Case and Colin flew through the rumbling station avoiding splinters of metalwork that had been blasted throughout the station like flechettes from a cannon due to the explosions occurring throughout the rings superstructure. They started down the duct leading back to the deck that the deck where the Ushingi was docked, Colin checking over his shoulder to make sure Case was still behind him, then they rocketed downwards.
Halfway down the duct, there was a flash from below, Colin instinctively darted out of the vent through a grate to his side and Case followed immediately behind just getting out of the duct before deadly shards of metal flung by an explosion rushed through where they had been followed by a white-hot fire that they could feel through their suits despite the cooling systems efforts to counter it.
“Must be ruptured coolant.”
“Whatever it is we can’t go that way, alternatives?” Case, Colin and, their companions began searching for different routes while trying to continue in the correct direction. Information was also being updated by the drones that were monitoring the original path, Case and Colin could see that the problems were spreading at an exponential rate.
“Here,” Case pulled up a shared map with Colin. Colin nodded.
“Fox, can you override that airlock?”
“I believe so.”
“Good enough, Ushingi you read?” The two of them started heading down another corridor at speed, trying their best to avoid the ricocheting chunks of material that seemed hell-bent on braining them. The station that had once been a near-perfect vacuum was rapidly filling with toxic and corrosive chemicals and vaporised metals.
“We can read you.” Yori’s calm voice came over the comms channel as the two of them ducked over and under a metal girder that was bounding about in their path.
“Case is going to send you a meeting point, be there or be square.”
As they sped towards an emergency airlock they were still unaware of the alien eyes that were watching them through remote sensors, it watched as explosions flared. The two humans ducked and dived and weaved, an ancient irrational hatred that compounded across the aeons welled behind those silent watchers, a message was sent across the cosmos in a tongue older than the galaxies themselves, “THEY LIVE.”
A blast hit Case flinging her past Colin the jets on her suit desperately firing to stabilise her before she hit the hard surfaces, he rushed after her, grabbing her arm and pulling her back towards him and slamming his own foot against the bulkhead resulting in her barely avoiding the impact.
“Thanks, that was rough.”
“You okay?” He looked at her, she looked a bit dazed, the medical readout on his HUD confirmed there were no notable injuries.
“Yeah, and the suit’s reporting all green, let’s go,” She nodded in the affirmative, and they resumed their headlong long rush through the rapidly self-immolating structure.
As they were in the final stretch and the dense door of the airlock came into view ahead of them, Colin called on the Fox again.
“Override that airlock!” He yelled.
“Already on it.” Now they were able to hear the rumbling enough of the local area being filled with deadly smoke so that sound could travel. They reached the airlock, still closed, and another loud explosion the surface that was below them raised up by a half meter in the blink of an eye, Colin noted to himself that if it had happened while he’d been bracing his foot against the surface a moment ago that his leg would surely have been liquified by the incredible force, it must have taken to buckle a whole deck plate.
The inner door opened, and the two of them moved forward into the airlock.
“Come on Foxy baby, we don’t have time to dillydally,” another rumble, Colin looked back down the hallway, a large flash and white-hot gasses started rushing towards them using the corridor like a chimney.
“Now would help.” The metal bulkheads they had earlier passed were evaporating one by one propelling an ever-growing steaming mass of vaporised metal and superheated coolant towards the small airlock.
“Got it,” as the temperature on the suits HUD jumped the airlock opened, and they were blown into space, the fires and gasses chasing after them. Colin and Case grabbed onto each other and fired their thrusts upwards to get out of the way of the deadly concoction narrowly avoiding the combined process of being shredded by super-heated splinters while being vaporised by the searing heat of the gasses.
“We can see you. We’re going to fire a grapple, you’ve got to catch it!” Lights lit up the two of them and the Fox companion.
“Vivek, you see ‘em?”
“I see em,” Vivek lined up the large grapple cannon, adjusted a setting and squeezed the trigger, the claw whizzed through space slowing as it neared the two as they moved at a fair pace. Colin’s arm shot out, and he grabbed onto the cable and started wrapping it around his and Case’s waste.
“Secure?” Colin asked Case. She nodded. He looked to see where the Fox was, but it seemed already to be on its merry way to the Ushingi under its own thrust. “We’re good to go!”
“Of all the people I expected to see locked together it wasn’t you two!” Vivek said with a laugh. As he hit the button to pull recoil the two of them.
“We’re secure, get through that gate,” Colin reported thirty seconds later when they were in the sealed airlock.
“Affirmative.” With that, the ship thrusters lit up, and they headed towards the great black shimmering void that had opened up in the centre of the ring. Jets of fire and material could be seen all over the ring. Still, it was of little importance to the Ushingi as it passed through the surface of the portal it vanished into the hole. Leaving behind the collapsing gate that explodes with such force that it could be seen for centuries into the future.
Onboard the Ushingi it was as thought hey passed through a field of static, Colin walked into the cockpit.
“Well that was exhilarating, what’s the score?”
“We just materialised in another system, there six planets though I expect there used to be more.”
“Why’s that?” Colin asked as Yori brought up an image of the systems sun onto the screen, it was huge and red. “Ah, that’s a red giant.”
“It certainly is.”
“I’m starting to wonder how old this civilization was.”
“You and me both. We’ve started running the system data that the Fox gave us. Hopefully, we’ll have a match soon.”
“What did we come through anyway?”
Yori brought the exit station up on the screen. It was far smaller than the ring in the IL system and split into two distinct parts, one for the station functions and another for the gate itself. The station still looked like it had some power.
“It’s an exit station, they have powerful dimensional beacons that let that the injection rings are locked on to.”
“Can it tell you where we are?” Leah asked while she was busy checking Case over for any injuries in the medbay.
“It should be able to yes, that’s odd.”
“Hey, I’ve just got a fix on where we are, we’re definitely not where we should be.”
“Drum rolls please, the suspense is real,” Vivek said, drumming out a beat on the back of a chair.
“It looks like we’re in what you’d see as Kellar-Holts-221,” an image of the galaxy appeared again, and an arrow pointed out the star system in question.
“That’s a lot closer then I would have imagined we should be” Colin leant forward and spun the map with his hand.
“Significantly closer to the final destination and also to the supply depot.” Another arrow appeared indicating the storehouse.
“So how did we end up this far along in our journey?” Leah asked.
“Sadly that kind of information isn’t available to me” The Fox responded tilting its head while looking at the map.
“Maybe generating a weird void in space using an ancient relic of a megastructure that begins to self destruct under the strain of generating power for the first time in heck knows how long isn’t the best way of going about things?” Yori said, her arms were crossed resting on her lap.
“Maybe not, but I doubt there are many other choices,” Colin replied as he absent-mindedly played with the holographic map. “So how do we get to the next system?”
“The jump system in Kellar-Holts is smaller and hopefully less prone to superheated explosions.” The Fox indicated where the station should be on a new holographic map.
“Do you think the fact that the planet is now a red giant and any solar satellites may be toast by now will be a problem?” Case asked over the voice system.
“I would assume not, all the satellites would be able to adjust and even if not these smaller stations should have emergency reactors.”
“The builders were masters of nanotechnology and built to a scale you couldn’t imagine.”
“Someone should tell that to the giant gate that almost toasted us,” Colin said with a shrug and stood up.
“We’ll send a probe ahead to where it’s supposed to be.” Yori looked at Colin who nodded, she turned back to the console and pressed a few buttons.
“Let’s all get some sleep and deal with this in the morning, every part of me hurts, and I need something to eat.” Colin looked haggard as he left the cockpit and headed to the changing room.
Colin was wrenched out of his dreams by the whine of an alarm, he shot out of his capsule, Yori was already in the corridor heading to the bridge, Colin was calling up the data feed from Gura.
“What is it?” Colin asked out loud as he started to sit down, Yori already seated was pulling on her safety harness.
“We were probed by a high-intensity scan approximately 60 seconds ago, it triggered the emergency warning system.” Gura’s voice came over the ship intercom.
“Where did it come from?” He sat down and looked across at Yori, she gave him a quiet nod.
“Unknown, it was a wideband signal,” Gura said.
“Wait, Something seems to be coming out of the star,” Yori said while tying her luxuriously long hair back.
“Solar flare?” Colin fastened his belt and Vivek got into his own seat.
“Don’t know,” Yori mumbled looking at the screens, hairpin in her mouth.
“It’s being picked up by our probe on the far side of the red giant,” Vivek said.
“Great, can we get it on the screen?” Colin asked, he rubbed his mouth and waited.
“Just doing it now,” Vivek said just as the image appeared on the screen.
“What’s the delay?”
“About 4 minutes.”
They were looking at the swirling red surface of the sun when a black spot came into sight, it slowly got larger.
“What on Tera are we looking at?” Colin asked again, tilting his head as though it might help.
“I don’t think it’s a sunspot,” Case’s face was on one of the view screens. She was surrounded by the machinery of the machine room.
As the seconds went by, whatever it was got larger and larger, long rampway scorched by the heat of the dying sun, vast twisted towers, dark purple lights began to flash.
“My word, it’s some kind of ship.”
“But what kind of ship?”
“That I do not know, Fox?”
“I’m afraid I’m not programmed with a catalogue of ships, but I would recommend caution.”
“Thanks for nothing.” Yori huffed, sat up and leant forward. Colin stole a glance at her and then looked back at the thing emerging from the sun.
“What are the measurements?”
“IT’s about 2000 meters long, 300 meters wide and 300 deep, there are parts that protrude more, but that’s where the bulk of it is.”
As it started to move away from the red giant fire dripping off of it its strange mix of smooth curves and domes was punctured by the occasional jutting tower making it look a bit like an art deco building. Two much smaller craft then exited from the side of the ship. It hurtled towards the drone at a substantial level of acceleration.
“Thoughts?” Colin looked to the other members of the team.
“Probes, or fighters?” Vivek offered.
“Any comms?” Yori asked.
“Nothing useful.” Vivek leant into his screen and pressed a cup to his ear.
“Whatever it is, I’m quite sure it’s very bad news.” Leah offered.
“No idea, the technology to have a ship under the surface of a red giant isn’t anything special though.”
“Okay, ready for anything get our weapon and defence systems powered up in case it really is bad news.”
They watched for a few more minutes, the mothership was clearly moving around the sun to the side they were currently on; then there was a flash of light, and the signal went dead.
“I guess they don’t like to be watched,” Yori started to press buttons and watched calculations.
“Who does?” Vivek laughed, Yori shook her head and then smiled, Colin laughed.
“What do we know?”
“They’ve got laser weaponry, don’t like our probes, they’ve got two small craft and a big old monster of a ship, and they probably know where we are,” Yori listed the high-level information.
“Then let’s make like a tree and leave,” Colin said with a grin.
“I hate you,” Yori shook her head, and he laughed again.
“Setting course, hold your tongues, punching it.” The ship suddenly accelerated and built up its acceleration at a frightful pace. The engines were making a rumbling noise, and the reactor could be heard humming through the ship’s structure.
Another alarm sounded.
“We just got swept again, triangulating, got it, there’s an asteroid belt here” representations appeared on everyone’s screens.
“Well then, let us pay our new friends a visit. Change course, let’s see if we can’t deal with that squeaker.”
“On it,” The ship engines stopped, the thrust span the ship and then the engines started up again flinging the ship in a whole new direction.
“I’ll never get used to this.” Vivek moaned.
“Grav plates can only do so much I’m afraid.”
A new higher pulse alarm went off, eee eee eee eee eee,
“What the heck is that now?” Colin barked.
“Incoming high-speed object detected!” Vivek shouted.
“Bad day just got a heck of a lot worse, what is it?”
“About five meters long, high energy plasma trail, I’d say it’s a missile.” Vivek looked up at a screen above him and pressed his palms together for a moment.
“Drop a screamer!”
“Dropped,” Yori said.
They sat quietly for a couple of minutes, the alarm still squeaking though they could hardly hear it in their hyper-focused state.
“Looks like it’s following the screamer,” Vivek reported.
Several more minutes went by, and the alarm stopped, they all breathed a sigh of relief.
“Detonation detected, on screen,” Gura announced as an image of a bright explosion flared onto the screen.
“What kind of warhead was it?” Colin asked.
“A fission warhead,” Gura replied.
“Oh goody, this war just went nuclear,” Vivek joked and shook his head.
“Is the squeaker stationary?”
“Looks to be, it sent out another pulse to see if we were still here.”
“Right, fire the mass driver at it, I’m through playing nice.”
There was silence for a moment.
“Aiye, firing the mass driver at the squeaker,” Yori tapped in some coordinates. A low thud rang through the ship as chunk tungsten was flung from a magnetic cannon on the right side of the ship at a significant percentage of the speed of light.
“How long till it hits?”
“Keep us on target incase its’ got a surprise for us,”
They waited, and as the 30 seconds passed the rock that seemed to be the source of the signal was vaporised.
“Impact confirmed,” Vivek sat back and nodded.
“Okay change let’s get into that asteroid field and then change course to head towards that gas giant,” he indicated the path to the others.
“I think we should deploy more probes,” Case offered. Colin looked at Yori, who nodded to the suggestion.
“Sound idea, release a full spread of probes and let’s play hide and seek.”
The Ushingi slowed and entered the asteroid belt, they switched from plasma thrusters to the gravity drive, though not as fast it also didn’t put out as much heat. As it drifted through the belt the Ushingi dropped a couple more probes, these waited until the ship was well away before heading off in random directions using a significantly higher thrust then they needed to.
The five of them collected in the lounge they all looked frayed and on edge, Colin, who hadn’t recovered from the day’s events before looked like a broken man.
“So, what do we think?”
“We need to get to the gate, something in this system must be capable of jumping.” Case said while bringing a tray of hot drinks from the preparation area.
“Unless it’s been here for eternity?” Leah offered.
“The builders don’t strike me as a group likely to use something as coarse as a nuclear missile.”
“Maybe it’s how they say hello?” Vivek joked taking a handful of crisps from a bowl on the table.
“I hope not,” Colin leant back with his drink in hand, “because it is we just vaporised their scanner station for nothing, but I doubt that the galactic standard for opening friendly communications is deploying the nuclear arsenal.”
“I’d tend to agree,” Yori said with a smile and a nod.
“Man, I remember when the two of you were always at each other’s throats, those were good times I tell you!” Vivek declared with a flare.
“No time for it, besides everything was so boring back at Home,” Colin finally smiled properly.
“How’s it feel knowing you were just boredom relief?” Leah chuckled.
“I don’t let the prattling of little minds bother me of course,” Yori took a small cupcake from the table and ate it.
“Shouldn’t we focus on the topic at hand?” The Fox asked indignantly.
“The killer aliens can wait for tea.” Case said, looking down at the fox sat on a stool next to her.
“Exactly, bugger the alien menace.”
“Will that be necessary?” Vivek’s cheerful face lit up, and they all took a moment to revel in the childishness of it all.