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Chapter V The Approaching Storm

THE TRAM WAS destroyed during the attack. It lay smoldering on the cliff side, a giant cloud of smoke rising from its ashes. I opened my eyes and found myself lying face down outside the tram. My head was throbbing, and my body littered with tiny cuts and bruises. I’d managed to escape any serious injury bringing myself to my knees I evaluated the injuries then took a minute to gather my thoughts.
I took a look about then noticed the disaster that was the tram. “Sarah!” I shouted making my way over to the wreckage. “Sarah, where are you?” My legs were flimsy from the incident, making it difficult to stand. There was no response, not from anyone. I reached the tram and took a peek within. No one was there, not even a body; it seemed all the passengers survived the crash. But where have they all gone? Recaptured by War Class? Or did they flee?
“Hello, can anyone hear me?” I shouted, glancing around, my head still throbbing. Just then, someone appeared over the ridge line, looking down at me.
“What are you doing down there?” a voice called out. I couldn’t make out a face, just the silhouette of what appeared to be a male.
“You hear me!” the voice broke again. Definitely a male.
“I-I need help.”
“There was an incident . . . our transport was attacked.”
“I noticed,” cut in the unfamiliar voice.
The figure moved closer then leaped off the cliff side, falling several feet, landing stylishly on the gravel. He stood to reveal a young man.
His hair was dirty blond with red flame accents styled at the tips. He wore a faded vest that revealed his muscular chest with torn shorts, obviously not of privilege.
A silver necklace hung with two rings in tow around his neck. The rings had engravings on each ring similar to the sword of Margus spanned across each of them. The insignia of Altuneis, the goddess of matrimony, could be seen around them both, the sign of someone who was married or soon to be.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?” the young man asked.
I paused with uncertainty. “Dammit, you heard me!” he shouted, drawing his blade, pointing at my still weary frame.
“Wait! My name’s Elliot! I was on transport from Madalva, we were attacked.”
“Madalva? . . . You’re a Commoner?” the young man said.
“Let me see your brand.” I rolled up my sleeve to reveal the mark.
The young man gave a nod then sheathed his blade.
“You all right, my name’s Caleb,” he said, helping me to my feet.
“I’m fine,” I said. “What happened? There were others with me, passengers. We were attacked, it forced the crash.”
“Yeah, that was us,” Caleb replied with a smirk.
“You did this?” I said. “You nearly killed us!”
“We weren’t trying to destroy the tram, just put a stop to it.”
“But the guy with the pulse gun on that speeder . . . He shot us twice.”
Caleb chuckled. “Well Abe’s not our best shot.”
“Abe? Abe, who?”
“He’s our ship’s engineer, and he wasn’t gunnin’ for ya..”
“Our? There are more of you?”
“Plenty,” replied Caleb. “Trust me, you’ll have the chance to meet us all soon enough. But we can’t stay around here. They’ll be others arriving soon.”
“Militia?” I said.
“Yeah, and lots of ‘em.”
“I understand, but what happened to the others aboard the tram?”
“Some ran away, probably fleeing home. Others joined our ranks, but most are just hitching a ride until they can find somewhere safe to settle,” he explained.
“There was a girl with me on the tram, short blond hair and blue eyes. Did you see her?” I asked.

Caleb shook his head in response. “But like I said, most got away.” The faint sound of shouting could be heard just over the ridge. Caleb lifted his finger signaling silence, and we both focused on the noise. The shouts morphed into screams, and the crackle of weapons fire could now be heard popping and booming even louder, growing in intensity with each new echo.
“Come on,” Caleb said, tugging my jacket. “Let’s go, follow me.”
We bolted, with Caleb leading the way back up the hillside in attempt to get a better view on the approaching enemy. “Over here,” Caleb urged, ducking behind a massive boulder. I followed shortly behind. There, we remained, waiting crouched behind the rocks. The screams and weapons fire grew even louder. I grew antsy looking over to Caleb.
“Friends of yours?” I said.
“Yeah, and it sounds like they’re in trouble. We didn’t expect reinforcements to get here this fast. They must have had a patrol nearby. Follow me.” He said. “We have to keep moving.”
We eased from around the rocks. Just then Caleb’s group of outlaws appeared over the ridge fleeing War Class militants . The soldiers were equipped with pulse rifles, firing at the evading party. The outlaws fought back with weapons of their own, handguns, swords, and rifles mostly, weapons not as powerful as the matra-driven pulse shots, but effective nonetheless.

Utilizing our vantage point, we watched the chaos ensue. The departing motley of misfits was the cause for the attack on the tram, or as Caleb put it “their attempt to stop the vessel.” They wore little to no armor, didn’t seem to be combat-trained, and attacked erratically. Using guerilla tactics to bait in, then annihilate any War Class forces.
“Aren’t we going to help them?” I said.”

“No,” he responded. “We have to get back to the transports, we are outnumbered. Let’s go.” He stood and whistled to signal the retreat. War Class forces had spotted us and opened fire. We scaled down the hillside, joining the others as pulse rifle fire whizzed by with a brilliant yet deadly blue illumination.
“Can ya fight?” Caleb shouted.
“Yeah, give me a sword.” I called back.
“Don’t have a spare! Here take this!” He shouted, tossing me his pistol.
“Thanks, but I prefer a sword!”
“So do I,” he said, grinning charismatically.
“But that’s all I got! Relax its easy, just point and shoot! Got it?!”
“Got it! So what’s your plan?” I said.
“Run!” he shouted, heading down into the field. “We have transports just over the hillside! We’ve hit them hard enough for one day, let’s not give them a chance to even the score!”
We continued to flee as more militia arrived on the scene, giving chase.
“Almost there! Keep it up!” Caleb called back.

Before we could reach their destination, we were cut off by two enemy vessels. Twelve men emerged from both speeders, pulse rifles in hand, opening fire.
“They’ve flanked us!” Caleb cried out.
“Everyone, take the long way back!” We were pinned down by enemy fire, forcing the group to disperse. One of the outlaws was struck in the back by pulse rifle fire, the shot dropped him dead, leaving a smoldering hole the length of his body.
Caleb stood his ground, and I remained by his side. “What are you doing? Let’s go!” I shouted.
“Follow the others if you like, they’ll go around!” he replied.
I paused, staring at him, “What about you?” I said.
He turned around and cracked a wicked grin.
“I’m going ‘through,’ care to join me?”
I looked at the pistol then back to Caleb.
“Lead the way.” I said.
“That’s it!” he shouted vigorously, motioning for me to follow.
Caleb then drew his sword and waved it around pretentiously. We’d found our courage and charged the militants. Caleb’s skill matched his flair. He leapt forward toward one of the men, dodging pulse rifle fire, slicing the man across the neck. A thick splash of blood erupted from the wound, flying through the air as the man collapsed to the ground; a clean cut.
He then spun round gracefully, as if his movements were choreographed, evading more pulse rifle fire, somersaulting toward another guard, thrusting his sword into his chest. The man shouted in agony then fell to his knees. Caleb lifted his leg, placing his boot on the man’s thorax, using his body as leverage, dislodging the blade from the man’s cavity, kicking him aside.
I charged in as well, firing on the opposing force, hitting one of the guards in the shoulder, causing him to spin around and drop to the floor. A second shot entered his back, killing him.
“Keep pushing forward!” Caleb shouted.
One of the soldiers charged wildly, swinging his blade in a hacking motion. Caleb lifted his sword to parry the attack. Their blades collided; the two where now locked in battle. Using his opponent’s very momentum against him, Caleb slid his blade diagonally, stepping aside, and allowing the man to fall forward. Then he stabbed his blade downward into the man’s back; yet another dead.
“Leave the rest!” Caleb called to me. “We have a ride to catch!”
“I hear you! Let’s go!” I shouted ducking under pulse rifle fire.
“This way, stay on me!” Caleb called back, leading the way once more. I followed closely behind.
We fled the canyons and headed back into the valley. “There!” Caleb shouted, pointing down into the prairie. Two midsized transports sped across the plains, weaving in and out of one another. Trailing was a large heavily armored gold-plated vessel with multiple one-man speeders in pursuit as well.
“What is that thing? I asked.
“It’s a granos canon, a large heavily armored transport with a ton of firepower! They’re in trouble!”
“Can they fight back?”
“Not against that! Their best chance is to outrun it! Come on we have to get down there!” He looked at his wrist and interacted with a device, a bracelet-like contraption that rounded his wrist and forearm.
“What are you doing?" I said.
“I’m putting us on radar. They should receive the signal and be able to locate us. It’s a little something Abe cooked up,” he said with a grin.
“Let’s go! Keep runnin’, this will be a swift pick up!”
“Noted!” I replied sarcastically.
The behemoth began to fire on the smaller transports. Each vessel could be seen bobbing and weaving as explosions flashed and debris was slung into the air. One of the vessels veered, adjusting its heading,deviating from its tormentor.
“They must see us!” Caleb cried, with both of us still on the move.
A large hornlike extremity protruded from the face of the behemoth. It began to illuminate, as a small blue orb appeared on its tip and began to swell. Electromagnetic static surged around its nuclide, occasionally flaring with blue lightning bolts as its power intensified and the orb continued to grow.
“The canon! It’s powering up!” Caleb shouted.
“What’s that?” I shouted.
“It’s the behemoth’s primary weapon, extremely powerful! It’s preparing to fire!”
The orb swells to gargantuan size then suddenly dissipates with a bright flash of blue.
“Wait!” Caleb shouts, stopping me dead in my tracks, grabbing me by the jacket, pulling me to a knee.
“Stay down!” he said. A large beam then shoots from the apex of the limb, cutting like a laser across the field until it met its target, one of the dual speeders. We watched in horror, mouths agape as the midsized cruiser was instantly destroyed, bursting into tiny pieces, its crew vaporized. It’s twin still headed for Caleb and I.
“My god . . .” I murmured. The behemoth changed course, preparing to eradicate the remaining vessel. “Come on!” Caleb said, tugging me along. “We’ll have to jump for it! They can’t afford to stop completely; the canon’s closing too fast!”
We cut across the field to meet the remaining shuttle. The two smaller speeders zeroed in, giving chase, firing at the heavily winded Caleb and I.

The shuttle zipped toward us, as we scrambled to avoid enemy fire from the pursuing speeders. The behemoth looked on to its new target and began to fire. The midsized ship inbound weaved, suddenly zigzagging, evading the barrage of secondary weapons’ fire from the canon. In the midst of the chaos, the shuttle overshoots us. And in a risky move, it subsequently decelerated, just enough for us to catch up and jump aboard. Caleb was the first to make the leap of faith, lunging aboard the still swiftly moving vessel. He leaped, grabbing hold of the ship’s railing, pulling himself aboard.
He was joined by others on the deck, Abraham and a young woman unfamiliar to me. He turned to see me still-sprinting, struggling to keep pace and offered his hand. “You have to jump!” he shouts, with me lagging behind, frantically trying to keep up. Abraham grabbed a rifle to provide cover fire from the following speeders. He leaned against the railing, using it to steady his shot. Aiming and firing, he hits one of the men. The rider took a hard fall as the other speeders zipped onward.
Caleb warned we would soon be within range of the granos canon’s apex and urged me to dig deep and make the jump. Another body slammed against the railing, shouting, cheering me on.
“Elliot!” a voice cried. A tearful girl reached out to me. I lookedup to see that it is Sarah. She had escaped capture and was seemingly unharmed in the crash.
“Sarah!” I cried out.
“Elliot, please hurry!” I struggled to keep pace tossing the pistol on to the deck then hurdling with all my might toward Caleb’s outstretched hand.
“Urgh!” I grunted, as our hands make contact, clasping down tight.
“I got you!” Caleb shouted. I was now being dragged behind thespeeding craft.
“Hold on, Elliot! Pull him up, hurry!” Sarah shouts, with the lone speeder and canon still in pursuit.
“Abe, tell Alexa to gun it! Head for the embankment and follow the track into the tunnel! It’s our only chance!” Abraham nodded then scampered over to the helm, leaning over the pilot’s shoulder, yelling and pointing toward the embankment.
Caleb looked up in horror, as the canon closed in, preparing to fire its primary weapon once more. He reached down, grabbing me with both hands, utilizing all his might to keep hold, nearly being pulled over in the process. The vessel veered continuously to avoid the constant barrage of weapons fire, which made holding on all the more difficult.
Caleb is now strained and I can feel him losing his grip as a familiar clash of blue shoots through the air. The behemoth’s weapon is once again ready to fire. Caleb groaned, “Pull yourself up! Climb me if you have to!” I reached up, grasping Caleb’s neck and shoulders, climbing him like a ladder pulling himself over the railing. We both fell to the floor, breathing heavily.

“Thanks” I said.

“No problem,” Caleb responded exhaustedly.
Sarah rushed to my side. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine . . . Just a little winded.”
“Elliot . . . after the crash I . . . I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, Sarah. Don’t worry, we made it.”
Sarah looked up, and her eyes widened. “Elliot!” she screeched, as the canon fired its main canon, tracking the smaller vessel. Caleb rose to his feet, darting toward the helm. He leaned over the opposite shoulder of the pilot, yelling, pointing to the same position Abraham had revealed earlier. The giant beam cut across the field, leaving the earth scorched in its wake tracking us with hawk like precision. The ground itself lifted from the beams tremendous force.

“Everyone get down!” cried Caleb. I rustled Sarah to the floor holding on to her tightly.. The smaller ship was now traveling at its maximum speed. Passing images began to blur, while the giant beam remained prominent behind us. The ship sped toward safety with the beam inching closer and closer. The entrance to the tunnel was now just ahead as we continued to zip forward at full speed.
Caleb clinched his fist and yelled, “Come on!” The ship zoomed into the mouth of the cavern followed by a bright flash of light then a great explosion came from behind us. The beam struck the outer side of the cave, collapsing the entrance, filling the tunnel with smoke and rubble.
“We made it!” Abraham yelled excitedly, throwing both hands into the air as the ship sped on, gradually slowing down before easing to a halt. A sign of relief swept over the crew as I found myself lying on top of Sarah in a particularly odd fashion. We slowly released our grip on one another. I stood up helping Sarah to her feet.
“You guys okay?” Caleb said.
“Yeah, we’re fine.” I said.
“That was close. Thanks for your help back there.”
“Don’t mention it.” Caleb said, leaping off the transport down to the tracks. “You had some impressive moves back there. Where did you learn to shoot?”
“Instincts mostly,” Elliot said. “I’ve had a few lessons over the years, nothing special. I’m no marksman.”
“Well you could have fooled me,” Caleb said, scratching his whiskered chin.
“Maybe I could have,” I said jokingly. “But it’s the great piloting skills of your handler we should all be thanking,”
“That would be Alexa. And no need to thank her, this isn’t her first chase.” Caleb said, pointing to the couch.
There sat a woman wearing a sleek chrome protective helmet with a tinted visor covering her face. She stood up and walked over to join the rest of the group. She then removed the helmet, revealing a face as beautiful as the goddess Abigail herself. Her lavish jet black hair cascaded down her back with sheen and elegance. Her arms were camouflaged with symbolic incantations, prayers, and religious markings of some sorts. They covered her wrists, traveling up to her shoulders. Her brown beautiful eyes were distant yet loving all the same.
“Thank you.” I said nervously. The mysterious woman gave me an
analyzing gaze. She then turned and walked away reviling a small device planted in her ear canal.
I stood there somewhat baffled. “Uhh . . . she’s not much of a
talker,” Caleb said. “We should get out of these tunnels. There are only so many exits. It’s only a matter of time before they’ll have a patrol stationed at everyone.”
“All right, let’s go,” I said.
“You two can come with us. We’ll take you to some place safe.”
“I have to get back to Madalva,” I said.
Caleb paused, staring at me in confusion. “What? You want to go back? Why?”
“I have to,” I said simply.
Caleb looked at the ground, shaking his head. “Even if you go back, you’d just be rearrested, maybe even killed.”
“That’s a chance I’ll have to take,” I insisted.
Caleb sighed, looking over to Sarah. “What about you?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “My family remains captured, my home bare. I have no place to go.”
“All the more reason for you to stay with us,” Caleb insisted.
“Elliot?” Sarah said, looking over to me.
“Stay if you’d like, Sarah, but I must go.”
“You’d just abandon her?” Caleb questioned.
“It’s not like that. We just met.”
“All the same, you’re all she has now. She seems to have taken a liking to you. I can’t say I understand why she would to someone who’djust run out on her.”
“You don’t understand. I don’t expect you to understand,” I said. “I don’t have to explain anything to you.”
“Bullshit, you’re just–!”
“You guys are wasting time!” Abraham shouted abruptly. “We need to leave, Caleb, now!”
Caleb took a deep breath, calming himself then exhaled slowly. “All right. What about just for tonight? We have a camp nearby its hidden away safe. We have food and water there. Stay tonight, think it over, and if you still want to leave in the morning, I won’t try and stop you.”
I looked at Sarah, who remained silent, her eyes doing all the talking, asking me to stay. I turned back to Caleb and nodded. “Okay. . . I’ll stay.”
“All right,” Caleb said with a smile, slapping me playfully on the shoulder.
“Everybody pack it in! We’re moving!”
We returned to the vessel, Sarah and I standing side by side on the deck of the transport with Alexa and Caleb at the helm. Abraham mounted the rail gun. It began to move, following the track, navigating the dark cavern. “All right, off to Ubetan,” Caleb said, as the tram moved down the dark hallway, heading toward the light.

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