Chapter 14 - Capture
GooYee hustled to the master control room from Engineering and began searching for the familiar constellations visible from the Chrysalis coordinates he’d entered in the GPC. The computer controlling the HiDef view screen displayed variously colored markers and visual aids as it identified known star systems and confirmed their galactic position. The scout saucers were precisely one light year distant from Chrysalis.
Looking at GooYee with an understanding smile, Doug said, “Now that I understand your reasoning for the coordinates you selected for Ponndomer and Cuddlur, I’m pleased you kept us a light year away from the planet.”
“Yes,” GooYee acknowledged. “I postulated the Asiddians wouldn’t post guard ships at remote locations. A light year is meaningless to our FLIT drives but would be a crippling distance for Asiddian ship-to-ship communications and tactical coordination.”
“My sensors don’t detect any nearby spacecraft or power sources,” Yuri-Milost announced.
“Likewise,” Becky said as she swiveled toward Doug. “What’s our move now?”
Instead of answering her, Doug hit the intercom button and asked, “Miguel, what is the effective operating range of your Bowlers?”
“I’m glad you said effective,” Miguel replied. “This is the first mission we’ve used a Bowler for anything beyond experimental trials. The Bowler is controlled by an FLR so range is not the problem. Human reaction time is. Have you ever played with a drone on Earth?”
When Doug said he hadn’t, Miguel continued, “The Bowler has unidirectional vision. It can’t see out the back of its head. The next model iteration will have built-in 360 degree spatial sensors, but the current one is limited. When I control the device, it’s as if I was floating in open space wearing a motorcycle helmet. I’ve always got a blindside. The Bowler’s advantage is its size. It’s small and doesn’t emit a power signature their instruments are capable of sensing. Movement within the sensor area is how they detected the Salterr in the Cuddlur system. I believe the Bowler is small enough to give the impression it’s nothing more than a tiny meteorite and can be ignored.”
“Then we’ll use the Bowlers to scope out the system,” Doug decided.
Flipping the ship-to-ship communicator, Doug said, “Colonel Yuri-Milost, I want you to return to Earth and download all your data for General Blunt and Dr. Heinbaum. I’m sending the sample materials Dr. Roemer retrieved in the Cuddlur system over to you via Bowler transport. Old Heinbaum should be delighted about having new tech to study. Return to these coordinates after delivery. Understood?”
“Crystal clear. I’ll return as soon as possible.”
Yuri-Milost fumed as Jenson broke radio contact.
“Dear God,” she prayed. “Give me the patience and wisdom necessary to exact your divine retribution on the killer of my family. My body and soul are yours to command as the vessel delivering your holy vengeance.”
“Talking to yourself again?” Stoneman asked as he walked into the Verbinna’s control room.
Smooth as ever, Yuri-Milost replied, “Colonel Jenson just ordered us to return to Earth with our data. He wants General Blunt and Dr. Heinbaum to get a jump on the analysis. I was just praying for everyone’s safety.”
“Good for you,” Jason said as he plopped down in the co-pilot’s couch and studied the star location grid displayed on the view screen.
Yuri-Milost rose from the pilot’s couch and wandered toward the hatchway leading to the main passageway. Turning to stare at the back of Jason’s head, she fantasized about how easy it would be to break his neck. She knew the killing would disrupt her plans, but it would feel so satisfying. She was counting the number of physical movements necessary to accomplish the murder when her aide Quentin DeLoth walked up.
Waiting for Yuri-Milost to acknowledge his presence, DeLoth noticed the look in her eyes. He’d seen the hollow stare before and knew what she was considering. The situation was becoming worse as the seconds wound off the clock. A tiny rivulet of spittle leaked from the corner of her mouth, and Yuri-Milost wiped absently at it with her sleeve.
Realizing he had to change her thought patterns to avoid a calamity, DeLoth said, “The Bowlers just delivered our cargo of Asiddian gear. We can FLIT any time you’re ready.”
At the sound of DeLoth’s voice, the murderous cloud seemed to lift off Yuri-Milost, and she turned her attention to him. A momentary look of annoyance was replaced by lust.
Without taking her eyes off DeLoth, Yuri-Milost said, “Stoneman, please program the GPC for the return to Earth. I’m going to the Engineering deck to inspect the new alien tech and make sure it’s stowed safely. I’ll be back in around 15 minutes. Keep my seat warm.”
Grabbing DeLoth’s thin, quavering arm, Yuri-Milost led him down the passageway toward Engineering, her odd smile brightening with every step.
About 20 minutes later, the Verbinna disappeared with its data and cargo. Doug called a general meeting to discuss strategy.
“Dr. GooYee is the only one among us who’s familiar with Chrysalis so he should be the Bowler operator. Agreed?” he asked as they sat around the mess table in the galley.
“No question,” Miguel and Becky said together as GooYee nodded in agreement.
“The first thing we need to do is determine how the Asiddians are guarding the Chrysalis system,” Whatsit said. “Ship positions and level of vigilance should be an indication of their offensive and defensive priorities.”
“Patience will be a key to success. If we try to conduct our surveillance too quickly, we risk discovery,” Becky warned.
GooYee appeared too introspective about the assignment for Doug’s comfort. At times, he stared straight ahead with a vague look as if he was consumed by his thoughts. Calling his name seemed to break the spell, but after responding to questions or comments, the clouded gaze would return. Doug could tell the lizard’s thoughts were chaotic.
Reaching across the table to tap his arm, Doug said, “Doctor GooYee.”
GooYee blinked as his thoughts were interrupted, and he turned his head to focus on Doug.
“I need you to stay sharp and remain objective. You’re going to observe very troubling things as you tour the system. You must remain vigilant. Becky and Miguel will be sitting with you during your operations. If you encounter any problems, they’ll be available for advice.”
Nodding to absently confirm the instructions, GooYee said, “Give me a few minutes to prepare. I won’t let you down.”
They used three FLITs to jockey the Horned Toad to within 50,000 miles of Chrysalis. GooYee had taken great delight in naming his Bowler after the odd creature he’d found on one of his hikes in the Nevada desert with Captain McPherson.
The 8 inch long, horned lizard had been complacent in the hands of the towering iguana-like Chrysallaman, and GooYee loved the sharp spines protecting the creature’s head and body. His fondest memory was when McPherson bent down and looked straight into the little animal’s face. Frightened by the giant’s proximity, twin streams of blood had squirted from the corners of the lizard’s eyes straight into McPherson’s face. GooYee still laughed out loud every time he thought about McPherson’s grimace as tiny streams of blood dripped off his chin.
It was sad to discover it became easier to hide from the Asiddians the closer the Horned Toad got to Chrysalis. Huge debris clouds of destroyed Chrysallaman mother ships and scout saucers were scattered throughout the system. GooYee, Becky and Miguel stared wide-eyed as the extent of the destruction was revealed. Not a single Chrysallaman spacecraft had been spared, and the wreckage was strewn in a wide Saturn-like belt orbiting the planet.
The murderous nature of Asiddian style warfare was on full display. It appeared they took perverted delight in releasing thousands of Chrysallamans into orbit. Death came from battle wounds, burning up on re-entry into the planet’s atmosphere or suffocation. Spacesuits simply weren’t designed to protect against those inevitable consequences especially if no spacesuit was provided when the victim was blown out an airlock.
Hiding the Bowler in the debris, they spent the better part of four days mapping the planet and determining the number of Asiddian ships on guard duty. In all, thirty battleships surrounded Chrysalis in a web tight enough to prevent any unauthorized departure or arrival. Using only passive sensors, GooYee created a planetary map of population centers and functioning power grids they could display on the HiDef monitors in the Salterr. The information was disheartening.
GooYee’s robust, green-colored skin had dulled, and his eyes no longer sparkled with energy. It was obvious he was distraught by what had happened to his homeworld. Pounding the top of the table in the galley with his fist, he looked like he was about to cry.
“I estimate less than one million Chrysallaman natives still live on the planet’s surface. There may be pockets of survivors underground, but I have no way of knowing without using active sensors which would reveal our existence. I don’t know what else to do. Without a telepathic connection to an Asiddian brain, I can’t understand the Asiddian radio broadcasts. I know they’re sending transmissions, but it’s impossible to translate them.”
“I’ve been thinking about the radio transmissions, and there may be a solution,” Becky offered. “We have two native Asiddians here with us who just happen to be wearing Asiddian command level spacesuits. I bet those suits are rigged to receive and transmit their communications.”
“So what’s your idea?” Doug asked.
“I think we need to add another Asiddian into the equation. Our guests have no way of knowing how many prisoners the rascally Chrysallamans captured in the Ponndomer system. This new one will be a real schemer wanting to plan an escape. We let our captives receive the Asiddian transmissions. They’ll discuss what’s being said, and I’ll be there to soak it all up. Heck, I may even be able to find a way to wiggle into their rock hard skulls for a direct telepathic connection.”
Doug looked at Miguel and asked, “Can you program your equipment to block any attempt by our captives to respond to the radio transmissions?”
“Can do. I can be ready in a few key strokes.”
“Very well. Let’s do this.”
It’d been over four days since Lydia Dove was dragged screaming from the cell where Wren and Crow were being held. The hulking Chrysallaman had returned several times to bring them water and food, but the isolation was taking its toll. The lights in the cell were never turned off, and at random times, what sounded like a heavy sledge pounded against the metal door startling the Asiddians from their fitful naps. Their nerves were frazzled, and Wren’s anger was bubbling hot.
“I’ll find a way of escaping this cell, and when I do the first Chrysallaman I’m going to kill is that hat wearing monster!”
As if the Holy Winged Goddess herself had heard a prayer, the cell door slid aside and the green-coated lizard with the wide brimmed hat stood regarding them. He held the arm of a manacled Asiddian and smiled with wicked pleasure as he shoved the woman into the cell. As he shoved her, the Asiddian twisted around and in one sweeping movement pulled the cutter ray pistol from the bandoleer on his chest and sliced him in half with a vicious diagonal cut. As the Chrysallaman’s body slumped to the floor in a pile of gore, his attacker pulled the keys to her handcuffs from his belt and flung them at Wren and Crow.
When neither of them moved to help her, the prisoner yelled, “Well don’t just stand there, uncuff me.”
Ramona Crow was faster on the uptake and snatched the keys. As she worked on opening the locks, she asked, “Who are you?”
With the shackles removed, the Asiddian got to her feet and regarded Wren and Crow with a fixed stare. She was 6 feet 11 inches tall with coal black skin and hair. Her eyes were hazel and heavily lidded. Her nose was almost nine inches long but it was difficult to tell because it curved to the right as if it had been broken in the past and hadn’t healed properly. She held the ray pistol lazily in her hand, but it was obvious she knew how to use it.
“I’m Wendron Piper, First Officer of the Flying Dragon. Who are you? You’re not a member of my crew.”
“I’m Hannah Wren, Captain of the Winged Death. This is my Science Officer Ramona Crow.”
Piper’s response was no-nonsense, “The Winged Death is assigned to the Cuddlur System. We’re in the Ponndomer System so unless you can explain how you were able to travel seven light years in one day, I’m going to kill you both right now as traitorous spies working for the Chrysallamans.”
Wren had suffered enough indignation. Marching up to confront the towering Wendron Piper, she blustered, “Show due respect for your superior officer right now, or I’ll have you court-martialed so fast your damned nose will twist the other way.”
Instead of being offended, Piper sneered, “Looks like you may have a backbone hidden somewhere. Good. You’re going to need it if you want to help me capture this ship.”
Twitching her head towards Crow, Piper continued, “How about her? She have a spine as well?”
A silent nod was the only response, but Piper didn’t seem to be concerned.
“They stripped away my body armor. Are your transceivers still functional? This cell is insulated against radio transmissions so we have to get to another area of the ship where we can try to call for help. There isn’t much time. The others will come looking for this one soon.”
Both Wren and Crow nodded, and Piper motioned them to follow her. They crept from the cell, stepped wide over the gory remains of the lizard, tiptoed along the passageway and onto a downward sloping ramp. At last they slipped into a storage room lined by shelves filled with sealed boxes and tool kits. While Piper guarded the door, Wren and Crow activated their transceivers. They began hearing radio chatter at once.
“Shadow Wraith, you are cleared to approach the planet. Maintain 65 degree angle of descent until you reach 20,000 feet. Your landing coordinates follow.”
“Diving Hawk, be sure you keep all 10 pounds of the ground Chrysallaman meat fresh. Princess Peregrine doesn’t like rancid food.”
“Aye, sir. I know. Royals never eat carrion.”
“They don’t know what they’re missing do they? Nothing compares to the soft, gooey texture or aroma of properly aged meat.”
Becky was revolted by what she was hearing. Bile forced its way up her esophagus, and the bitter taste of it on her tongue was awful. Only with an extreme effort of will was she able to maintain her Wendron Piper illusion in the face of such perversion. It was her focused effort to maintain her illusion under extreme duress that led her to the breakthrough she needed.
It occurred to her the brain fed all its nerve transmissions down through a large hole in the bottom of the skull through the neck into the body. She’d been trying to focus her telepathic powers through the Asiddians’ lead-lined skull openings at the eyes and ears, but she realized the unprotected spinal cord was directly wired into their brains. Imagining her mental probes taking the form of tentacles on an octopus, she experimented by insinuating her mind into the spinal cord of Ramona Crow and oozing her perceptions upwards into the mind of the Asiddian.
The sensation was very different from telepathic interaction with a Human or Chrysallaman. Becky couldn’t find any biologic mechanism for telepathic communication in the physiology of the Asiddian brain. As she merged her mind into the network of nerves in the brain of the creature and found not even a rudimentary structure capable of telepathic communication, the only conclusion she could reach was the shielding nature of the Asiddian skull material eliminated the need for evolutionary development of telepathic functionality.
Becky comprehended she was plugging into a biological mind in much the same way as a USB port plugs into a computer. She didn’t have time to leisurely review all the knowledge stored in Crow’s memories. Connecting into the language center of the woman’s brain, Becky downloaded the Asiddian language into her own mind and withdrew her mental probe.
Taking a couple of deep breaths, Becky allowed her brain to settle for a moment as it sorted its new information. There was no question. She could both speak and read the Asiddian language like it was her native tongue.
Wren and Crow had been absorbed with trying to use their transceivers to contact an Asiddian ship. They were shocked when the storage room door opened, and the green-coated Chrysallaman they thought was dead walked through it. Their eyes grew even wider as the air shimmered around Wendron Piper, and she dissolved into a shorter being with light brown skin and coal black hair pulled into a complex twisting loop at the back of her head. The bipedal being handed the cutter ray pistol to the Chrysallaman and patted his arm as if she’d been expecting him.
In perfect Asiddian, the dark-haired creature said, “Captain Wren and Science Officer Crow, if you would please follow me, I’d like to introduce you to the rest of our crew. My name is Major Rebecca Chang, and I’m known as a Human.”
Inclining her head towards the Chrysallaman, she said, “This big fellow is Whatsit, and he’s not very pleased about your people’s treatment of his fellow Chrysallamans. One wrong move from either of you and even the Holy Winged Goddess won’t be able to save you from his wrath. Understood?”
In answer, Ramona Crow fainted like a limp, rag doll. Hannah Wren stared in open mouthed silence at the odd couple.
Turning to Whatsit, Becky asked, “What do you think of my scare factor?”
Whatsit grinned and replied, “Not bad for a Human. Not bad at all.”