hand.

“Nice,” Xander said as he killed another one at almost point blank range.

“Done,” Drew yelled from somewhere behind them.

“Time to go.” Xander grabbed her arm, but she didn’t need the encouragement. Using her swords to keep the aliens back, she pushed to her fastest sprint and took off after the colonel.

“Jump through this gap ahead,” he said as she came up beside him. “And don’t leave your swords behind if you can help it.”

A grin spread across her face as she worked out why she’d been given such an instruction. Less than half a minute later she ran through the gap, making sure to jump at the right point. All her eyes and swords followed right after.

They’d covered another fifteen meters when the first Dairos came through the gap. An explosion knocked Matt off her feet and sent her flying forwards. For a brief moment she lost concentration, and all her swords and other metal objects thudded into the ground around her and Xander.

With ringing in her ears, and the roar of a raging fire behind her, Matt hauled herself to her feet. She grabbed a couple of the swords to make it easier for her tired mind to bring the rest along with her, and spread out the little cameras again.

“Let’s hope that holds them off for a bit,” Drew said when the pair caught up to him. The rest of the group were so far ahead they couldn’t be seen, but he held the screen in his hands and she did her best to feed him information they could use.

“I can’t keep this up much longer,” Matt said as the ache in her head intensified. Being caught in the forward blast of the trap had exacerbated the problem. She didn’t know how much longer she could focus on getting information through.

“Put all your weapons away for now, but get me some visuals. I want to know where the scientists are and how far the remaining Dairos are behind us.” Xander plucked one of her swords out of the air as they jogged along, then another as it came close enough.

With one last burst of effort, she sheathed the last two that were flying, and then the pair in her hands. As soon as that was done, she turned her attention back to the four cameras, sweeping one pair ahead and the other behind.

Before she could see anything of use, the zap of Beltine gun-shots sounded from up ahead. Xander gritted his teeth and broke into a full sprint, leaving both Matt and Drew to struggle to keep up.

She did the best she could to not trip as she flicked between the eyes and her own sight, but she needed to find out what was happening. Less than a minute later, she saw what she needed. The Kyraos and their elite Dairos had flown ahead of the fleeing group and were trying to cut them off.

Already, two scientists and one of the security team had been shot. She couldn’t tell if any of them were still alive.

Knowing Xander would need her help, she pulled the four short blades out again and sent them whizzing through the forest after him. Even if she couldn’t physically keep up, at least her swords could get there sooner.

The next minute felt like an hour as Drew lagged behind her and Xander pulled even further ahead. Still, she could only see the scientists and security with her cameras. Another scientist lay motionless on the ground, and the rest were huddled behind tree trunks and thick bushes.

Matt did her best to block out her head pain as she came closer and closer. She needed to fight. Up ahead, Xander ducked behind a tree as the elite Dairos noticed his approach, narrowly dodging a blast that slammed into the ground only a meter ahead of Matt.

As she came even closer, she used the blades to block shots sent her way and focused her entire mind on the four whirling weapons. The cameras would have to sit uncontrolled for now.

When the Dairos didn’t back off, Matt knew she needed to chuck more at them. If she didn’t push back the Kyraos and their guard before the Beltine slaves came up behind them, the group would be overwhelmed.

She took her final two swords in her arms, lifted her zappers as well, and joined the fray, fighting the elite Dairos in hand-to-hand combat.

It didn’t take long for them to surround her and her twirling mass of mind-controlled metal, each one trying to shoot her or stab her. As Xander’s panicked voice called her name, she fought the emotions rising within her, threatening to choke off the concentration holding her weapons in the air. Whatever happened, she had to stay focused.

“We can’t lose you, too,” Xander yelled from somewhere to the left of her. She didn’t stop to think. She ducked a blast and thrust the sword in her left hand through armor and into the torso of the nearest Dairos.

She sucked air in through her teeth as a blast grazed across the top of her right arm. The stinging made her eyes water. Blinking rapidly to clear her vision, she ducked again and rolled to one side. An elite Dairos fell over her moving body and landed on a sword her mind held in place.

Before she could get up, Xander was beside her, one of her blades in his hand and his pistol clutched in the other. They backed up to each other and kept fighting until, as one, the remaining Dairos backed off.

Feeling more blood dripping from her nose and her vision blurring, Matt slumped to her knees and used the last bit of focus she had to cut down four more Dairos as they ran. As soon as they were dead, she dropped the blades to the ground.

“You can stop now,” Xander said as he knelt beside her and held her to keep her from falling even farther. “Check on the rest, Drew. See what you can do to help the wounded.”

The young geek nodded, his lop-sided grin gone. Right now, even he couldn’t be happy.

As Matt wiped the blood away from her face again and closed her eyes against the pain throbbing in her skull, Xander looked over the wound on her arm.

“You might have a slight scar here, but nothing large. It’s a burn, so as long as you keep it clean it won’t get infected.”

“Yes, sir,” she replied through clenched teeth as he poked it. Xander then left her to see to the rest of the group and work out what to do with the dead. Scared scientists bombarded him with questions, but he replied to none of them until they stopped talking.

“We should set the dead burning and then move out. We’ve beaten the Beltine back for now but they won’t linger behind for long. If their Anassos is in orbit, she’ll send more of them. Unless anyone has a useful idea for traveling quicker, you’d best rest until we get going again. Trust me, you’ll need the energy.”

The scientists all nodded as a group, and Matt couldn’t help but grin. The colonel didn’t mince his words, and he made it damn clear he wasn’t going to listen to their fear-induced whining. It was bluntness she could appreciate.

After resting right alongside the researchers for a few minutes, Matt felt her head and vision clear enough that she could get to her feet without falling over, but before she did, one of the calmer scientists started to gather up all her fallen weaponry.

He picked up all the swords in the area along with her zappers and the pair of cameras she’d had. Matt could only stare in surprise. He then brought all of them over to her and helped her re-pack each item.

“Thanks,” she said, managing to find her voice long enough to be polite.

“We should be thanking you,” he replied, his voice deep and soft. “You’ve saved our lives twice now.”

There were murmurings of agreement from several of the scientists around her, and Matt knew the thousands of hours she’d spent training had been worth it. Despite the odd looks and derision she’d received at the time, she’d practiced again and again.

Their scorn had only made her more determined to train so that one day she would be useful in battle. Now she knew she’d proved the entire lab team wrong, she wished she hadn’t had the opportunity. Both her parents had warned her to be careful what she hoped for. She’d fought the Beltine like she’d wanted, but people were gone, and the death toll would rise even further before any of them were safe again.

 

 

[]Chapter 5

The flames flickered in Xander’s vision, and he allowed himself a moment to reflect. He’d seen nine die in total. Four back at the lab, including the two lead scientists, and now another four researchers and one of the security team. Several more must have died in the initial explosion, but Xander couldn’t have done anything about those. On top of that, Mattie was exhausted and wounded. Without her, everyone would be dead already, but she couldn’t protect them much longer.

“All right, everyone to your feet.” Xander made his way over to Matt. All the metal she owned was packed up again, and she stood against a tree a little way off, with her back to everyone.

When he reached her side, he noticed tear tracks down each cheek, although no fresh ones fell.

“You need me to use the cameras again, right?” she said, her voice a little huskier than normal.

“If you can. We don’t have enough people to scout ahead and behind.”

She nodded, and four of her tiny devices flew up into the sky.

“Lead the way, then, boss.” She gave him a tired smile and stopped leaning against the nearest trunk. A moment later Drew came up. He was adjusting the pack on his back and still clutching the screen Matt was projecting to.

The pair fell in side by side, and Xander nodded his satisfaction. While Mattie was trying not to grieve and keep going, Drew would be her best companion. Already, Xander could hear him talking to her about some current music he liked. It would occupy both their minds and stop depression creeping up on them.

Xander led the group with one of the security guards, sending the others to bring up the rear and hurry the researchers along. He didn’t want to head right for the military post anymore. The Kyraos were ahead somewhere, and the Dairos behind were tracking them. If he wanted to get to the small outpost and defend everyone long enough that Tyra and Trey would notice their disappearance, he needed to get there without any more run-ins with the Beltine.

Tyra was expecting him late afternoon the following day, and she knew he wouldn’t be late without letting her know. As soon as it got dark the following day, the Lentarin would know something was wrong and move the ship back over the research facility to find out where he was. An hour later she’d scan the planet’s surface and pinpoint his new position. That was his survival deadline.

The men and women in his care kept up with his forced march for several hours before gaps appeared in the winding column. Drew eventually called for a halt. Knowing someone used to him and his ways wouldn’t ask to stop for no good reason, Xander paused.

“Take a break, everyone,” he said as he wove through the dense trees he’d already passed to get back to his comrade and informant.

Concern made him walk faster when he saw Matt bent over and vomiting to one side of the group. He’d expected Drew to need the rest, or one of the researchers, not her.

She swayed with dizziness, and Xander only just caught her in time to stop her falling right over. She shook against him as he helped her to sit and lower her head.

“I don’t think I can be our scout anymore,” she said a few minutes later. “Not without a rest.”

“It will be dark in less than an hour anyway.” The security chief came over and crouched with the trio.

“How much farther is this outpost?” Xander asked.

“We’re over halfway, even with the winding route we had to take around the Beltine.” He checked a small device attached to his jacket. “Another five or six hours and we’ll be there, but this forest isn’t so friendly at night. The Beltine won’t be our biggest problem if we try to go on.”

“And you only thought to mention this now?” Xander said in a low voice so only Drew and Mattie would hear.

“It wasn’t like we had a choice, and the Beltine will know to be wary, as well. There’s a reason we hid the research lab on this planet.”

“All right. Organize the researchers into a cluster we can protect and tell them all to get some sleep. The rest of us will sleep in shifts and take watch through the night.”

The chief nodded and left him with his ward again.

“Drew, get some fires going and dole out the food from the rations. Then get the bottles collecting rainwater from the trees. I can’t imagine many of them have any left.”

“Yes, sir.”

As soon as he was alone with Mattie, she lifted her head and fixed her bloodshot eyes on him.

“Anything I can do to help, Colonel?”

“Do you know what’s out there?”

“There were rumors of some kind of large panther-like creature, but I’ve never seen one. If there are any in this forest, they don’t come near the facility.”

“Then I may need you to keep an eye out once it gets dark.” Xander exhaled, wishing there was another way.

“Sorry, Colonel. They don’t work in the dark. My parents hadn’t managed to work out a way for the brain to interpret the different types of night footage like infra-red.”

He sat down and shook his head, having no idea how he would keep the people safe from an unknown source when no one would be able to see it coming.

“Get some rest then, Matt.” He got up and patted her arm. “We may need your weapons before the dawn.”

Giving the researchers a brief nod, he moved past the little gathering they’d created towards Drew, who had a pile of the food from the packs laid out in front of him. Xander spent the next few minutes helping him split it up so everyone had a similar amount to eat.

The packs had been organized well. Over half was left to go back into the rucksacks for the following day, and the amount allocated to each person was enough that none of them would complain. To speed up the process and ensure the group’s focus was elsewhere for a while, Xander helped Drew hand the rations out, and then took the techie to one side.

“You got anything in your pack that can show life-signs in the dark?”

“I’ve got a hand-held heat scanner. Why?” Drew furrowed his brow.

“Matt can’t keep watch all night, so I need something to help.”

Drew rummaged in the bag by his feet and pulled out a small white box with a screen and a couple of buttons. After turning it on and checking the picture, he handed it to Xander.

“It’s not very big, and won’t see anything more than thirty meters or so away, but it’s better than nothing.”

“Thanks, Drew. Get some rest as well. I’m taking first watch.”

It didn’t take Matt or Drew long to eat and fall asleep, huddled near one of the two fires the security team had got going in the middle of their small clearing. Their example helped settle the other researchers, and one by one they also dropped off while Xander slowly paced around them.

With the scanner clutched in one hand and some dried meat-sticks in the other, he kept a continuous movement around the circle. On the other side of the group, another security guard kept up the same movement. He was scanner-less but had a large laser rifle clutched in both hands. The chief was the only other person with a gun better than the standard-issue laser pistols.

If Xander had expected trouble he’d have brought his as well, but it was sitting on the shelf in his cabin, somewhere in space. He gritted his teeth when he thought about how screwed-up this mission had become.

Although Matt had assumed the Beltine had found them by noticing the comm chatter, he wasn’t so sure. He’d only sent one message, and it had been on the secure, discreet channel they only used in short bursts. It shouldn’t have drawn the Beltine attention, but whatever had, the men in charge of the military headquarters were going to want to know.

Xander thought over possibilities and kept rotating in circles for the next couple of hours until the security chief rose from his makeshift bed again and came to take his place. In whispers, Xander told him how to work the scanner, then he headed to the warm spot the burly guy had just vacated.

With no intention of sleeping, Xander settled down and pulled out the rest of the food he’d been given for his evening ration. He was just about to tuck into some kind of dried food mix when he heard a sniff off to his right. When he glanced that way, he saw the firelight flickering in Matt’s open eyes.

“I thought I told you to rest,” he whispered. She stirred and wiped away more tears with her hands. Although it was good she was crying, he’d never known what to say to an upset woman, and now was no different. To break the awkward silence, he held out his packet of mix and was relieved when she uncurled her body, reached in and took a handful.

A few seconds later, Matt shifted herself closer to both him and the fire and snacked on the dry food. The crunching from both of them mingled with the crackle of wood, and Xander lost himself in the simplicity of it for a moment.

“I managed to get a couple of hours’ sleep, I think,” she said, barely above a whisper. “I feel a lot better.”

“Good, but you should try and get some more.” He offered her another helping of the mix. His body would need sustenance, but it seemed like the right thing to do. She shook her head this time but he wasn’t sure if it was to the offer of food or his recommendation for sleep.

“I didn’t think it would take us so long to get there.” Matt leant forward to warm her hands by the fire.

“We’ve not gone a direct route, and we’re having to force a path in places.” He shrugged. When the circumstances were considered as a whole, they were making excellent time. A horde of zombie-like aliens could get people moving.

Matt opened her mouth to respond, but Xander raised his hand to stop her and stared at the security chief. The man had stopped his slow circling and was staring at the scanner.

Not taking any chances, Xander got to his feet and unholstered his pistol. Immediately, he noticed Matt stand and pull two swords from the sheath by her pack with her mind. They flew into her hands as she followed him to the edge of the clearing.

“There’s something out there,” the security chief whispered so only he and Matt would hear.

“What kind of something?” she asked before he could.

“Animal. Large, but on four legs. It can move fast, though. First time it was just a blur, second time it went a little slower. At least I think it was the same one.”

Xander took the scanner and focused it on the trees as Matt pulled two more of her swords over to hover in the air beside her.

“Wake the other guards and station them around the edge, evenly spaced.”

After only a couple of seconds, an orange blur moved across the screen from left to right, followed by another, and then a third.

“Shit,” Matt said, and tensed her grip on the two swords in her hands until her knuckles were white.

“If we can see three, chances are there’s more.”

“They might not attack.” Matt turned her head his way, and he could tell she didn’t really believe her own words. She bit her lip and moved her spare two swords even farther forward.

“We’re being circled. They’re thinking about it.”

“Wake the scientists, too,” Xander yelled over his shoulder as the shapes on his scanner grew brighter and what he assumed was closer. “Give them each a lit branch from the fires.” The splodges slowed and turned head-on, two of them right ahead.

“I don’t think you need that anymore,” Matt said, and pointed. Firelight shone in a set of narrow unblinking eyes. They were being watched.

“Stare back,” he said, loud enough for the rest of the camp to hear him.

While he kept his eyes fixed forward, he concentrated on what he could hear. Behind him, Drew took charge of the researchers. The kid had gone from fast asleep to wide awake in less than two seconds. Xander was grateful someone was with them who could keep the researchers from panicking, at least for now.

Everyone stood and waited, silent except for the crackle of firelight and the occasional shuffling as one of the scientists took a lit branch offered by Drew.

Xander was just beginning to think the animals were merely curious when growling started, beginning in front of him and rippling out around the circle.

“Steady,” he said. “Drew, get everyone without a weapon in a circle facing outwards. Everyone hold your lit branches outwards at waist height.”

They rustled behind him, and it was the movement that started the dam bursting. Like a wave, the creatures rushed forward.

“Fire!” Xander shot laser bolts into the forehead of the nearest creature. It took two hits before it fell, but another near it leapt over the carcass. Matt’s swords thrust into the side of another, making it yelp, but still it came. A black cat-like creature almost as tall as her.

He heard the commotion behind but couldn’t turn to see if anyone needed his help. Two of the tough-skinned animals came flying towards him. Laser bolts took care of one, but the other knocked him off his feet, raking its claws down one arm.

To his side, Matt fought with three more of the beasts, her blades and body moving furiously. Somehow she found time to move a sword round towards him with her mind, and brought it down on the animal’s neck, beheading it just as it was about to bite into him.

Trying to ignore the pain in his arm, he switched the gun over to his other hand and shot at another giant cat as it bore down on the group of researchers. It yowled and turned to face him. A brave scientist then thrust their branch outwards and put flame to flesh. With a whoosh, the fire spread.

The cat ran off, yelping every step of the way. Several others turned and fled with it. Xander shot a few more laser bolts to help scare off the rest, and then took stock of the situation.

Less than fifteen minutes earlier, he’d been sat beside Matt wondering what he could say to console her grief. Now they stood together, splattered with dark purple blood. On the far side of the circle, another of the guards lay dying, bleeding out from a stomach wound. The security chief was already by his side but Xander knew there was nothing they could do. Drew and Matt were unharmed, as were most of the researchers, but two had claw wounds, and so did another of the security team.

While Matt bandaged his arm, he encouraged the unhurt to try and get more rest. After the attack, he doubted many would, but he didn’t want to try leading them off into the forest at night just yet. Creatures rarely tried to attack the same target twice in so short a space of time, but there was always the Beltine to worry about.

“Burn him, like the others,” Xander whispered to the security chief as soon as the injured man was dead. For a second, the guard stared at him, his mouth a grim line, but he thought better of voicing any negative thoughts.

Xander didn’t need him to. Less than a day earlier, the facility had housed over thirty healthy people. He’d seen ten of them die. Only eight researchers lived, and two were wounded badly enough that they’d die of related causes if they were left on the planet too long. Beside himself and Matt, who were both also hurt, there were three fit security guards left to defend them. The fourth could barely walk, and Drew’s combat training wasn’t good enough to cover this sort of situation.

If Tyra and Trey didn’t show up soon, they would all be dead.

 

 

[]Chapter 6

An hour before dawn, Xander gave up on encouraging people to rest and ordered them to eat breakfast, change the little oxygen tanks attached to their masks, and pack up. No one had slept since the attack. A few had dozed but the slightest sound jolted them awake again. Matt hadn’t even tried, but neither had he, so he couldn’t be cross at her.

She was also the first to stand, ready to get moving again, and the rest weren’t far behind her. They’d all had enough of the forest and its surprises.

Like the night before, he walked at the front again with one of the guards, stationing the security chief near the middle of the diminished group. Matt and Drew brought up the rear. He hoped General Kelton wouldn’t get angry about his use of Matt and her abilities. With so many dead, he had to ensure she survived, but she was also his greatest asset in battle, and someone needed to protect the rear. None of his options were appealing.

Late morning, Xander let the people rest and went to the security chief to get more information.

“Shouldn’t we be close by now?” he whispered. A moment later Drew and Matt came up. His techie looked like he was enjoying a stroll in a nice woodland somewhere safe, but he often looked that way. It was the kid’s way of dealing with fear. The scarier the situation got, the more he joked and smiled. The only difference was when people got badly hurt or died.

“It’s not particularly large, and we did our best to camouflage it. We didn’t want the Beltine to see it.”

“You do know where it is, don’t you?” Xander frowned at the tone of voice the guard had used.

“I think so.”

“I need you to know so.”

“Let me try and find it,” Matt said, pulling two more cameras from a small pocket on the side of her pack. “I was going to save these for emergencies, and this looks like a good time.”

“Wow, brings a whole new meaning to the insult ‘four eyes’.” Drew held up the screen her cameras were still feeding into as Matt closed her eyes and concentrated. The new pair of circular discs flew out of her hands and away to the north-east. They moved so fast the picture on the screen blurred, and Xander had to look away. He didn’t know how she could do it without feeling sick.

Once the pair of cameras were a fair distance away, she slowed the image down and moved them upwards to get a look from higher up. It only took her a few minutes to pinpoint a likely looking spot.

“That’s it,” the security chief said when she moved them closer to the mound in its own clearing.

“Good. Can you guide us there, Matt?” Xander gave his attention to her as the screen filled with her view of his face.

“Yup, should be easy now.”

“Fantastic. We might even make it there in time for dinner.” Drew took the screen back and started marching onwards again. Matt fell in beside him, and soon the two of them were discussing their favorite meals. Xander coughed to hide his stomach rumbling and ordered everyone to their feet again.

With Matt and Drew in front, he acted as their rear-guard, making sure the stragglers kept up and the Beltine didn’t sneak up on them. Every five-hundred meters of struggling through the forest, Matt stopped and took a few seconds to check they were going in the right direction. If they weren’t, she adjusted their course slightly and carried onwards.

Xander soon noticed that each time she had to adjust, it was always back to the left a little. The trees were naturally pushing them down and to the right. If they stood any chance of getting there while it was still this side of midday, a path needed to present itself.

Before he could make a suggestion to remedy the situation, Matt grew impatient enough to hack her way through a bush using her swords. The group stood nearby for a few seconds, most of them appreciating the break as the heat around them grew.

As soon as she’d cut the bush down to a stump, she walked through the gap and headed even more to the left. The next time she stopped to check their direction she barely had to adjust their route, and Xander felt a weight lift off his shoulders. Trusting her to navigate didn’t come easily to him when it was a task he normally undertook himself.

“I think we’re almost there,” she called back, only just loud enough that he could hear her at the back. Sighs of relief sounded from the researchers, and weary feet moved a little faster in eagerness.

With every few hundred more meters they walked, Xander felt his own body lightening. The building up ahead meant safety and security until an extraction team could come get them. It meant not being stuck out in the open with too few guns and soldiers, and it might mean a way to contact his ship.

“I can see it!” Matt put in a final burst of extra speed, and he found himself almost being left behind. After a moment to think, Xander decided to hurry to the front. He broke into a jog and hurried up the line to Matt’s side.

“Just in case we weren’t the only ones who spotted it from a distance, I want everyone to wait here a moment.” The second Xander had finished speaking, Matt stopped and closed her eyes. “Okay. Do a sweep of the outpost and the area for me.”

As the screen blurred again and Matt brought up all six of her cameras to the outpost, Xander moved so both he and Drew could see the screen at the same time.

Following Xander’s instructions, Matt used the cameras to monitor the outpost outside, and then as much of the sheltered canopy on top as she could without being able to get through shut doors and windows.

He made her check over everything twice, just in case she’d missed a door handle or locking mechanism out of place.

“Looks clean,” he said eventually. “All right, onwards, folks.”

Being careful, despite what Matt had shown him, Xander led them up to the main door. He’d been in battle with Beltine too often to feel at ease anywhere on a planet they’d visited, even if he’d beaten them once already. They were relentless. The few times he’d fought them head-on, they’d always come back if he’d stuck around to give them the chance. It was just a matter of time.

The security chief punched in the code for the main door and pushed it open. Instantly, the lights inside came on and lit up a dusty but well supplied interior.

Matt walked inside before Xander could and ignored him when he coughed his disapproval. Drew followed and weaved around him as soon as the corridor was wide enough to do so. He’d already taken his mask off, revealing his mousey-brown hair, even more messed up than normal.

Something in the corner of the main control room caught his attention, and he ran over like a kid finding his Christmas presents.

“Xander, you’re gonna want to see this. There’s a satellite comm link. Looks like it’s strong enough to reach Tyra and Trey on our lady.”

“Perfect. See if you can get through to them and let them know what has happened.” Right now, Xander’s biggest concern was getting this place guarded and ready for battle. “And, Drew, be concise.”

“Yes, sir.” Drew gave him the usual lopsided grin and went back to pressing buttons. While Matt moved her eyes to positions around the perimeter, Xander went to the nearest weapons crate and opened the lid. Inside was a row of laser rifles and flash grenades. He made sure each member of the security team had a rifle, including himself and the one wounded, and paired them all up with an equally armed research scientist.

“This outpost is circular, so head up to the top room and spread out to cover the entire area.” Once they were doing as instructed, he took the grenades to rig for warning traps in a circle around the edge of the forest clearing. If the Beltine did come, they would get a surprise. If nothing else, it might be enough to slow them down.

By the time he was back inside, he could see a ring of rifle barrels poking out of the slit windows, and Matt dishing out food and water from the supplies she’d found.

Drew was muttering in the background so quietly that Xander couldn’t tell if he’d got through to Tyra or not. Not wanting to wait to find out, he walked over to the kid and the corner he’d stowed himself in.

“Drew to Tyra, you there? The colonel and I have been on adventures again. Tyra, darling, or Trey if not, say something and let me know you didn’t get shot at by the Beltine, too.”

Xander listened to Drew’s steady stream of conversation for several minutes before Tyra’s bubbly voice came over the speaker.

“Hush the jawing, Drew. We hear yah. We’ve known about the Beltine for a bit now. There’s a hive in orbit with its very own Anassos. You guys really know how to attract aliens to a party, don’tcha?”

“Hey, Tyra,” Xander said before Drew could start yammering.

“Howdy, boss. What’s the plan?”

“I’ve got eight scientists, four security personnel, a telekinetic assassin, and me and Drew in need of a ride off this planet before a zombie horde descends on us.”

“Riiiight. You can explain that one later. We’ve got your position. We’ll come just a little north of you in a clearing. Should be big enough for our lady’s ass.”

“Be careful, Tyra, and make sure Trey’s on guns.”

“I wouldn’t be anywhere else, sir,” Trey said, cutting into the conversation. With a grin, Xander cut the communication. Their ride was on its way.

Before he could step away, the loud bang of a grenade going off made him and Drew jump. As another sounded, Matt appeared in the stairwell from the roof space.

“Dairos,” she said, and hovered, unsure what to do.

“My ship is on its way but we’ll need to leave here and head north when it arrives. We’ll need to hold the door.”

Matt nodded, grabbed a rifle and followed him to the door. Drew took another and rushed up the stairs. This was it.

Side by side, he and Matt stood in the doorway and opened fire on the mass of Dairos. As soon as the gunshot sound reached the rest of the humans in the roof alcove, they also opened fire. Noise filled the clearing as Dairos poured inwards.

All eight of Matt’s swords whirled in front of them, cutting up any Beltine that got too close and blocking gun blasts from the few Dairos who shot towards them. The force of Dairos that had attacked before was tiny in comparison to the flood that threatened to overwhelm them now. But somehow, it didn’t get any closer to the door.

Xander’s first rifle ran out of charge just as several Kyraos and elite Dairos appeared on the edges of the clearing. For now, they hung back, sending in more normal Dairos, but Xander could see them, waiting for the right moment to join the fight.

“Come on, Tyra, hurry up,” he said as his rifle clicked and refused to fire anymore. “Be right back.”

Matt grunted her acknowledgment and carried on firing and slicing in front of them. It only took him a minute to go back to the crates and grab another rifle but by then the Kyraos had made their move. Shielded by elite Dairos, they were coming for the door.

“We’re going to have to move soon or get stuck here,” Matt said through gritted teeth.

“I know. Keep going.”

He ran possibilities through his head but he knew whatever he chose more people were likely to die. Ultimately, he had to protect Matt and the research chip nestled in the bottom of his pack. It was time to go.

Before he could yell for the others to leave, the drone of engines filled the sky, momentarily drowning out the roar of weapons’ fire.

As his ship, the Lady Contessa, flew across the tree tops, Trey opened fire, ripping into the Dairos, cutting a swathe of them down and clearing a path off to the left.

“We’re leaving,” Xander yelled in the relative quiet afterward, but he wasted his breath. Behind them, Drew already had everyone lined up and ready to follow Matt and him out of the outpost.

“Stay close and keep shooting at the Dairos.” Xander nodded at Matt, and both of them ran forward. Four of her swords left their close proximity a moment, and he glanced at them as she pushed them towards the nearest Kyraos. Two elite Dairos got in the way and lost their lives, but Trey had cleared enough of a path that her next move was to plunge them into the Beltine controller. The Kyraos’ torso collapsed one way and its head went the other.

The nearest group of Dairos stopped running and shook their heads, coming out of their trance for a moment.

“Run,” Xander yelled, and led the charge north towards Lady Contessa. He could hear the sound of her engines, but not see her through the trees. Matt was running beside him, and he was pleased to notice Drew on the other side of her. The rest of the group came up behind. “We need to clear a path through.”

Up ahead, a line of Dairos came towards them while the ones behind were commandeered by another Kyraos somewhere. Their window was closing, and they were still a long way from the ship.

Matt whirled her swords in a blurred dance, cutting limbs and heads off while the three rifles tore into torsos, but it wasn’t enough. Every time one fell, another one or two came up from behind. The Dairos line was too thick to push through.

They were less than ten meters away from the front of the line when he heard the roar of one of lady’s large guns. After a few seconds of firing, the line in front of them wavered.

Soon, he could see the dark green skin and lizard-like body of a Lentarin. It could only be Trey, his main gunner. Trey stopped shooting as Matt’s blades cut through the last of the Dairos dead ahead.

“This way,” the lizard said, his voice gruff and deep. A smile broke across his face as Trey shot down even more Dairos to the right and widened the gap further. As soon as she was out of the clearing, Matt swung to the left and did the same.

Xander stopped and noticed Drew looked like he might, as well.

“Lead them to the ship.” Xander gave the kid a shove. Thankfully, Drew didn’t argue and continued running forwards, guided to the right place by the engine noise.

The researchers gave up firing, most of their guns close to empty anyway, and rushed after Drew at their fastest run. As soon as the scientists were a decent margin ahead, Xander wrapped his arm around Matt’s middle to haul her away from the fight.

“Bring your cameras and weapons close behind,” he said into her ear, and gave a nod to Trey to hold the line just a moment longer. At first Matt resisted his tug on her waist, but she soon yielded to him and rushed along beside him back to the ship. Around them, her swords continued to dance, warding off gun blasts and any stray Dairos that managed to get past Trey.

The blasting of guns died down a little as Trey gave up his position and started a dash after them for Lady. He soon caught up with them and fell in on the other side of Matt.

Ragged gasps came from all three, but Xander could barely hear over the sound of the ship’s engines ahead and the Dairos firing behind. The Kyraos were bringing all the armed slave-kind to the front of the ranks.

Less than a hundred meters from the open hatchway at the back of Lady, Matt cried out and went flying forward. Both he and Trey stopped and went to help her to her feet. The smell of charred flesh hit his nose as her blades sagged in the air.

“Get her weapons,” Xander yelled as he hooked his arm around her torso and pulled her hand up and over his shoulder. She managed to get her feet under her but couldn’t run without whimpering in pain.

“Just a little farther, Matt.” He gritted his teeth, wishing she could project her pain like she could her vision so he could aid her more. Trey picked up three of the swords, and Matt managed to pull the rest back into the air and keep them following, but they weren’t defending them anymore.

Drew and the security chief took cover in the hatchway and opened up with rifle blasts to the Dairos either side, giving Xander and Trey the last few seconds they needed to get Matt and her equipment inside.

Two scientists rushed forward to help Matt as they reached the top of the ramp, and Drew slammed his hand on the button to raise it. Trey jumped into the back and missed getting hit by a couple of centimeters.

Get us out of here, Tyra.” Xander hurried past his new passengers to the cockpit and slid into the spare seat, to act as her co-pilot. He hadn’t had a chance to look over Matt’s wound, but there was a chance Tyra would have to give up the pilot seat to join her brother and save Matt’s life. If she did, he would need to fly them out of there.

He sank into the seat to the left and grabbed the controls to help Tyra get the nose in the air.

“Trey, get the guns going.”

His crew slipped into their usual roles like it was a practice drill with no pressure. Ignoring the extra people, they made their way to their usual stations and started using the ship’s comms to chatter away at each other and him.

Trey blasted at the few Dairos who were running for the nearest Beltine fighter, slowing them down and buying time for Xander and Tyra to get Lady Contessa in the air.

The hull took some damage from the basic Beltine guns but Drew was monitoring the important systems. Small hull breaches could be easily blocked, and the blasts wouldn’t get far enough to hurt anything else.

As they cleared the top of the trees and picked up speed, Xander looked for the Beltine fighters. He knew they had at least three in the vicinity, and given the number of Dairos and Kyraos on the ground, he wouldn’t be surprised if there were several of the mid-sized carriers as well.

“We need to head around the planet to get away from the hive or we’re going to come out in her gun range,” Tyra said as they banked to the right, away from gaps in the trees that might be hiding fighters.

They’d only been in the air a few minutes when Drew called their attention to a couple of blips on the radar. They were being pursued.

“Everyone sit down and hold on tight,” Xander said over the ship-wide intercom. “Trey, target our followers. Make them think twice about getting too close.”

“Yes, sir!”

They wove back and forth, shooting and being shot at for several minutes until Trey managed to get a good shot on a vulnerable area of one of the Beltine fighters. It exploded, taking the second with it. A third, that had been struggling to gain ground, gave up, and Tyra powered them forward and up out of the atmosphere.

“One of our passengers is badly hurt,” Xander said to Tyra as he flicked his console over to take the full pilot mode. “Girl called Matt. Take Trey and do what you can for her.” He could get them into space and then set a course for Netera without Tyra’s help. If they came up near the hive, nothing either of them could do would save the ship.

Not knowing how Matt was doing bothered Xander, but he knew it was better to send Tyra than go himself. The twin Lentarin could link up with each other and use their natural abilities to heal themselves and others. If nothing else, they should be able to stop Matt dying, but General Kelton wasn’t going to be happy when Xander made his report. He shouldn’t have let her form part of the vanguard.

Thankfully, Tyra came back before the ship had even left orbit. She slipped into her seat and took the controls back without asking for them.

“She’s okay. We’ve patched her up a little, as well as a couple of the others. They’ll live. Go get some rest, Captain.”

Xander couldn’t help but smile at the way Tyra took it on herself to order him about. If he could trust anyone to get them to a destination, it was her. After encouraging Drew to get some sleep, Xander made his way to the main living area of the ship.

Scientists bustled around, eating and drinking whatever they could find. Trey was already organizing sleeping quarters for each person. Lady Contessa wasn’t designed to carry more than twelve but the life support would hold up for the seventeen for the couple of days it would take to get to Netera.

He found Matt fast asleep on her stomach in the first mate’s cabin, right next to his, her black hair fanned out around her head. She looked the most peaceful he’d seen since he met her. He also noticed her pack sat on the floor right beside the bed, with eight swords and six cameras in a pile. The most important cargo was safe.

 

 

[]Chapter 7

Xander strolled out the back hatch of Lady Contessa, clutching his hold-all of belongings. Beside him came Matt, Tyra, Trey and Drew. The five of them had been ordered to debrief with General Kelton while technicians looked over the ship and repaired the damage. It was a little strange to have a civilian in a military briefing when they weren’t under contract, but Matt looked more the part of a soldier than Drew did, with her swords crisscrossed down her back and wearing some army slacks she’d found in the spares section of the cargo.

Although Xander had radioed ahead with a brief message about the state of the research lab, and whom he had aboard, the general would want all the details. He had no doubt the others would then be dismissed so he could be threatened with demotion.

In the seven years Xander had been serving underneath General Kelton, they had mostly seen eye to eye but there was one issue that hadn’t gone away, and lately it had come up more and more. When there was a choice between sacrificing lives and getting the mission accomplished, Xander risked the mission for minimal loss of life if it was likely to work out in his favor. So far he’d been lucky, but both of them knew one day he wouldn’t.

When they walked into the briefing room, the general was already sat at the head of the table, a transcription of Xander’s message in front of him. His team took their usual seats, and Matt followed their example, settling down farthest from the general, on the other side of Drew to Xander.

“So, tell me what happened, Colonel. In full this time.”

After taking a deep breath, Xander did just that. As usual, his team stayed silent, but several times Matt interrupted Xander to interject words of her own. Each time she did, the general clenched his jaw but if she noticed, she pretended not to.

It took longer to get through their tale, but Xander finally mentioned how Tyra and Trey had healed Matt and the others as they sped away from the planet and on to Netera.

“I would have survived without the help, but that’s some talent Tyra and Trey have.” Matt smiled, having the last word in their explanation of the events.

“As I understand it, then, you’re the only person currently alive who can use this metal your parents were testing?”

“Yes. Several of the other scientists had learnt to use it in some basic ways but none of the metal tuned to their minds was taken from the facility before it was overrun. We only got a little of the metal meant for Xander and Drew.”

“And you have the research?” This question was directed at Xander. He fetched the data drive from his pocket and passed it over.

“I’m sure we’ll have many questions for you, Miss Adair, given the nature of your parents’ work. I also wish to express my condolences at your loss of them and your home.” The general gave Matt a sympathetic look.

“Thank you. They owned a property I’ve stayed at a few times here on Netera, and I have friends here, so I’ll be nearby to help with anything when it’s required. I’m keen to see their work continued in some capacity.” Matt had expressed these sentiments to Xander and Tyra several times over the last couple of days. She’d cried a lot and would feel the pain of losing them both for a while, but it was good to see her funneling it into something productive, too. He just hoped the military would use her enough.

With that last bit of information, Xander’s team and Matt were dismissed. Matt was holding a small memorial service for their friends, and Drew was going to help the scientists there get started on unraveling the research, including his own data. Both Tyra and Trey had played such a small part in the mission, neither of them could add further to the meeting.

When the door closed behind the last of them, the general stood up and looked at the floor. Now would come the anger, but to Xander’s surprise, the general remained calm.

“The research laboratory shouldn’t have been found. I and my superiors are concerned that something alerted the Beltine to it.”

“I’m aware, but I don’t think it was our communication on the first night, unless the hive was already close by. But there would be no reason for a hive to be near. That’s why the base was stationed there.” Xander ran his hand through his hair. It was a question that had bugged him the last couple of days, as well.

“I agree. We’re looking into what might have happened. We’re also considering the role of Miss Adair going forward. As you’re aware, there are precious few recruits to a military with an average life expectancy as low as ours. While the government is considering forced conscription, a willing recruit with… motivation… is an asset.”

“Matt Adair is better in combat than most of our trained soldiers. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’d love to see her recruited.”

“Good, then you can persuade her to sign up.”

“Yes, sir.” Xander gave the general a nod and hoped it was a mission he could complete. Having her on his team had also been a consideration of his. With this matter sorted, Xander wondered if he was about to be dismissed but the general paced back and forth a couple of times, and Xander knew the older soldier was working up to say something. It was time for the dressing down.

“This brings me to my last order of business, Colonel Finlay. This issue has come up several times, and each time I have warned you about the possibility of a failed mission due to your reckless attitude. Each time, I have warned you that you cannot continue to act in such a manner again, yet each time, you have disregarded that command. Were it not for the success of those missions, my superiors would have ordered you court-martialed long ago, but it has been one time too many. The review board will be looking at your conduct and have asked for my recommendation. Other than a conversation on our behalf with Miss Adair, you are relieved of active duty.”

Xander sighed and nodded. At some point, this would have happened.

“I have recommended nothing more than a demotion, but they will have the final say in the matter, not me. I suggest you go home and think on what has led to this. They will no doubt wish to interview you at some point. You’re dismissed.”

“Yes, sir.” Xander saluted and hurried from the room. It could have been worse, but he knew he wouldn’t be dismissed from service. They were asking an unsanctioned young woman to sign up; they wouldn’t fire him in the same moment. The demotion was another matter; it might finally be happening.

It had taken him over a decade as a major, and probably cost him his marriage, before they’d upped him to colonel and allowed him to take the lead with his own team. Going back to taking orders while out in the field didn’t appeal to him.

*****

Before Matt could make it out of the front door of the military complex, Tyra and Trey were beside her.

“We’d like to come to honor your parents,” Tyra said, holding the final sound into a slight hiss. “Among our people, it is a custom to be present for the ceremony of death for those whose keeahs we respect. They did great things and have a keeah you should be proud of.”

Matt gave them both a wan smile and nodded. Tyra had briefly explained that a person’s keeah was their legend or the sum of their achievements and fame. She’d then mentioned that they were both on a sort of pilgrimage from their home planet to obtain more keeah. When they were satisfied it would be of sufficient worth, they would return home and present their achievements to the elders. The pair of them couldn’t have paid her parents a higher compliment.

Thanks to a message she’d sent a couple of days later, most of the service was already prepared for her by her father’s friend, a professor who’d studied with him at university. All Matt had to do was make a short speech, something the scientists had helped her write while on Lady Contessa.

She tried not to think about her parents never being around anymore, but, despite her best efforts, tears stung the backs of her eyes and blurred her vision enough that she struggled to read her notes. After taking several deep breaths, she took the final step toward the microphone.

“My parents were simple people with complicated and amazing minds. They could marvel at the simplest of things and marvel at the depths of space. They even marveled at me.

“I never got to tell them how grateful I was for the love of the entire universe and its complicated workings that they showed me every day, as well as their love for me within it, but I do get to tell all of you. They died to protect the discoveries they made, the research they guided, and the entire lab full of scientists beneath them.” Matt paused, knowing the next part would be hardest to say, but she had to say it without thinking about it. If she thought about how she felt now, she’d never get to the end.

“And they died to help save me, so that I could still stand here today. Thanks to their sacrifice and their final acts, their research will continue, and hopefully one day will benefit every human in our galaxy. I couldn’t have asked for better parents, better scientists, or better people, and I know they’ll be missed.”

Matt hurried from the stage as people clapped, doing everything she could to fight off the tears threatening to fall. Before the first one slid from the corner of her eye, she was in her seat and had her back to everyone but Professor Lambert.

On one side of her were Tyra and Trey, and on the other sat Simon. Thankfully, all three of them ignored the tears and focused their attention on the professor as he said a few words of his own and closed the short ceremony. He mentioned a stone marker in one of the local graveyards where people could leave flowers. Matt had taken no interest in that side of things and had already decided on an alternative memorial, something more personal that she wouldn’t have to share with others.

There was no wake, something Matt had insisted upon. Instead, everyone was encouraged to go for a walk around a nearby lake or take a boat ride on it, which her parents had done every time they were back on Netera. Once it was dark and everyone had gone home, Simon had arranged a small private boat for the pair of them to use.

Still not saying anything to those around her, Matt got in one of the transport pods and typed in the address of her parents’ home. By the time she’d done that, Tyra, Trey, Simon and Xander had joined her. She hadn’t noticed the colonel come to the ceremony, but she’d spent most of the time focused on not being seen crying. He could have shown up any time after her brief speech.

Five minutes later, everyone stepped back out of the pod in front of her house, and she swiped her Netera card across the door edge. The professor had given her the spare key code and attached it to her name at the start of the memorial service. It had taken less than a second for her card to be updated with the new information needed to get inside the house.

The professor had thought of everything. The entire place had been cleaned and dusted in the last day or so, but otherwise it was exactly how she remembered it. Neither she nor her parents had stepped foot inside it in several years. As such, there were almost no personal belongings of hers or her parents’, but Simon had brought the supplies she’d asked for.

From somewhere inside his coat, he pulled a small tube of acrylic black paint and a small unused paintbrush.

“Thank you,” she said as he handed them over to her. Right after, she turned to the back wall of the house. It stretched the full two stories of the building and was lit by the skylight at the top. It was the focus point of the living area. The paintings on the wall had been taken down the previous day. The hooks had even been removed, the holes filled, and then the wall repainted to match the rest.

After squeezing some paint out and coating the brush, she stepped up to it and painted in her parents’ names in slow, deliberate brush strokes, but she didn’t stop when she’d done that. Underneath and around, she painted in the names of every scientist and security guard who’d been killed by the Beltine and their ordeal in the forest.

This time, she didn’t fight the tears, but let them flow freely down her face. This was her memorial to all of them.

Almost twenty names later, she finished and stepped back. By then Drew had joined them. He stood next to Xander with a box tucked under one arm.

“We’ve got something for you, Matt,” he said and came forward. He exchanged the box for her paintbrush. “It was Xander’s idea. To add to your wall so you remember this, too.”

She furrowed her brow, having no idea what it could be, and pulled the lid off the box. Inside was a small digital display with the number seventeen on it. Above it, in a delicate script carved into the dull-gray metal, was a short sentence:

 

The number of people who didn’t die because of the actions of Matilda Adair.

 

“If you’re going to remember everyone who died because of the Beltine, we thought you ought to also remember the people who didn’t die because of you. It’s more balanced that way.” Xander handed her a tissue as she cried again and helped her mount the display on the wall, just beneath all the names.

“It seems you’re quite the hero, little Mattie,” Simon said, and pulled his portable computer from his pocket. “This popped up on the web less than twenty minutes after you got back. Seems someone in the military somewhere felt the human race should see this.”

He held out the screen and swiped to play a video. Instantly, an image of her standing in a room blindfolded came up. They watched the footage of her demonstration for the colonel and Drew.

“You know I think that’s just as impressive the second time,” Drew said as soon as it was done, slightly masking the annoyed yells of her parents that came out garbled on the footage anyway.

“You’re not the only one who thinks so. It’s been shared more than that cute bunny-infested advert Drynco posted three weeks ago already. People can’t get enough of it. They’re calling for more Adamanta.”

“Adamanta?” Matt asked, hoping Simon would explain. It was just like him to drop some new lingo on her and make her ask about it. It was one of the few things he did that annoyed her.

“It’s what they’re calling the metal, or you, or possibly both. Your parents yell your name at the end but the recording doesn’t pick it up very well. It’s a play on what it sounds like they yell, and it’s already stuck. They want more Adamanta. They want more you.”

“Well, that explains my next mission,” Xander said when Matt sank into the nearest chair, overwhelmed.

“We’ve got one already?” Drew looked his way, as did Tyra and Trey, but Matt continued to stare at the floor while Simon read out comments from video viewers, all wanting to know more about her. A few seconds later, Xander squatted down right where she was looking.

“My general thinks you’d be a good addition to the military, Matt. He’d like you to sign up and agree to train us in the use of this metal.”

“Of course he would. She’s like a super hero or something now.” Simon sat down on the arm of her chair and slung his arm around her shoulder.

“You said you want to help continue your parents’ work. It would be one way to do that.” Drew grinned. “And it would be much more awesome to learn from you than anyone else.”

“I guess showing you guys a few things wouldn’t be too difficult. We’re going to need more metal, though.”

“I’m sure we can get more… Adamanta. Just say you’ll teach us and come do your cool assassin stuff with us.” Drew turned on his puppy-dog expression for her. Tyra rolled her eyes but Matt didn’t seem to take any of it in.

“It would be a good way to avenge your parents, Mattie.” Simon stroked her arm, bringing her back out of her thoughts.

“You actually want me on missions and stuff like that?” Matt finally met Xander’s gaze. She’d wanted exactly that for most of her teenage life, but now she’d had a taste she wasn’t so sure. Death was so final, and even she knew the war with the Beltine was going badly. Humans everywhere were struggling to survive.

“The general would assign you to a team. You’d be expected to follow commands from everyone of a higher rank, but you’d also have your training capacity, and when teaching, every pupil would be expected to obey you.”

“Would I be on your team?” Matt knew she didn’t want anyone else to order her around. Xander didn’t answer right away.

“I can’t promise that.”

“But you’re famous already. I bet they’ll agree to whatever conditions you give them. You could insist on being in Xander’s team. Couldn’t she, boss?” Drew bounced in his seat, and even Tyra’s eyes shone with delight at the thought of Matt joining them.

“If it matters to you, it would be worth mentioning it.” Xander shrugged. She was fairly sure he was holding something back, but knew he wouldn’t lie to her. Either way, the idea of joining the military did appeal to her. She’d been thinking that right before the Beltine attacked.

“All right,” she said a few seconds later. “If I can serve under you, I’ll sign up. If not, I’ll be a civilian consultant like Drew.” Matt smiled and found the statement sent a thrill of delight rippling through her torso. Even the name Adamanta sounded good, and she knew, most importantly, that her parents would approve.

 

~

 

Thank you for reading Episode 1 of the Adamanta series. We hope you enjoyed it. Keep reading for an excerpt of Episode 2.

 

We’re also giving each new subscriber to our mailing list here a free episode to say thank you. Just reply to your subscription confirmation with the episode number you’d like.

 

 

Episode 2 – Shafts of Kudos

Chapter 1

Kudos showed as a dull gray void among the stars in the viewer. The light from its parent star took hours to reach the dwarf planet’s surface, leaving it cold and inhospitable. If not for its metal content, it would likely be low on a list of planets to visit.

“Colonel, I’m bringing Contessa into geosynchronous orbit,” Tyra said. She gave Xander a reptilian smile that still unnerved him, even after years of serving together. “I should have her lined up above the mine in about ten minutes.”

“All right,” Xander said, doing his best to return her smile. “I’ll need you to stay aboard and be ready to withdraw at a moment’s notice. If a Beltine ship shows up while we’re planet-side, I don’t want to be caught without a ride home.” His tone of voice reflected the lines of fatigue and concern on his face.

“I can’t believe we’re spending our time baby-sitting a mining operation,” Mattie said, scowling. “We should be going after those monsters, taking the war to them.”

“And we will,” Xander said, “but first we have to arm more personnel with Adamanta and teach them to use it. We don’t even know all of its capabilities since the Beltines—” Xander broke off. Mattie didn’t need to be reminded her parents, who’d headed the research team working on the Adamanta project, were dead. “We’ve got to get the research and development back up and running, and for that we need Adamanta.”

Mattie grimaced, but stayed silent, staring into the viewer and feigning interest. Xander could see the tension in her jaw. He thought he should say something, but felt awkward and let it pass.

“Trey, this is a low-grav planet,” Xander said. “I’ll need you at the helm of the lander. I’m afraid I’ll bounce us right back off the surface.”

Trey grinned. “With all due respect, Sir, you are a pretty bad pilot.”

Xander gave him an exaggerated smile, but couldn’t think of a suitable comeback.

“We’re locked in, Sir,” Tyra said. She blinked her nictitating membrane. “It will be safe to launch as soon as we get clearance from the ground.” She turned back to the display and tapped the keypad.

“Okay, everyone,” Xander said, “grab your go-bags and take your positions in the lander.”

They met up with Drew in the lander bay. He was carrying his go-bag over one shoulder and dragging a huge toolbag over the other.

“Do you think you have enough instruments, Drew?” Xander asked, a little amused by the amount of equipment the science officer routinely carried with him.

“There’s just so much data we don’t have yet,” Drew said. “The Adamanta on Kudos might even be slightly different from what the Beltines have. And we might find other useful materials on this world. I’m curious about the elemental content of a low-grav planet. I’ve read studies, but this is my first opportunity to do a hands-on study.”

Xander rolled his eyes. “Adamanta is our primary focus right now If you want to pursue other projects on your own time, don’t. I still want you putting it off to work on Adamanta.”

The lander was a little less cramped than the pods and had fighter capability, if necessary; both were features that made Xander feel more comfortable. He strapped himself into the crash webbing and sat back trying to relax. In Lady Contessa, acceleration and deceleration were unnoticeable, but gravity had a way of intensifying things.

The air pressure in the bay reached zero and Contessa’s launch doors began to open. As the mooring clamps released with a clank, the lander seemed to float momentarily, giving Xander a jolt of panic.

Trey took control, and the little ship held fast, waiting as the bay’s iris-like hatch opened. He took the craft out slowly, almost adrift until they were clear of Lady Contessa. There was a disorienting moment of weightlessness, and the lander seemed to yaw widely.

As the lander turned at a right angle, Xander looked back at the ship. There was no place like home, and Lady Contessa was his home. She was still a beautiful ship, despite all her years of service, and Xander liked her a lot. Destroyer class, recently refitted with weapons and shields, enough speed for intergalactic travel—what was there not to like?

Xander was a little sad that he couldn’t take her with him on this trip. Without a ship in orbit, he and his crew would be sitting ducks for the first Beltine hive that came along. In their vulnerable situation, Contessa was their ace in the hole—and most likely their rescue vessel.

“Colonel, I’ve got a landing beacon from the mine camp,” Trey said, “and we’ll be entering Kudos’ atmosphere in three, two, one!”

There was an unpleasant shudder as the hull encountered the friction from the planet’s thin atmosphere. Xander pressed back hard against his seat to keep from being jerked forward. The other crew members simply went with it, but he still disliked the jolt and the ensuing turbulence. Besides, landings were not in his normal routine. Lady Contessa stayed out for a year at a time, only stopping at supply stations along the way. None of this landing business. Xander squeezed his eyes shut.

“Are you all right, Xander?” Mattie asked.

Xander was a little irritated by the over-familiarity, but Mattie was technically still a civilian until her paperwork went through, so there wasn’t much he could say.

“Fine. Just lost in thought.” He was glad Mattie let it go at that.

“Braking,” Trey announced.

Again, the momentum pulled at Xander, attempting to drag him forward in his seat, and again, he resisted.

Through the forward ports, a rocky ridge loomed up. The shadow of the mountain range was even darker than the blackness of space beyond. It appeared to Xander at first that they might fly right into the wall, but Trey braked the lander to a stop and then began a slow vertical drop to a small landing deck at the side of the mountain. Without the slightest bump, Trey nosed the craft into one of the mating cradles of the large hard-shelled tent structure. The unfamiliar sensation of outside noise accosted Xander’s ears.

“We have a seal between life support systems,” Trey announced. No one listened; they were already grabbing their possessions from the overhead bins. Trey hit the release to open the hatch.

“We have clearance to off-load,” he said. He unstrapped his harness and pushed up from his seat.

“Bring me back something nice,” Tyra’s voice said into Xander’s ear.

“Just be safe up there and don’t leave without us,” Xander responded.

A small delegation from the mining operation greeted Xander and his crew as they climbed down from the lander.

“Colonel Finlay,” a tall man with pale skin and dark hair said, “I’m Doctor Willis, superintendent of the mine.”

“Pleased to meet you, Doctor,” Xander said, shaking the man’s hand.

“This is Doctor Fraiser, our chief metallurgist; Mister Marx, our safety engineer; Mister Algood, our chief engineer, and Doctor Drake, our environmental systems specialist.”

“Gentlemen,” Xander said, nodding. “This is my crew: Trey is our pilot, Drew Raynor is our science and technology officer, and Ms. Adair, our Adamanta expert and consultant.”

“Nice to meet you all,” Doctor Willis said. “I’ll be interested to exchange ideas with all of you once you’re settled in. Now, if you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to your quarters and then give you a tour of the facility.”

 

 

[]Chapter 2

Their quarters on the planet were, if anything, smaller and more cramped than on their ship. It didn’t really bother him, but Xander hoped their presence wouldn’t inconvenience their hosts too much.

Once they had stowed their personal possessions, Doctor Willis gathered the crew outside the living area to begin their tour.

“The location for the mine was chosen after extensive study by probes and orbital scans from specially developed satellites. The highest concentration of the metal, polydinite—I guess they’re calling it Adamanta now—was detected in this mountain range, and our best guess narrowed down the choice to this area. The Beltine have seized the best concentrations in this system, so we do what we can.

“Most of our construction was done prior to the staff’s arrival. A team of Seabees arrived with equipment to grade and level the base area. After they excavated a series of recesses into the side of the ridge, they spent several weeks fabricating our primary structures. These shells are designed to shield all traces of human activity from detection by any passing craft, and even ships in orbit. The objective was to set up a mining colony that would be mostly self-sustaining.”

Doctor Willis led them into a large bay containing stacks of crates, boxes and barrels.

“This is our warehouse, of course. It directly connects to the landing bay for convenience. In spite of what we are able to produce here, we still have many shipments coming in, bringing equipment and supplies we can’t produce ourselves.”

“What is this construction material?” Drew asked, examining the silvery translucent wall.

“We use a double-walled, self-sealing flex polymer for all the inner and outer skins. In the event of a small puncture from a micro-meteorite or other object, the wound is repaired before the sensors even detect a breach. Larger damage takes longer, but anything below about ten centimeters is repaired without us having to administer physical patches. It’s quite an elegant system and, since there is a certain amount of outside atmosphere, time is not as critical a factor as on a ship in the vacuum of space.”

“That’s comforting,” Drew said.

“Thanks to prefabrication, we are able to add more modules to the complex at any time,” Doctor Willis said, “but our ultimate goal is to build into the mountain as the mining progresses.”

Doctor Willis led them through a passageway into the next pod.

“The modules are arranged in triangles, allowing cross access. This one contains our lounge and our canteen,” Doctor Willis said, indicating casual seating and video viewing terminals on one side, and a cluster of tables for four on the other. “We have a full-service kitchen, and we get packet feeds of news and entertainment from Netera. We try to offer our staff as many comforts of home as possible.”

“And all of your foodstuffs are brought in with other supplies?” Trey asked, indicating more interest in the dietary than the technological.

“Oh, no,” Doctor Willis said. “Let me show you. Food is one of the areas in which we have become entirely self-sustaining.” He led the way back through the kitchen and down a short passage to a much longer room crowded with racks and tables of plant life. Every shade of green was present, and most of the rainbow, for that matter. “We planned carefully to get as much biodiversity into our agricultural unit as possible. If you look closely, you might see a variety of insects and other small life forms.”

Bright lights hung from the support matrix overhead at regular intervals, providing an even illumination for the growing cultures.

“One advantage we have is a steady supply of raw hydrogen from pockets in the rock. We tap them and use a fuel cell conversion process to give us all the electricity we could possibly use. Our energy needs are taken care of entirely through the use of this mining bi-product.”

Doctor Willis started forward just as they were all thrown from their feet by a massive rolling quake. A sharp shockwave of air and the deafening roar of a blast accompanied the jolt. At once, klaxons began to sound throughout the facility at nearly deafening levels.

The big lights overhead swayed on their tracks and several fell nearby, shattering, throwing shards of polymer in all directions.

Xander struggled to gain his feet as rows of crops tumbled and some of the one hundred-gallon tanks of hydroponic solutions ruptured. A sudden wave of water flooded the floor of the greenhouse and toppled more plants and growing trays.

“Holy hell!” Tyra’s voice said in Xander’s ear. “What just happened down there? I’m reading heavy localized seismic activity.”

“We’re feeling heavy localized seismic activity!” Xander said, shouting unnecessarily. “I’d say it was an explosion. Are we under attack?”

“Not from anyone up here,” Tyra said. “I don’t read any other ships for millions of miles.”

“The mine!” Doctor Willis said, his voice quaking. “We’ve got to get to the mine.” He pulled himself to his feet and began picking his way through the damaged plant life.

“I’m coming down there, Colonel,” Tyra said. Xander imagined he could already hear her hands on the controls.

“No, not yet,” Xander said. “Until we know what we’re dealing with, I want you to hold position.” He followed along behind the doctor, leading his crew.

“I’m fine,” Trey said, sourly. “Thanks for asking.”

“I’d have known if anything happened to you, brother. I was worried about essential crewmembers,” Tyra said.

As the group pushed through into the large staging room for the mine, they were met with a heavy cloud of smoke, dust and gases billowing through the archway to the mines.

Doctor Willis made his way around a toppled set of lockers to a storage cabinet. “Breathing protection and hard hats,” he said, handing out gear.

The room was in pandemonium, with personnel rushing from every area of the compound. Xander accepted his gear and looked around at the chaotic scene.

“Doctor.” A lanky man struggling to don protective coveralls approached, “The mouth of Shaft One collapsed. We’ve got three workers trapped in there.”

“All right,” Doctor Willis said. “Let’s find Marx and get his assessment.”

“And,” the man hesitated, but then pointed to a screen on the wall. “Molly is on the roster for this shift.”

Doctor Willis seemed to stagger, as if punched in the gut. He put a hand out and Mattie helped him to sit.

“Molly is my wife,” he said. “She’s a master miner and ore specialist.”

The air handlers were quickly clearing the smoke and dust in the big room, and Xander looked around, assessing the damage. It appeared that there was little permanent damage to the shelves and cabinets, but the inventory would have to be examined and sorted. Cleanup was going to be a hell of a lot of work.

A group of workers were beginning to clear the aisles to improve access. Xander, Mattie and Trey pitched in. They righted fallen shelving, gathered supplies into piles out of the way of personnel, and made room for any equipment they might bring through.

Drew hurried around with his sack of instruments, taking readings of everything. He set up a portable air monitor and a seismograph out of the way of the workers.

“What have we got?” Marx, the mine safety engineer asked, rushing in, wearing coveralls and a hard hat. “I was in the shower.”

“We don’t know anything yet,” Doctor Willis said. “We’ve got three trapped. Molly’s in there.”

“Oh, gosh, I’m sorry,” Marx said. “Let’s get to work.”

“The comm links are broken,” one of the techs said, coming forward. “We don’t have any way of communicating with the crew in the shaft.”

Xander followed Marx and Willis through the archway to the corridor adjoining the shafts. It was hard to tell what shape the shaft had been, there was so much rock broken free and piled in a slide. A circle of miners gathered, staring at the fallen roof.

A tech attempted to snake a camera on a flexible, telescoping handle up over the top of the rubble.

“It’s completely blocked,” he said. “We’ll have to clear some of this away just to assess the situation.”

“Matt,” Xander said, “is there any way you can get your cameras in there?”

Mattie looked up at the stones wedged together like masonry. “If there is, it isn’t through this route. I don’t see any kind of opening.”

Marx knelt as close to the slide of rock as he could get and examined the pile from every angle. “The upper part of the blockage is resting on the solid rock above it. If we begin removing rocks lower down, we’ll cause it to collapse further. We’ll have to use remote arms to pull down as much loose material as we can and then work from there.”

A tech in a lightly armored safety suit rolled up on a small crane-like machine with a pincer on the end of its boom. Marx cleared everyone away so the technician could do his work. The claw began the slow process of plucking stones, one at a time, swinging aside, and dropping them into the bed of a small mining truck. The truck hauled them clear and returned for another load.

“If we can clear away the rocks at the top, we may be able to open a passage over,” Marx said, addressing Doctor Willis and Xander. “It’s difficult to tell at this point, but we may be able to clear a way through and start a rescue. We’ll get some medics in there with first aid and oxygen.”

“How far back does that shaft go?” Xander asked, studying the gray walls around the collapse.

“About three hundred meters,” Marx said. “It was started weeks before Two and Three. We were just talking about stepping up excavation in there. The ore was very promising in the last dozen meters or so, and we had high hopes. This is a terrible setback.”

“We’re currently processing a hundred tons of ore for every fifty grams or so of polydinite we manage to refine,” Willis said. “Before the Beltines drove us out of the asteroid belt, we were getting ten kilos for that much rock. We had a huge stockpile of concentrate ready for refinement, but we lost it all.”

Xander looked at the man’s weathered and worried face. He’d seen Doctor Willis’ file, but the man before him looked twice the age on his records. “Were you there when the Beltines attacked?”

“We were there,” the doctor said, “Molly and me. It came out of nowhere. We were getting hit the same instant the proximity sensors sounded the alert. It was horrible. We had little in the way of a security force. The Confederation arrived in minutes, but there was nothing we could do but climb into rescue pods and launch. We called them ‘flying coffins.’ Only half our personnel managed to get out, and only half of those were ever recovered. Thankfully, Molly was among the survivors when we were rescued. We lost eighty people that day—people who were like family.” The doctor shook his head, struggling to continue. “Now this. There’s a curse on polydinite!”

Xander had no idea how to respond, but fortunately, Mattie did.

“I understand how you feel, Doctor,” she said. “A few weeks ago I felt the same way, but now I realize it’s our best weapon. The Beltine were going to come, no matter what. Polydinite was discovered just in time to give us a fighting chance. The Beltine are mindless, territorial beasts. We can’t begin to understand what motivates them, but we know they are mortal. We can fight them off until they decide the price of messing with us is too great. Right now, that has to be our focus. We’ve got to get your wife and the others out of that shaft and get back to the business of protecting ourselves.”

“You’re right, of course, Ms. Adair,” Doctor Willis said. “There has been too much tragedy already. It’s just daunting sometimes, but surrender would be suicide.”

A loud crashing of rocks drew their attention back to the rescue effort. Dust billowed up around the mine entrance. The crane had been partially buried by a rock slide, but the operator was safe and the boom was clear, so he was able to use the claw to push the machine free. Several workers began moving fallen rock by hand, passing it down the line to load the truck. Another slide forced the miners to draw back.

Drew moved in close with one of his handheld meters, taking readings from the detritus. “I’m reading over twenty meters of high density. That’s a lot of material between us and those miners.”

“I’m getting the same figures,” Marx said. “Moving loose rock will take too much time. We’ll have to go in another way. Doctor Willis, I suggest we bore through diagonally from Shaft Two.”

“But that could take over a day,” Doctor Willis objected.

“It’s still the faster of the two routes,” Marx said. “And we can bore a small vent through to pump in air in just a few hours. Proper ventilation should buy us a lot of time.”

“All right,” Doctor Willis said with a sigh. “You’re in charge.”

“I’ll keep this crew working in through the collapse,” Marx said. “It’s a long shot. We might just get lucky, but we’ve got to cover all our bases.”

“I agree,” Willis said. “Whatever it takes.”

“Come with me,” Marx said to an assistant. He led the way around debris and machinery to the next shaft. Drew followed close behind with his own bag of tricks.

“We’ll need to pinpoint the location of our personnel in there as best we can. We don’t want to go in too close and trigger more cave-ins.” Drew dug a handheld sensor from his pack and followed the men into the darkness.

“Let’s get these lights back up,” Marx shouted over his shoulder. Workers were already scrambling to get it accomplished.

“We’re bringing in lights and a portable air handler,” the tech following close behind told them. “There was too much damage to the main conduit feeding the installed lights. I’ve got people working to restore the main lighting, but it’s going to be a while.”

Marx took density readings along the wall between the two shafts to locate the end of the caved-in portion. “I don’t want to make any false starts. We don’t have time. I figure we only have one shot at this before the air in that shaft is too foul to support life.”

Drew began taking readings with instruments held against the wall. “The rock is probably too thick to catch any temperature variations, but I could pick up focused sound spikes if anyone is tapping on the wall.”

*****

A crew of workers, accompanied by Xander, Mattie, Trey and Doctor Willis, arrived and set up powerful lights on tripods. Shaft Two was open and clear except for a few fallen slabs, and this allowed them to maneuver their utility carts without difficulty. Xander felt awkward trying to be of help in the unfamiliar situation.

“Harmon,” Marx called to one of the techs, “we need someone checking ceiling integrity in this shaft. We won’t be any help if we get ourselves trapped in here.”

“Already working on it,” Harmon said. “We’re good so far. All of the shoring jacks appear to be secure.”

Doctor Willis pressed his hands and the side of his face to the wall of the shaft. “Hang on, Molly,” he said. “We’re coming.”

“It will be okay,” Trey said, placing his long-fingered hand on the man’s shoulder. “I can sense it. My feelings are usually right about such things.”

“Thank you,” the doctor said, leaning against Trey for support. “Thank you.”

“Can he really tell that?” Mattie asked Xander in a whisper.

“Only where his sister is concerned,” Xander answered. “But I guess he understands the importance of hope.”

“This is so slow,” Drew complained. “Getting a reading through the rock takes forever. How will you know where to start?”

“We know the approximate depth from their last report,” Marx said. “I just hope they were still working in that area. Shaft One goes a hundred meters deeper into the rock, but two of the crewmembers were hauling ore out at irregular intervals. It’s impossible to guess where the trucks may have been.”

Xander turned to Mattie in his frustration. “I wish your Adamanta could help us with this situation.”

“Me too,” Mattie said. “That’s something for future research. Maybe Geekhead up there can devise something.”

“I can hear you,” Drew said without turning. “And maybe I can. I’ll need to learn more about Adamanta’s properties first. Right now, it’s beyond current science.”

“I know the whole lecture,” Mattie said. “I don’t know how many times my dad told me the human brain’s kinetic power is an even newer discovery than polydinite.”

“We’re at one hour and counting,” Harmon told Marx quietly. “There’s very little fresh air getting in there.”

“Any estimates?” Marx asked.

“Hard to say. It depends on how large their space is. I don’t think they’re completely sealed in. They have some airflow, but it probably isn’t enough.”

“Get the drill ready to move into position. My readings indicate we’re past the collapsed opening.” Marx scratched a crude “X” on the wall.

Drew continued taking readings as quickly as he could. “I agree. The density changed about twenty percent. I don’t have all the information I need to do an accurate calculation, but I would guess we’ve passed the initial cave-in.”

“I’m sorry. Please,” Marx said to Xander, “if you and your crew could clear out and give us room to operate, it would be greatly appreciated.”

“Oh, of course,” Xander said, motioning to the others to follow him out. “They’re the experts; let’s let them work.”

Xander and Mattie turned to go, but Trey had to pull Drew away.

 

 

[] Books by T. Y. Carew

In the Adamanta series:

Episode 1 – Adamanta

Episode 2 – Shafts of Kudos – Coming May 8th 2017

Episode 3 – Excelsior – Coming May 15th 2017

Episode 4 – Anathema – Coming July 15th 2017

Episode 5 – Coming September 15th 2017

Episode 6 – Coming November 15th 2017

 

 

[]About the Author

T. Y. Carew is the pen name for an entire group of authors. They’ve come together to write the Adamanta series and other works in the same universe. So far, they consist of Stephen P. Scott, Andrew Bellingham, Ella Medler and Jess Mountifield. They’re a quirky bunch of writers, with a variety of genres under their belt and different elements to their styles we’ll hope you agree make an interesting blend. One thing they definitely have in common is the love of diving into a book and going on an adventure, be that reading or writing one!

 

This episode was written by Jess Mountifield.

 

About Jess Mountifield

Jess was born in the quaint village of Woodbridge in the UK, has spent some of her childhood in the States and now resides near the beautiful Roman city of Bath. She lives with her husband, Phil, and her very dapsy cat, Pleaides.

During her still relatively short life Jess has displayed an innate curiosity for learning new things and has therefore studied many subjects, from maths and the sciences, to history and drama. Jess now works full time as a writer, incorporating many of the subjects she has an interest in within her plots and characters.

When she’s not working she can often be found with friends, enjoying a vast array of films, ice skating or trekking all over the English countryside.

You can find out more about the author and her upcoming projects by following her on twitter or her fanpage on facebook or at her blog www.jessmountifield.co.uk.


Adamanta (Season 1, Episode 1)

Episode 1 in the Adamanta series A team of humans is willing to face almost insurmountable odds to save the human race from annihilation. But quite how safe from discovery and attack is the planet the research team has been secluded on? Matt has spent her whole life helping her parents with research that could change the fate of the entire human race. She believes it's time to take it to the next stage and use it in active combat, but is she really ready to join the war and fight for mankind? Xander has dedicated his whole life to the military, keeping humans throughout the galaxy alive, no matter the risks. He's struggling not to become disillusioned when, time and again, running away is the only option. Can he find the one thing humanity needs to turn the tide, and can he cope with that thing being a person?

  • ISBN: 9781370755684
  • Author: Red Feather Writing
  • Published: 2017-08-23 13:32:22
  • Words: 25603
Adamanta (Season 1, Episode 1) Adamanta (Season 1, Episode 1)