"Holocall coming in for you, Jan, it's a Colonel Malenkov from the Galactic Consortium." "Thanks Daisy, put it through." Rae and Jan were relaxing on the deck of their beach house under the twin suns' of Arcturus IX when the call came in.
"I wonder what he wants." Rae said.
The air shimmered and the image of Colonel Georgi Malenkov appeared his shaved head and full beard reflecting his Cossack heritage on Old Earth. He was momentarily taken aback by the image of two beautiful nude women reclining on loungers, but recovered quickly.
"Good fortune, ladies," he said in a deep voice, "You are well I trust?" "Quite well, Colonel," Jan replied, "Have you met my cousin Rae?" "I have not, a pleasure, Madam. Your reputation precedes you." "Likewise, Colonel, your defense of Titan in the war of Asteroidal Secession is taught in the Peace Patrol Academy's College of Tactics and Strategy." Malenkov chuckled, "Those were the days, before I was chained to a desk, but no matter. Are you ladies familiar with the Bleak Shore Fortress on Canopus III?" "Somewhat," Jan replied, "Wasn't that the last stronghold of Agamemnon the Fourth when he tried to conquer the Beta Aureate Centrality?" "The same, it was abandoned after a scrambler beam reduced him and his garrison to jelly during the final assault. Word has reached us that it has been re-occupied by a splinter group of the Red Moon Brotherhood calling itself The Silver Shirts of Defiance. A scout ship sent to investigate the rumor was fired upon and barely escaped intact." "Where do we fit into this?" Rae drawled.
"Technically, the Silver Shirts have broken no laws, therefore we cannot move against them, but they appear to be a developing threat to good order. I have been told Ms. Arizona that you and your team can infiltrate anywhere and secure the sort of information we'd need to nip this potential threat in the bud." Rae and Jan exchanged glances.
"What sort of payment are you offering?" Jan replied.
"Twenty million Cr's." "Let's say thirty." "Twenty-five is my limit." "Deal. Tight beam us what you have on our target, what information you need and we'll take it from there." "Excellent, it's on it's way. Good fortune, ladies." "Good fortune, Colonel," The women chorused.
The Sunflower winked out of hyperspace in the Canopus system under Daisy's' expert guidance and proceeded on magnadrive to their destination. From space, the fortress appeared to be an agglomeration of massive stone blocks centered in about 30+ hectares of blasted ground scorched by particle beam bombardment. There were no immediately visible signs of activity, even at full visiscreen magnification.
"Detecting radiation and life forms," Sith said, his paws skimming the console, "No discernable weapons, the usual electronic signatures, overall it seems quiet." "I could go down and scout, see what we're up against," said Pallas, his spherical shell turning copper.
"Not this time, partner," Rae replied. "We'll need you and Daisy up here in case we run into trouble." "What about us," twittered Tassa, "What can Malla and I do?" "For now, remain here with Pallas and Daisy," Rae replied. "Once we check things out, then you two can do a little exploring so we can get the measure of this place." "At least we have detailed construction plans," Jan added. "Something's interfering with the deepdar beams so we can't get any 3-D holos." "Whoever's down there is doing their best to stay hidden," Sith said. "There's no indication we've been detected and we're well out of visual range. Daisy can bring us in on a flat trajectory over the pole, drop us off and go back into orbit before they know what's going on." "Sounds good," Rae replied, "Let's do it."
"So far, this place seems to be a total ruin," Sith said, gripping his machine pistol. "Were it not for Daisy providing a reference point to where we entered, we'd be totally lost." "As best I can determine from the plans," Jan said, "We must be on Level Three of twelve and descending. These sloping corridors wind around like a corkscrew. I wish we had time to explore each level." "We need to stay focused on finding the Silver Shirts, if they haven't already abandoned this brick pile," Rae replied. "Why anybody would pick this for a hideout is beyond me." "I'm detecting life forms," Jan said, "The signals are very weak. They must be well away from this point. Down several levels I assume." "It'll take us forever to comb this place," Rae said. "We'll retrace our steps, call Daisy to bring the ship down then we'll ... Yeeeek!" The floor opened under them and they hurtled down a steep incline slick with mold into the darkness below.
"I've lost contact with them, Pallas," Daisy said. "Their signals have simply disappeared. There's been no radiation or positron discharges, so they haven't been fired upon. They're just gone." "I better see what they've run into," Pallas replied, rising to his hatch in the Sunflower's hull. "It won't open, that's odd." "The ship will not respond to my commands," Daisy said. "The drive has shut down to prevent overload and tube lining failure. We are in a stable orbit, but cannot move. We're encased in a force field of tremendous power." Pallas attempted to teleport outside the hull, but failed. "Whatever has us in it's grip seems to be a combination tractor and pressor beam creating a null effect force field." "Is there nothing we can do?" Malla piped.
"Not immediately," Pallas replied. "Daisy and I need to work on this problem." He settled on a data port, merged his cybernetic brain with Daisy's nudged quanta circuitry and the two fell silent.
Rae, Jan and Sith lay in absolute darkness, the air musty but breathable. Their headlong plummet had ended abruptly when they landed on a spongy surface knocking the wind out of them. When they recovered they turned on their helmet lights and saw they were in a stone walled chamber without doors or windows "We are a considerable distance below the planet's surface," Sith growled, "A most ingenious trap." "Can we blast our way out of here?" Rae said, drawing her Colt .44 replica positron pistols.
"We don't know what's behind those walls," Jan replied, drawing her disruptor pistol. "It might be solid rock, an underground water course or molten lava." Sith rubbed his paw on the wall, "It's coated with imperviplast. It'd take a nucleonic burner to penetrate that. We're trapped."
"Pallas, wake up!" Tassa rapped impatiently on his copper colored shell, "Malla and I have discovered a way past the force field." "You have?" Daisy replied. "Pallas has gone into aestivation mode. He does that when working on a problem. What have you discovered?" "We sense the force field's harmonics and can oscillate between them. We found a magnetically propelled exploration probe in a storage bin that's large enough to accommodate both of us, so if you can launch us towards where Rae and the others have gone we can cancel the field." "Let me see ... yes, I can launch you through the central drive tube. But how will the capsule... ?" "It will vibrate in sympathetic harmonics with our bodies and pass through the field as we do," Malla said.
"Very well, prepare for launch and good fortune to you both."
Rae, Jan and Sith were startled when their prison was suddenly illuminated by the holo image of a wizened, dwarfish being of indeterminate age whose yellow eyes stared at them intensely, it's mouth set in a cruel smile.
"Welcome to my fortress," it said with a cackling laugh, "We so seldom receive guests in such a fashion. What is the purpose of your presence here?" "A Denebian," Jan whispered to Rae, "Extremely xenophobic and intensely suspicious." "We are crew members of the exploration vessel 'Proxima Centauri II'," Rae replied. "We sighted your fortress and decided to examine it thinking it deserted. We did not intend to trespass." "Liars!" shrieked the being, "You are spies for the forces that oppose me, Agamemnon the Fifth, leader of the Silver Shirts. Admit it! Admit it and I shall allow you to live." "We are spies for no one; we simply meant to explore this edifice. We meant no harm." "Liars, why do you carry weapons if not to attack me?" "We are always armed when we explore unfamiliar places. We may encounter vicious beasts. Why have we been detained in such a manner?" The being didn't reply and the holo disappeared, leaving them in darkness for a moment then a dim light rose, vaguely illuminating the interior.
Tassa opened the capsules hatch and he and Malla alighted onto the roof of the fortress. A few moments of exploration revealed an opening into the interior. Soaking up one more ray of sunlight, they descended into the gloom.
"He's crazier than a Weejee bird," Jan said sotto voce, "What's he doing here and what's he up to?" "We need to find a means of escape," Sith continued, "He may decide to do away with us on a whim. I see no apertures of any kind. That trap door we passed through must have sealed once we were inside." "Rae calling Daisy, can you hear me? Daisy, do you read me? Daisy, come in. Damn, comm's blocked too," Rae fumed. "Maybe if we concentrate our fire on one spot in the wall, we can blast through." "It's worth a try," Jan replied. "It's better than waiting to die like Pinney worms in a net." "That will not be necessary," piped a familiar voice in her ear.
Tassa and Malla made their way through dimly lit corridors trying to sense the aural vibrations of their friends. A bright light emanating from an open door drew their attention and they emerged into a colossal cavern filled with space ships of all kinds from slingshot raiders to interstellar dreadnaughts. All manner of beings were swarming over them performing various maintenance and repair tasks.
Hovering near the banks of illumitubes in the caverns' roof, they recharged their solar cells and resumed their search. As they descended into the lower levels the corridors were filled with beings from various planets, centaurs from Aurigae IV, proto-slugs from Gliese VII, spidery, four armed humanoids from Epsilon Eridani II and hundreds of others all moving about with a marked sense of determination. Something truly immense was occurring.
"Tassa, I sense something, in here." They entered a low ceilinged room where several insectoid creatures from Capella V dozed, blast rifles cradled indolently in their clawed legs; they were apparently guarding something.
"Our companions' emanations are strong," Tassa said. "I will attempt to locate them. Watch these creatures carefully." Assuming the molecular vibrations of the stone floor, he sank through it into the prison cell below and found Rae and the others.
"Tassa," Jan whispered, "How did you get here?" "I will explain later. Something of galactic proportions is occurring. There is a fleet of fighting ships and beings from scores of planets attending to them. I sense an invasion of a star system is imminent." "That warped little dwarf! I knew he was up to something." "Who are you talking with?" Sith said, puzzled.
"Tassa, he's here." "Can he help us escape?" Rae added.
"Malla and I will see what we can do."
"They have not moved," Malla said when Tassa rejoined her. "I have found a control panel that must operate an entrance into the chamber below. But first we must subdue these guards." "I will take care of that, see if you can determine the panels' functions." Hovering closely to each guard, Tassa set in motion a harmonic vibration in each beings chitinous integument that had them rolling on the floor in an agony of itching. Wailing thinly, they fled out the door seeking help. He slammed it behind them and joined Malla at the panel.
"This keypad controls the access door," she said, "I'm sure of it." Her hand cilia stiffened and she pressed down. Soundlessly, a section of the floor slid away revealing their friends in the cell below. Another press lowered a narrow staircase upon which the three ran up into the room.
"I wonder what this other pad does?" she wondered aloud, pressing it.
They watched in horror as the staircase retracted and the walls opposite slid inward until they met in the middle, it was a deathtrap.
"Ugh! You could watch your prisoners' final agonies as they were crushed," Rae said with a shudder. "I'm going to enjoy destroying this place." "We'll need to find that tractor/repellor beam projector," Sith said.
"Let's move before those bugs come back," Jan replied. "Malla, close the trap door so they won't notice we're gone for a while." A press of the keypad and the walls retracted and the floor slid back into place. Weapons at the ready, Rae and her team moved carefully down the deserted corridor.
"Try to avoid gun play," Rae said. "The less noise the better until we find that projector." "Enemies ahead," twittered Tassa.
They ducked into an open doorway in time to avoid a squad of bulky Rigelians trooping by, blast rifles at port arms.
The corridor spiraled upward through several levels and twice more Tassa and Mallas' warnings enabled them to avoid a confrontation with patrolling enemy troops.
"It is this way," Malla piped, leading them down an adjoining corridor. Soon they stood before a set of unmarked double doors, Sith tried the entry bar, it was unlocked. Opening it a crack they saw an immense projector tilted upward, it's bass humming filling the room. Several beings were busily attending to it, oblivious to the fact they were being watched.