Approx. 4600 words
All Rights Reserved
Copyright 2015 SJ
written by SJ
The General had wanted to talk to Yarrick before his destroyers, carrying Melinda and her team, left for Beta Aquilae; but he couldn’t be reached. Since there were not any permanent residence in the system, there wasn’t an FTL Navigational Beacon, so the jump-time would be doubled, approximately 6 days, instead of 3. The same would be for the return trip also, since there had to be an FTL Navigational Beacon on both ends of the trip for the jump-time to be normal. However, when Yarrick couldn’t be reached, he sent Melinda on her way, deciding to update her once she got there.
General Parker had decided to send three destroyers instead of two to Beta Aquilae. Since none of the other far or frontier colonies had reported the presence of a spaceship matching the description of Yarrick’s command cruiser, he chose to play a hunch that this was the only place left it could be. If it was there, he’d have an overwhelming force, which, maybe, would allow him to capture the ship, knowing if he destroyed it, Yarrick would never let him hear the end of it.
However, it was not there.
Once the destroyers had arrived in the Beta Aquilae system, they called the General, who brought Melinda up to speed about the information he’d learned from Yarrick.
Basically, the Alshain Research Outpost had belonged to a small group of investors, relatives of the original space explorers who discovered the location and built its first small group of domes, artificial living quarters. Eventually, it was sold to Cartel Sector 5, who expanded it into an actual Research Outpost, and who now continues to rent it out to any research groups that wish it. The last people to use it were a small group of independent scientists, one of which had the middle name of Nehemiah. However, other than the name, there didn’t appear to be anything abnormal about him, or any of the others.
The sub giant, G class, sun was a bright star in the distance behind the M class sun as Melinda’s shuttle made its way to the Mars-like, barren, world of Alshain, which was about 60 percent larger than Mars, a lot more rocky, and a lot more dense, giving the planet a gravity of 1.01G. It was a tidally locked world with almost nothing in the way of polar ice caps.
When the General had contacted Cartel Sector 5 about the team of scientists that had rented the research station, he was informed they didn’t know if they were still there or not. Their lease had run out many months earlier, but from past experiences, they had no reason to question the missing scientists. And since no one else had inquired about using the research station there was no reason to try and contact them. After all, it wasn’t uncommon for groups to stay once their lease had expired. The Cartel simply charged them for the extra time when they returned.
Melinda’s shuttle was escorted by two armed, combat shuttles during approach and landing, where afterwards, they returned to their parent destroyers.
Once the landing pad for the research base was insight, they were hoping to spot the shuttle which the researchers had used; but it wasn’t there.
The tarmac of the landing pad could’ve easily held three shuttles. However, the dome had only one entrance. Before Melinda could wonder if the archway expansion still worked, she saw it unfold, where eventually, Captain Davis connected it to their door.
The Federal Marines entered first, cleared the first dome, then informed Melinda it was safe for her to enter. They then proceeded down another archway to the main dome. Even though an earlier scan had detected no life signs, they still wanted to be cautious.
Neither of the teams were able to carry powerful weapons. Davis’ team had their novaguns set on the lowest setting. Melinda’s team had their 9.1s, while her two security guards had laspistols. Unfortunately, the walls to this research station were thin in comparison to other similar structures.
While she waited for the Marines to begin clearing the whole complex, she decided to look up the names of the six scientists, check out any information about them, plus the supplies they brought, something she barely had time to download once the destroyers had established orbit and had had the information sent to them via FTL com link by the General once he had obtained the information from the Cartel.
1. Arthur Sadowayj / Project Leader, Astrophysicist, and Astrobiologist.
2. David Hale / Doctor, Microbiologist.
3. Max Robertson / Evolutionary Biologist, Botanist.
4. Roland Nehemiah Jones / Inorganic Chemist, Mineralogist.
5. James Ezra Jones / Mathematican, Mineralogist.
6. Peter Volke / Cosmic Physicist.
All the scientists had apparently been born on different planets in the Sol Frontier, except Roland and James, who were brothers. It was also apparent they had met each other in a university on New Terra. After a couple years, they traveled to Terra Zeta1 where they remained for a short time before going to the Tolstoy system, which was when Nehemiah called Cornucopia and eventually spoke to Sal Wilson. Shortly afterwards, they contacted the necessary people from Cartel 5 to rent the Alshain Research Outpost for approximately one year.
After taking a short while to study the scientists’ supply manifest, she found nothing out of the ordinary. By the time she was done, she was given the all clear to move into the main dome.
Inside the dome on the tarmac, where supplies were normally kept, her team found nothing out of the ordinary. The same was found in the main dome.
To a certain extent, Melinda was expecting to find dead bodies and blood everywhere, the symbol for Khorne and/or Tzeentch all over the walls. However, so far, everything was normal...all except the missing scientists. It would’ve been nice to talk to one of the scientist about what Roland talked to Sal Wilson about while he was on Tolstoy; but, she’d have to find them first.
The main dome was about the size of a basketball court. In the center, there were several tables and chairs, a couple foosball tables, and a ping pong table. On the sides were computer work stations. The place looked neat and orderly, much like it had been used, but not messed up.
The computers at the work stations were primarily internet computers and didn’t seemed to be used for anything else. However, to connect with the internet there had to have been a satellite with an FTL com dish in space, either that, or their shuttle could’ve had one, which in this case, was the only possibility.
Melinda’s security guards were Agents as well, like she was in the past, trained as both. She set them to work checking out the internet computers in case one of the scientist left a file with some information about their work, or simply anything with one of the scientist’s name on it.
She didn’t have access to Staff Sergeant Petrovsky, since he had been left behind with the General to attend a special class.
Davis’ Marines quickly finished searching an area with a newer, more professionally built, dome. The first two domes were much older, the first domes to be built, but had been refurbished and were still in good shape. The newer area had all the equipment needed to support the rest of the station. When Melinda entered, it was obvious this dome was the experimentation area. Further down was a long greenhouse with numerous plants. She assigned Corporal Koufax to the experimentation dome and Corporal de la Vega, because of her botanist degree, to the greenhouse.
Melinda proceeded to follow Davis’ Marines into the last area, living quarters made up of a tripod of three domes with a square, two-story, building in the center. However, as before, the area looked neat, but used and lived in...just like a team of normal scientists had lived there.
Melinda and her team spent the rest of the day, if it could be called that on a tidally locked world in perpetual light, collecting, cataloging, and organizing everything they could find with any reference to the six scientists. She asked Davis and his Marines to search outside the domes, the surrounding area, tag anything that looked like it could’ve been used for experimentation; many times, scientists tested things outside, which meant they would’ve set aside an area to do it in. And, of course, they should check for dead bodies.
After almost an hour, Davis’ Marines returned, meeting Melinda in the cargo dome before they took off their spacesuits. They reported finding five experimentation areas, all close by, none that looked like they had been used in years. However, she quickly informed Davis that she needed them to go back out and check an area that was about twenty kilometers away. She had found a note indicating the scientists had done some experiments there. And since the note didn’t mention what they had experimented on, she needed them to take a few pictures.
It took Davis almost two hours to find the experimentation area, the directions on the scientist’s note vague, to say the least. And even worse, all they found there was a small board that looked like a few objects had been attached to it. Nothing else except foot prints. They took some pictures and returned with the board.
The Marines looked bored and hungry, a couple of them starting to eye a foosball table.
Davis and his Marines still had the faint odor of rotten eggs on them, the bothersome smell still written on their faces. When Melinda approached him, she smelled it, then remembered, explaining, “oh, yeah. Alshain has a trace atmosphere of sulfur compounds.”
He chuckled. “You mean, brimstone, right?”
She chuckled back, smiling. “Ironic, isn’t it. Air filtration will clean it out quickly.”
After a short pause, Davis gave Melinda a look of, “is there anything else?”
“You were hoping for some action, huh, Captain?” Melinda looked a little tired herself.
But, the Marine answered honestly. “No I wasn’t. Not down here. If we had run into any of those Khorne Cultist Berserker creatures...well, novaguns on low power just wasn’t going to cut it.”
Melinda smiled, agreeing one-hundred percent...but ,then mentioned, “we have our 9.1s. You know, LuLu killed twenty-nine of those things--”
Davis held up his hand, interrupting. “I know how many she killed, Officer.” He smiled, then had to say. “She’s aptly named...a real lulu.”
Melinda laughed. Afterwards, she told him they were getting ready to take a meal break. Lucynda had found some fresh produce in the greenhouse, and there was plenty of food in the fridge. He and his Marines were welcome to join them, which he agreed. Afterwards, a shuttle came down and took them back to one of the destroyers.
As the hours passed, Melinda’s team worked tirelessly. After almost two Old Earth days, her organization skills paid off. At first, it appeared that each of the scientists had their own agendas. Their notes had been clearly cataloged and were plain to see, even if they were difficult to understand. However, it eventually became obvious that the Jones brothers had brought something with them--an item; it wasn’t on the supply manifest, and nowhere in any report was it mentioned, other than saying it, and all experimentation on it, was to be kept on the scientists own personal computers, none of which could be found.
It was at that time, Melinda knew whatever the scientists had been experimenting on had to be found, or at least some information about it. But, they had covered their tracks well.
On the computer inside the tarmac dome, Melinda checked to see when and at what times the archway had been extended, not counting the times her shuttle used it.
She discovered it had been used six times total within the time span the scientists were supposed to be there. The last time it was used was about six months earlier, but on that day it had been used three times. There was no log as to were the shuttle went.
Melinda sat down, thinking. The shuttle being used three times in one day had to mean something. Then Corporal Koufax found something: There were two large boxes inside the tarmac dome, both which held a prefab dome, the type that could be loaded on a shuttle and taken outside, set up, and used for as long as they had power and oxygen available. Neither had been checked when they had arrived. They were standard equipment in any research station.
He found a small piece of paper just barely sticking out of one of the box lids. When he looked inside, the prefab dome was missing, and the piece of paper turned out to be a note:
We found the place where James said the Orb is supposed to be, on the dark side of the planet.
Going back for further experiments.
The dome is set up and ready to use. Will send Peter back for the rest of you.
“The dark side of the planet? An Orb?” Melinda pondered, taking a second look at the piece of paper. “No location.” She sighed, then came up with an idea.
Making her way quickly to the station’s main communications terminal, she contacted one of the destroyers.
When Captain Anderson, flagship commander, answered, Melinda began explaining what she had found. She needed him to begin a scan on the dark side of the planet for the scientists’ shuttle, or if not that, a prefab dome.
For the most part, the dark side of the planet hadn’t been scanned at all. The research station was located on the light side, so there was no need. After several hours, with all three destroyers scanning, they found the prefab dome. There was no power, nor was there a shuttle present.
“Are you guys going over there?” Captain Anderson needed to know.
“As soon as we can get ready here, we’ll head on over.” Melinda happily answered as she downloaded the coordinates in her oPOD.
“I’m going to send Davis and his men down there first.” The ship’s Captain paused. “Oh, here he is now. He wants to speak to you.”
“Hey, Melinda.” She recognized his deep voice. “As soon as we get equipped, we’re going to head on down there. We’re going to be wearing armored space suits, and my team’s going to be packing some better hardware this time, with at least one plasma gun. That gas...sulfur compounds? I think that’s flammable, right?”
“Only if it has oxygen to burn with. And it’s only in very trace amounts.”
“So, were okay then?”
“See you there.”
“Okay. It’ll take us a little longer to get ready. We want to bring some equipment with us.”
The dark side of the planet was definitely what it turned out to be. Corporal de la Vega flew the shuttle by instruments, letting the autopilot guide it to the coordinates she had been given. Davis had set up lights near his parked shuttle, which lit up the surrounding area and the prefab dome, both of which were on the far side of a medium-sized crater. When Lucynda spotted it, she was able to visually land her shuttle next to his.
Before Melinda left the shuttle, Davis called her. “Hey, Dion. Finally got here, huh? Well, good things come to he, or she, who waits. There’s definitely something here that you’re going to be interested in. And keep your spacesuits on; there’s no air or power inside the dome. We set up some lights.”
Two Marines were standing guard outside the door to the dome. Melinda, followed by her team, eagerly entered.
Davis handed her a dented and dusty oPOD phone, with what looked like blood on it. He grinned seriously and said, “listen to this.”
The phone had only one recorded message. She recognized Arthur Sadowayj’s distressed face from the pictures she had. His eyes showed terror as he spoke and looked back like he was running from something, moaning in pain. “..oh, God, what did we do...OH GOD, WHAT DID WE DO!”
Then, it appeared that he and the phone fell to the ground. The picture’s recording was now only of a dirt and blood. There was more moaning, then he spoke again, his voice not sounding rational. “Got to get to the shuttle--fly it into the sun so THEY can't use it!”
When Melinda asked where he found the phone, he pointed down, where she and her team members saw a bloody mess, and a arm that looked like it had been torn off at the elbow. Corporal de la Vega was already setting her kit down to take DNA samples, plus a bag to preserve the arm.
All along, Melinda was hoping to find something, blood, anything. Staring at the severed arm, she was sorry she had.
Inside the dome were four cots. There was a small computer work table, but no computer. Corporal Koufax quickly searched the cots, hoping to find a computer there; but, there was nothing.
Melinda got angry. “Where the hell are all the computers?” She looked around. “There had to be a least two. The brothers had to have each had one.”
But, Davis lead her over to where his other two Marines were standing, next to a cave entrance. The edges of the dome looked like they had been melted, fused right against the dirt leading into the cave. Numerous foot prints showed that people had gone in and out of the cave many times.
Melinda looked at Davis. “Has any of your people gone inside?”
“No way.” He answered succinctly.
“So these all belong to the scientists?”
Davis nodded yes, the look in his eyes serious as he pointed at the cave. “Take a look.”
It was dark, VERY dark. Melinda gave Davis a double take, then used her own flashlight to examine the cave. But all she saw was more darkness. She turned up the beam on her flashlight and looked again; still...darkness. “What the hell’s going on?” She looked back at Davis.
“You’re the investigator.” His eyes got a little wider. “Before you got here, I threw a rock into the cave. It hit the back side. I don’t think this cave goes in anymore than four or five meters. I used my flashlight on the highest beam setting...still only saw darkness.”
Melinda sighed. “Well, I’m going to have to get some equipment in here and start scanning.” She grinned. “I don’t think anyone should go in there until we’re done.”
“You got my vote.” Davis grinned back, agreeing.
It took about fifteen minutes for her team to set up some equipment for scanning. During that time, Melinda used a collection of one meter sticks capable of being interconnected, a simple device she used to roughly determined the distance to the end of the cave. It was a little over five meters.
Corporal de la Vega had collected her DNA samples and had bagged the arm, placing it inside the shuttle. Earlier, because the dome had started to get crowded, Davis had withdrawn his Marines to outside the dome, where they were talking to de la Vega. Melinda had her two security guards inside with Koufax ready to start the scans...
The first readings for the scans had just started to come in, when everything changed. The darkness seemed to quickly dissipate as the current settings of lights clearly showed the back of the cave--where they could plainly see a dark golden archway, and even though the archway looked alien, the power supply hooked up to it was obviously Terran.
No one viewing the spectacle had any idea what was happening. They just stood stunned until Koufax got another reading...a WARP pulse--an opening!
No one noticed that the center of the archway was black until the figure of a man walked through. He was wearing an angle-length, pale, violet-colored, robe with yellowish trim in the form of flames that licked inward from the hems. His darkly circled eyes were deeply set, and his skin was a sickening, pale, yellowish-grey color. He continued to walk forward holding a dark, metallic, staff, which made him look like some kind of evil sorcerer.
When Melinda recognized the shape of the eye carved into the metal staff near the top, she spoke out. “Tzeentch!”
The man with the staff began shouting something as he pointed at Melinda.
Melinda and Koufax were kneeling down next to the scanner. The two security guards were standing next to the cave, one on each side. When they both leaned forward to get a better look inside the cave, their actions caught the attention of the Chaos Sorcerer, who raised his staff and fired.
It was like he had opened up with a bolter firing full automatic, only it was more powerful--with almost no sound. Large holes were blown in the sides of the cave sending a wall of dirt toward Melinda’s team, the shear blasts rolling them backwards. The security guard’s body on the left was laying headless, blood spewing out of what was left of his space suit. If Melinda and Koufax had been standing, they’d be dead as well. As they tried to get up, the second security guard, who had avoided most of the blast, began firing at the Sorcerer with his laspistol.
As Melinda and Koufax got to their feet, it was obvious the laspistol was having no effect. They wanted to start firing their 9.1s, but watched as the Sorcerer raised his staff to fire again. That’s when Melinda shouted to the guard, “get out of there--RUN!”
As they retreated, they both began firing their 9.1s, and as expected, with no effect. The Sorcerer had to have some sort of WARP shield, if nothing else, something to protect him from the vacuum of the practically-airless void around him; but, it was obviously much more.
The Sorcerer then mumbled something and fired again, this time right at the security guard just as he started to run, stopping him in his tracks as a swirling mass of WARP energy enveloped him.
The back wall of the dome had been shot to pieces allowing Melinda and Koufax free access to get out. Davis’ Marines had taken cover, but were just starting to get up. However, it was obvious none of them knew what was happening.
The Marines wanted to stand and fight. But, Melinda and Koufax had access to more information: There were more Sorcerers coming in behind the first one. As Melinda positioned herself to try and spot the security guard, she saw him coming at them, only he wasn’t Terran anymore, mutating quickly. The veteran Marines instantly recognized the mutating guard as a Chaos Spawn and fired, their plasma gun blowing him, or it, to pieces.
Afterwards, the Marines told Melinda and her team to fall back while they took cover and fired, sending a hail of weapons’ fire into the dome. Melinda did as she was told, sending her last two team members to ready the shuttle for take off.
And none too soon!
What came next was beyond comprehension. The dome exploded as the ground erupted in a straight line right through the Marines’ shuttle, the soldiers being flung backwards. Whatever the Chaos Sorcerer had fired, it had blown a basketball-sized whole in their shuttle, which immediately started smoking.
There was now a massive wall of dust and dirt between the Sorcerers and the Marines, who now agreed with Melinda’s last statement: Let’s get the hell out of here!
Thankfully, Melinda’s shuttle was ready to go. Once the Marines had retreated and boarded her shuttle, which they did in record time, it lifted and flew off at full speed.
De la Vega was piloting the shuttle. Melinda was in the co-pilot’s seat. The others were getting situated in the back of the shuttle when they finally got a call from a very anxious Captain Anderson. “What the hell’s going on down there? Do you read me, do you read--”
“We’re here.” Melinda was happy to answer.
“We detected a mass of WARP energy down there--then weapons’ fire.” He frowned. “Our com signal was being blocked.”
“Yeah, a WARP pulse does that.” Melinda got an idea. “Can you get authorization to use your main weapons?”
“I have someone calling the General right now.” The ship’s captain had the same idea.
Suddenly, Melinda’s shuttle lurched, shaken, del la Vega quickly regaining control, afterwards telling everyone to hold on as she began evasive maneuvers.
“WHAT?” That was Davis. “Did we just get--”
“Fired on?” Lucynda responded. “Hell, yeah!” She engaged starlight optics so she could fly closer to the ground.
“I have a lock on that location that just fired on you.” Captain Anderson informed.
Melinda’s shuttle wasn’t fired on again. In less than a minute, the destroyer Captain called back. “I have authorization to fire a torpedo--two megaton yield. It looks like you guys are almost clear--”
“Go ahead and fire.” That was Melinda. “We’ll be fine.”
“Davis?” Anderson needed a second confirmation.
“I’m only picking up one shuttle, where’s--”
“They destroyed your shuttle?” Anderson was shocked. “Yours was armored.”
“I don’t know what they hit it with, but it put a thirty centimeter whole all the way through it from front to back.”
“Damn.” Anderson delayed a second, then continued. “Okay...torpedo away. This is gonna be bright--take cover.”
De la Vega knew what to do. They had already passed numerous craters. She slowed down the shuttle and parked it inside the next crater she found...
Then the dark side of the planet lit up like day!
By the time the light started to dim, the shock wave had passed over the top of the crater. Once it was dark again, the explosion was done...
“You guys okay?” That was Captain Anderson.
“Yeah, we’re fine.” Melinda looked at de la Vega. “We had a good pilot.”
“Where are you guys going?”
“We’re heading back to the Research Station.” Melinda’s voice was determined. “I’m going to tear that place apart until I find what those scientists were experimenting on.”
The next voice she heard she recognized as the General’s, who had been listening to their conversation. “Melinda, nice work there.”
“Not yet it isn’t.” Melinda was frustrated. “I still need to find--”
“I understand, Officer.” The General interrupted. “However, Yarrick’s cruiser was just spotted in the Tolstoy system.
“If you want to stay there and keep searching,” the General continued, “I can have Captain Anderson leave you one of his shuttles with a jump-drive. Your record says you know how to pilot one?”
“Yes, sir. Corporal de la Vega knows, also...and she's an expert.”
“The destroyers are jumping to Tolstoy as soon as possible.” He began sounding serious, asking, “after what just happened, do you think it’s going to be safe for you to stay? Keep in mind, Davis and his Marines won’t be there.”
Melinda sighed. “The only thing related to the WARP or Chaos happened at that location on the dark side of the planet. And you just blasted that out of existence. The scientists mentioned something about finding an Orb. I need to find out more about that, also. We should be safe here at the Research Station.”
“So, you’re staying?”