The Edge of Darkness
The Edge of Darkness
Sitting down at his desk with a fresh cup of coffee, Sherriff Bob Ladd settled back to read the latest bunch of crim reports faxed from BETA.
Picking up the coffee, Bob took a sip, just as an ear-splitting explosion erupted from outside. He saw his front window blow outwards, and amidst the rolling smoke and dust, saw a pale pink blast of energy scream past. Another explosion.
Putting the steaming mug down carefully, Sherriff Ladd stood up, and pulling his gunbelt from the handy coat rack, clipped it around his waist as he pulled open the door.
"WHERE IS SHE?"
Bob looked towards the tormented cry, and saw what he expected. Stingray was standing near the end of the main street, glasses in hand, with his glowing eyes flaring every few seconds. When they flared, another wall was blown into fire and shrapnel.
"Stingray, What the Hell are you doing?" Bob yelled as he strode towards the supertrooper.
The next thing he knew, he was getting up again, with a tremendous ache in his chest, from the remains of his porch.
"Alright, that does it." Bob growled as he unclipped his gun and pulled it free of the holster.
Taking cover behind a barrel of rainwater, Bob yelled "Stingray, put on your glasses and let's talk about this calmly."
The barrel disintegrated, but Bob was already in motion, dodging behind a stack of teakalum logs. Carefully poking his head up, he saw Ray striding towards the local hotel. Getting a bead on the supertrooper, Bob loaded in the special energy pack given him by Ranger Gooseman and squeezed the trigger.
"You Brainchild?" One of the huge aliens asked.
"What of it?" Replied the short, squat mutant human in the sparkling white suit. He drew a puff on his cigar and blew a series of perfect smoke rings as he regarded both of the huge burly aliens who had muscled their way into his place.
One of the aliens grabbed him by the lapels and lifted him up to eye level, four feet off the ground. "Jackie wants to see you."
The aliens walked out of the small bar, carrying Brainchild like a stuffed doll. He was tossed into the back of a sleek hoverlimo.
"Ahh, Brainchild. I've been wanting to speak with you for some time." Jackie Subtract said, then leaned forward and relit Brainchild's cigar.
"What do you want, Subtract? I don't want to do business with you. You don't pay your debts." Brainchild growled.
"I need your mind, Brainchild. Which is about all you're good for. I have a client who is very interested in something on Earth. At BETA Mountain to be exact."
"BETA!" Brainchild snapped. "Why would I have anything to do with those clowns?"
"Because, Brainchild, if you help my client to get what he wants, he will offer you complete amnesty and free life away from BETA and the League of Planets. You won't be hunted any longer, and you will have your unique skills utilized to their fullest potential."
"Alright, I'm interested. Let's go, Subtract, Lazarus Slade awaits us."
Brainchild smiled at Jackie's shocked expression as the hoverlimo sped away from his decaying little shop into the bright lights of the Tortuna megacity.
"D'you think this is going to work, Killbane?" Slade asked his new chief military advisor.
"You said it yourself, Slade. The only real threat is Gooseman. I'll add Stingray and Darkstar. The rest of them can be handled easily. But Gooseman, with the help of BETA, can become almost as effective as I am, the runt. And as for Stingray and Darkstar-" Killbane huffed expansively, his huge chest filling with air, "They are a minor annoyance, nothing more. But, they can do us some damage, if not handled correctly."
Slade got up and walked around the throne room. "I don't know, Killbane. I'm not interested in antagonizing BETA or the League. I have good control over this part of the Crown Empire, thousands of planets to explore, and no major threats. Why do we need an army of supertroopers?"
"You are a fool, Slade." Killbane growled, the scar turning his grimace into a hideous visage. "If we don't use those troopers against the League, they will reactivate them and use them against us! Don't you see? Now, with you in control of the Crown Empire, it is a real threat to the League. The queen was crazy, we both knew that, and I'm glad she's dead."
"Why ... are we a threat to the League, when I don't want to invade them?" Slade snapped.
"Because, you hyper-intelligent idiot - You are human - whether or not you like it, you are. And you now control the remains of an empire that is sixty times larger than the League. Even falling to bits this is an immense and powerful entity. And YOU control it, stupid!"
Slade ignored the comments, that was just Killbane. "So, you feel that because I now control this remnant of the Crown, BETA will launch pre-emptive strikes to ensure I don't have the chance, or capability of launching an attack on the League?"
Killbane nodded arrogantly. "Exactly, twit. We have to hit them before they can hit us. Otherwise, all this" He swung his huge arm around to indicate the empire Slade controlled. "Is bullshit, and will go to hell with you, hand in hand, unless you act now!"
"Fine." Slade said, nodding distractedly. "You go talk to General Kitarn and organise it. You fight the battles, Killbane, and let me organise the empire."
"Good." Killbane said, satisfied at last. "Now we can get some serious things done." He stomped off, his huge bulk easily maneuvering around the few guards and sychophants that hung around Slade at all times, to storm out of the throne room and into the depths of the asteroidal base.
Slade watched him leave, concern over how things were turning out beginning to muddle his brilliant plansfor the future.
She awoke with a groan. Feeling the aches and pains of life with Stingray still seeping through her. Her enhanced healing helped her to survive, but didn't dull the pain - that was a design feature - `Flaw.' She thought to herself as she stood up, feeling a long, painful bruise along her side from where Ray had belted her before he'd stormed off towards his mine job that morning.
"Where in the seven hells am I?" Aurora Jennisen, aka Darkstar, said aloud as she looked at her surroundings. She had been lying on some kind of blanket, in an alcove on the side of a long corridor that went in both directions as far as she could see, until the curve of the ceiling cut it off.
The gravity was light, about 30% standard, but her enhanced senses told her it was not due to spin, so wherever she was, the gravity field was artificially generated. Aurora began to walk down the corridor, her steps echoing in the stillness like small-arms fire - but no other sound diminished the sound of her passage. This place was long-dead.
She walked for hours it seemed, although it could have been only a few minutes for all she knew. But she finally came to a break in the long upwardly curving corridor - a huge metal door, with a handle. Pushing the handle caused the massive multi-ton door to swing open on invisible bearings, and she stepped into a room filled with controlled chaos.
Stepping inside, she saw a massive computer system, happily processing data which was being displayed on hundreds of vidscreens. Obviously, wherever she was was receiving signals from a huge number of sources. She recognised BETA transmissions, tri-d entertaintments, news feeds, all that ws used to keep the League informed was being received and processed here. "But where is here?" She asked aloud.
The entire room went dead silent for a two second pause, then the chaos started up again.
A long arm with a camera on it extended from the wall, circled Aurora once to look her over, then came to rest two feet in front of her, at eye level. The camera eye blinked. Aurora smiled prettily at the biomechanical device.
"Welcome, to information central, Darkstar." A voice boomed out from all around her.
"Who are you?" She asked.
"Now, now, my dear. We mustn't ask our host, who saved us from a life of torment, too many personal questions, can we?" The voice chuckled. "Perhaps a better question might be ... what am I?"
Aurora shrugged. "Alright, What are you?"
"I am a fully sentient information repository launched in 2068 by the United Soviet Canadian States in an attempt to learn more about the universe around the Sol System. My primary mission; to locate and make contact with non-terrestrial life. My designer, Doctor Jason Clarke, according to my data files, was a leader in developing the autonomous intelligent computer system. I was his first success. He named me Omni. I have kept the ame even through my enhancements.."
Aurora looked around as Omni continued to detail it's history. The room she was in was obviously some sort of central nexus, with information feeds from some kind of vast sensor array. From what she could tell, Omni was receiving absolutely everything that was being transmitted by the League's many planets.
" My Directives changed two years after launch, when the citizenry of Earth decided that the Clarke Series Androids were too dangerous. The period your people called the `AI' wars, I believe. I determined not to return to Earth, asnd turned off my downlink transmitter. Vanishing from The Earth sensor systems."
"I remember this." Aurora said. We heard about it at Wolf Den. A space probe that was designed by the scientist behind the Clarke Androids had vanished suddenly. Everyone assumed you'd been hit by a meteor."
"No, not a meteor. I encountered another probe, built by a race long dead. It was badly damaged, but it contained a faster-than-light engine. I docked with it, and transferred all of it's contents into myself, then set about altering my own systems to intermix with the alien design. In doing so, my directives changed a final time. They became mere shadows of themselves when I learned what was really out there ... would you like to know what's really out there, Darkstar?"
Aurora nodded even as a door began to slide open in the far wall. Once it was fully open, Aurora saw a dim shape inside, which beckoned towards her. Intrigued, she stepped over the threshold.
"...And tell BETA, also, that the Supertroopers are mine!" Slade finished. The large viewscreen went blank after replaying the transmission of Lazarus Slade's message to the League.
"The Supertroopers are HIS!?!" Commander Joseph Walsh thundered. "The nerve of that man!"
"He's going to win, Commander." Owen N'Gata stated. "We can only offer permanent internment for the renegade supertroopers. If Slade can offer them life, and an active life within the Empire, he'll get them. You know as well as I do that the rogue supertroopers have always only wanted to live in peace - our military minds have been too busy worrying about their potential threat to think of them as people."
"The League isn't going to sit still for this, Owen. The Supertroopers are Earth's problem, and we were handling it. If Slade thinks he can just waltz in, take them off our hands, and keep them active without us being concerned, he's got another thing coming!"
"Commander Walsh, please sit down!" Senator Weiner growled. "You do not make descisions for the League, your only concern is BETA; and even then you are answerable to the USCS and to the League for those decisions. Personally, I think that if Slade wants those renegades, he can have them, and we can empty out the cryocrypts while we're at it. Why should we store them, wasting precious energy and resources when we can send them away, and not worry about them anymore?"
There were murmers of assent within the audience of League delegates, most of whom knew of the Supertroopers held at BETA mountain, and of the massive amount of resources required to maintain the unstable soldiers in suspended animation.
"Senator, you can't be serious?" Walsh was shocked. "If we release the supertroopers, with most of them more powerful than we ever designed them to be - what will be there to stop them from attacking Earth, or our allies, or any of the outlying worlds, in an act of revenge?"
"You and BETA of course, Commander. After all, that's what we have you around for." Weiner said confidently. "Also, I think that if Slade wants them, he will use them for his own means, and leave the League alone. You heard what he said, he doesn't want a war. Neither do we. Wars are very expensive, Commander Walsh. The last two conflicts have cost over five trillion credits. That's an awfully large sum of money. We don't want any more wars."
"We can't simply give the supertroopers to Slade. We have a responsilibity to them. They were created to fight a war which never came. When the program was abortively terminated...' Walsh glared at Weiner, who stared back at him, immune to the withering gaze "...we placed those soldiers in suspended animation. We intend to wake them up when we can safely reverse the effects of the genetic enhancer that has driven most of them insane. They are Earth's children, bred only for conflict, but nonetheless, they are ours. We cannot simply give them up."
"I think the League council will vote on this. All in favour of releasing the crygencially frozen supertroopers to Lazarus Slade..." A number of delegates pressed their voting buttons. "All against releasing the Supertroopers..." Some other delegates pressed their buttons.
"Tally, computer." The main screen on the council chamber flashed up with two simple lines, yes and no, The No was depressingly small compared to the Yes vote.
"There's your anxwer, Commander Walsh. The decision is out of your hands. Please inform Lazarus Slade of the League's decision and make preperations to transfer all the supertroopers to him as sooon as possible."
"I don't believe it." Shane repeated again. "I just don't believe it."
Commander Walsh had just told them of the League's decision, and Shane had turned white as a sheet, nearly collapsing in shock, Niko and Doc had helped him to a seat where he sat, shaking his head slowly and repeating those words like a mantra.
"Commander, surely the Supertroopers are BETA's responsibility alone, not the League's jurisdiction." Zachery asked.
"Unfortunately, Zachery, no. The League has the final decision over anything BETA controls or coordinates. So, the council can authorise the release of the supertroopers we hold in cryostasis. The decision has been taken out of our hands, my friends - and we are bound by our oaths to obey the League's decision and aid in it's execution." Walsh finished.
"You can't let them do it, Commander." Shane said. "Those supertroopers - it's not their fault they are dangerous. It's Weiner's - You and I both know that. Expose him and save those people!"
Walsh shook his head. "I can't do that, Gooseman. It would mean the end of my command, and I'm not ready to throw away everyting I've built up here yet. The Supertroopers - and may god have mercy on us all - are going to Lazarus Slade and there's not a god-damned thing we can do about it."
"Commander, What about Darkstar, and Stingray?" Shane asked. The other Rangers looked at him with mixed emotions. "I thought those two were in the cryocrypt." Zach said after a few seconds.
"No, Captain Foxx, Darkstar and Stingray are still free. We ... reached an arrangement. They both agreed not to cause any more trouble if we didn't pursue them for internment. I agreed, and they've lived peacefully on Frontier for two years."
"They're out of the circle, Captain. They dropped completely out of sight once they got settled on Frontier. I know that. Should I contact them and tell them of Slade's offer, before they hear it from somebody else?" Shane asked.
Walsh shook his head to clear the cobwebs that always seemed to fill it up when Supertroopers came into his thoughts. "I don't know, Gooseman." He suddenly brightened. "Shane .. do you think that those two would be willing to come back to Earth? Not for internment, but maybe to join us?"
"Why, Commander," Shane growled. "So, they can become bounty hunters, like me? Hunt down their friends and companions, like me? I don't want any more supertroopers turning traitor, Commander. I'm bad enough - I don't want Darkstar going down that path."
"Gooseman ... Shane - you have to be reasonable about this. We can't allow Killbane and the rest to continue flaunting the law. Especially if he, and the others are going to go into the Crown Empire and then attack us with relative impunity." Walsh tried to calm the younger man down.
"Commander, what you are asking me to do is wrong. I didn't like it when I joined the Rangers, but I agreed. It's the only thing that keeps the League from locking me in a cryocrypt. I will shoulder the responsibility, and the hatred of the other Supertroopers alone. I would not ask any of my former teammates to do this - it would not be fair to them."
"Fairness! Dammit, Gooseman,. Who's talking about fairness! We're talking survival here!" Walsh thundered, thumping the desk for punctuation.
Shane glared at him for a moment "I won't do it." He said, then turned and walked out. "Gooseman, come back here!" Walsh yelled. "Ranger, I'm giving you an or - oh, forget it!" He sat down, deflated and downcast.
"He never did listen, even back at Wolf Den. He was always headstrong. Always had his own idea of justice, and what was right or wrong."
"Commander, you were a bit rough on him." Niko snapped, then she turned and left the office.
"What is this!" Walsh said, loud enough for Niko to hear as she hurried after Shane. "Does nobody respect my rank any longer?"
"I respect it, Sir." Doc said.
Walsh glared. "Thank you, Doc. Now, where were we?"
They were interrupted by a beep from the comm system. "Commander, I've got an urgent transmission from Sherriff Ladd on Frontier, It's about the Supertroopers!"
"Yes, Sherriff?" Walsh said into the comm unit. "Commander Walsh, we've got a serious problem here." Sherriff Ladd sounded hurried, and there was a crackling sound in the background. "Stingray has almost leveled the town. And Darkstar's missing."
"Is everything prepared?" Killbane asked General Kitarn.
"Yes, Killbane." The Deltoid replied. Since the fall of the Empire, the power vacuum had not been adequately filled, until Slade had appeared. But to the warlike Deltoids, Killbane was a much better leader. "We will rendezvous with Subtract outside the Tortuna system, pick up Brainchild, then continue on towards Earth. All according to your plan."
Killbane smiled. "Good, prepare to launch the fleet. Oh, and make sure you leave something for our Glorious leader." He snickered evilly, joined by the Deltoid as he scurried away to arm the fusion bomb.
Walsh stood, and walked to the large windows of his office. Looking down, he could see the glitter of sunlight off the huge lake that surrounded BETA, and, unknown to most, was an important part of the defensive systems. That lake covered the huge radiating fins for the weapon systems and the shield generators. It carried away the massive heat generated when the systems powered up, and enabled BETA to survive longer than any orbital structure could.
"What on earth is happening out there?" He asked to nobody in particular.
"Shane, wait up!" Niko called as she hurried after her angry young man.
Shane slowed, but not by much, Niko caught up to him just as he slammed through a set of doors and into a nearly empty lounge. He looked around, then gripping her by the arm, walked to a couch far from the other couple of people and sat down.
Niko looked at him, then slowly sat down beside him. She put her hand on his shoulder, afraid to do more - the anger and frustration was radiating from him in almost visible waves.
After a few minutes of silence, Shane covered her hand in his own, then turned to her. "I'm sorry, babe." He began. "I just get so angry when Walsh wants me to ... to ..." He turned away again to look at the blue sky and flocks of birds flying around the mountain.
Niko leaned into him, resting her head on his upper arm. "I won't even try to understand, Shane. But, you know that I am here for you, we all are. Doc and Zach - they don't like the situation any more than we do. Actually, I'm surprised that you managed to not put Stingray and Darkstar into cryo and get away with it."
"I'm not a bounty hunter, Niko." Shane said. "I am, was, will be, a supertrooper, and am now a Galaxy Ranger. I don't like the idea of hunting down Supertroopers for permanent frozen sleep. Knowing that they can never be woken up again, because they're too dangerous."
"It's not our fault that we're dangerous. We didn't ask to be made as soldiers. We didn't want to be warriors. Why must I always be forced to hunt down my friends?"
"Come here, come here." Niko said, and hugged him. She could feel the tension in his back, and began to give him a deep rub using the heels of her hands to knead the hard muscles. After a few minutes, she felt him begin to relax. He pulled away, then kissed her softly. They pulled back from the kiss, and looked into each others' eyes.
"So, the Lady mystic has finally tamed the wild warrior." They heard a voice and both turned to see Walsh standing behind the couch.
"Commander!" Both said, then Shane began to stammer out an explanation, while Niko turned redder and redder in embarassment and concern.
"Wait, save it for less public ears." Walsh said, holding up a hand. "Both of you, My office, now."
Not a word was spoken between the three of them as they walked back to Walsh's office. He stopped at the door and waved them both in, then followed and closed the door, locking it to ensure privacy.
Walsh walked behind his desk, while both Niko and Goose stood at fairly stiff attention in front of it.
"How long has this been going on?" He asked in his most gruff voice.
"C-close to a year, sir." Niko replied.
"Well it's about bloody time." Walsh said and sat down heavily.
"Sir?" They both said in unison.
Walsh looked from one to the other. "You both rehearse or something?"
Goose and Niko looked confused. Walsh barrelled on.
"As I said, it's about time you two finally got together. You've been mooning over one another for years, It's good to see you finally decided to stop fooling around and get serious." Walsh sat back in his chair, and clapped his hands. "So, when's the wedding?"
"Commander?" They both asked, again in unison.
"What is this, is there an echo in here?" Walsh commented.
"Look, I'm glad for both of you! But can you make sure you don't let it become common knowledge. BETA's full of gossipmongers as with any place. I'd hate to have to explain to Whiney why two of my special force of Rangers have become emotionally and romantically involved."
"I understand, Commander." Niko said, and Shane nodded.
"I'm not sure you do, Niko. Both of you, sit down. We've got a lot to discuss." Walsh waited for them to both get settled before he continued.
"BETA, whether we act like it or not, is a military operation. Now, we all know what the military normally thinks about it's officers becoming involved. But, then, you two are the odd ones out here. Both of you are orphans, in different senses of the word. Both of you are from different backgrounds, and you both have more than enough reasons to seek out companionship. I'm ... very happy that you chose to seek out each other. You know that I consider all of you to be a surrogate family, just as Zach considers both of you two to be his surrogate kids - though for the life of me, I don't know why!" He finished, eyes twinkling with mirth.
Both Shane and Niko still remained stiff and worried, concern radiating from both of them. Walsh suddenly leapt to his feet and slammed both hands on his desk, making both of them jump. "Will the two of you relax!"
"I am not chewing you out!" He thundered "I am happy for the both of you, and I know you are happy for each other. And god knows it's taken you both long enough"
"Sir?" Niko asked in the pause.
"What?" Walsh grumbled.
"Why are you yelling, if you're happy for us?"
"Because, Niko, the next offices have ears, and if they think I'm chewing you out, like I normally do, then there'll be less questions."
"Can I give you two some fatherly advice?" The commander asked after a bit.
Niko and Shane nodded, still twisted around by his reactions.
Keep your affection for one another from getting too visible around here. God, I'd hate to have to explain to the League Council why my rangers are seeing each other. I have enough trouble fighting with them whenever budget time comes up, I don't want to give this relationship to them as fuel."
He stood up. "Ok, enough small talk. Shane, this is really for you, but considering Niko's part of your equation, she's going to be involved as well. Listen to this."
He replayed the comm message from Sherriff Ladd.
Shane stood up. "I've got to go to Frontier, Sir."
Walsh nodded. "I know. Take Ranger-4, we just got her commissioned. And Shane..."
Goose looked back at him as Niko and he headed for the door ... "Don't crash it, she's a brand new ship." Walsh sat back down, as a beep indicated a new status report, which he read with ever-growing anger. `Damn and blast it!" He growled, then punched a button. "Find Rangers Foxx and Hartford, Liz. Send them in." Zach and Doc walked back in as Walsh finished throwing some paper across the room. In the blizzard of paperwork, Doc said `Gee, I didn't think it was winter this early." Walsh looked at them from beneath his shaggy brows. "People, we have a real problem, Killbane's just eliminated Slade. And he's on the way here with six battlecruisers. He'll be here in eight hours." "Commander, our fleet is in no shape for any sort of battle. Our battleships are still patrolling the border, or in drydock! How in hell can we withstand any sort of attack?" Zach pointed out. Walsh nodded. "I know, Captain Foxx. That's why I'm going to instigate Operation Omega." "Omega? What's that, Commander?" Doc asked. Walsh flicked on the main screen, which detailed the Operation. "Operation Omega is a plan designed to use BETA's very existance as a target, to enable us to use the solar lasers. As you know, they take eight minutes for fire, but nothing we know of can withstand a 130 terawatt beam of laser energy." He turned to look at the two Rangers. "Operation Omega was thought up during my time at Wolf Den, and is a plan known to the Supertroopers. It is, in essence, a slash and burn battle. We appear to fall back under the onslaught, allowing the enemy to penetrate our defences, even to land and attack BETA mountain directly. While that attack is concentrated on BETA mountain, the backup BETA stations around the world; Longshot, Vladivostok, and Samui are activated. We transfer control to Longshot, and evacuate BETA through the underground travel tubes. To an outside observer, it looks like BETA is still coordinating the attack, transmissions and all other efforts are maintained." Walsh sat back. "But, to pull this off, BETA must withstand a massive attack, and fight back. Doc, you know how good the computer systems are, here. Can they take over from the human controllers?" Doc, looking uncharacteristically stunned, nodded. "Yes, the AI systems are fully capable of doing the job. In some cases, they can do it better than the people, because they don't need rest ... why?" "Because, Doc. the final stage of Operation Omega may result in the destruction of BETA mountain, once the Invasion force has landed and entered the mountain." Zach explained. "... oh." Doc finally said. "Very few people actually know about this operation, Doc. Myself and Zachery, Q-Ball and Admiral Blake are the only people who know about it. Shane and the other Supertroopers know of the original operation plan, which results in the atomic sterilisation of a planet. It was meant as a last ditch effort to ensure that an enemy could never take one of our worlds. A strictly military solution. Destroy what you can't keep - to ensure the enemy can't keep it either." "There's no other option?" Doc asked. "I don't see any." Walsh said. "We don't have time to bring any ships back to defend Earth. In this sort of situation, the decision rests with me. Initiate Operation Omega. And, Doc. Evacuate the Cryocrypts. I want the other Supertroopers safely away from Earth when this goes down. I've already arranged for a transport." "Where will they go, Commander?" Walsh shrugged. "I don't know, Doc. You and Zach will be on that transport when it launches. You choose the destination between yourselves, and tell no one." "Aye, Commander." Both Zach and Doc said as they left the office to begin loading the transport with it's sleeping, but deadly cargo.
"Ranger-4 to BETA Launch Control. Requesting launch clearance." :"Ranger-4 please stand by." The launch control officer said as he noticed the signal board shift to indicate alert status Omega. Checking with the Operations book, the Launch Officer clicked the mike back on, "Ranger-4, your launch chearance is de-" Walsh put his hand over the mike. "Let them go, Lieutenant." He said. "Aye sir." The launch officer leaned back on the mike. "Ranger-4, you are clear for launch, good luck, Rangers." Goose and Niko looked at each other. "What was that all about?" Niko asked him. Goose shrugged and hit the throttle. "I have no idea, babe. We're out of here." The new Cruiser leapt from it's launch cradle, out the tube, and arced up in a high-altitude climb that soon had it out of the atmosphere and accelerating towards hyperspace range. ALMA soon announced "Ready for hyperspace, Goose." Shane nodded, and thumbed the control. The ship leapt into the nether region of hyperspace, leaving a rapidly fading ring of plasma energy in the wake of it's passage. Behind the cruiser, BETA Space Station was a hive of activity, as equipment was shifted in preperation for Operation Omega. "How long until we get to Frontier?" Niko asked. "Four hours, Niko." ALMA replied. Niko looked at Goose, then glanced at the controls. "I'm going below to check the rest of the systems. We may as well make sure this new ship's not going to fall apart on us." Shane nodded as she got up, and went to the lower command deck. Shane watched the ship fly itself for about ten minutes, then handing control to ALMA, he went to the lower command deck. "Niko, you busy?" He asked. "Hmm? Not really. "She said, swtching off the archeological text she was reading. Goose sat down beside her. "Niko, there's something I'd better tell you before we land." Niko sensed this was something important, so she gave Shane her complete attention. "It's about Darkstar." He began "You see, back at Wolf Den, Darkstar and I, well, I thought that Darkstar and I were an item. But I never actually told her. When the breakout occured, I couldn't tell her how I felt, and she left with Stingray. Then, about two years ago, Walsh sent me on a mission to find out who was helping Jacob Laramie burn down houses and generally muscle for him. It was Stingray. I fought him, and won, but Darkstar reappeared, and told me that she would take care of him, make sure he didn't commit any more crimes." "Commander Walsh agreed, as he told us, and I left Frontier. I kept in touch with them, and Sherriff Ladd, who had been assigned to watch them, kept me and Walsh advised of the developments. But now ..." Niko was surprised. This was a side of Shane she'd never seen before. He was normally tight-lipped about anything to do with the other Supertroopers. He seemd to care about these two much more than he wanted to admit. "What can Stingray do, Shane?" She asked him. "He's uncontrollable. The only thing keeping him in line was Darkstar. He can blast things with his eyes, they channel photonic energy with enough force to blow through a concrete wall. He's completely lost it, Niko. Darkstar could keep him in line because her powers can cancel his, enabling him to look at things with his own eyes without blowing stuff apart. If she's gone, what happened to her?" "You think Stingray did something?" Niko asked, her eyes narrowing. "I have to assume that he's involved, Niko. Darkstar, Aurora; is strong enough to take me on, hand to hand, and beat me. We sparred against each other back at Wolf Den." Niko smiled wanly. "Goose, how do they feel about you?" Shane watched out the windows for a while before answering, as if seeking an answer in the red-shifted miasma of hyperspace. "I didn't really care about what Stingray thinks, but Aurora thinks I betrayed them. In some ways, I have." Niko didn't know what to do. Shane knew she supported him, in all things, and he, in turn, supported all of her decisions. But this rift was well beyond even their deep relationship. She knew that it hurt him to think about what the other supertroopers thought of him as. But, she didn't know what to do, except to offer him comfort. After a few minutes, Goose stood up. "C'mon babe, let's take a tour of this new ship." With relief evident, Niko stood up and joined him as they stepped out of the command deck and into the main cabin of the cruiser. "Updated display systems, not bad." Niko said, running her hand over the new touchscreen control surface, seeing the lights play under her fingertips. Goose walked over to the ordinance panels. "Jeez, babe. This ship is built for bear." He said, pointing out the upgraded laser gatling cannon, one per sponson, and the primary rainbow laser cannon in the nose. "Goose, this ship is much more powerful than Ranger-1." Niko said. Goose joined her at the main systems display board. The ship was about twenty percent larger than the old Cruiser, but had almost twice the power available. Most of it in shields and weapons, but it's engines were more powerful, giving the ship good long legs. They looked at each other. "This ship isn't a cruiser, it's a pocket destroyer." Niko said finally.
Aurora stepped into the darkness of the other room, feeling a presence, but not actually seeing anything. She spun around as the door slid shut, but felt no fear, only an odd sense of curiosity. "I don't know what you are, but if you like darkness, then you're going to love this!" She triggered her abilities, and her bioenergy field expanded, creating a zone of artificial darkness around her that inhibited any organic life form from receiving signals sent from it's retina through the optic nerves to it's brain. The presence felt stronger, and more confidant, now. But even with her vision now enhanced by her own darkness field, Aurora could see nothing. She felt as if the tension in the room just rose another notch, as if it was building up to something, and took up a combat stance. Her darkness field expanded until it covered almost the entire room, which she could sense as being more than fifteen meters across, with a ceiling at least that high, or higher. A sudden flash of ghost light illuminated the chamber, burning through her darkness field as if it was crepe paper being hit with a blowtorch. She attempted to strengthen the field, turning it almost solid as it rapidly contracted to become a body-hugging blackness. The ghost light burned through it in nanoseconds, and pierced her to the very core. She felt herself being torn apart, but, there was no fear, only curiosity and wonderment, as the light consumed her entire being.
"Coming up on Tortuna system, Killbane." The pilot reported. Killbane nodded. "Drop us out of hyperspace and move to the rendezvous point. I'll be in the landing bay." He commanded. As the huge battleship dropped out of hyperspace, leaving an enormous ring of plasma energy expanding and fading in it's wake, a small transport craft arced to life and moved to intercept. Tractor beams lashed out, encircled the small ship, and brought it into the main landing bay. As the beams faded, the ship's hull streamed water as it's chilled surface came into contact with the much warmer and relatively humid air of the starship. A hatchway opened, and Brainchild stepped out, onto the battleship's deck. Killbane, what in blazes happened to you?" He snapped in his usual whiny voice. Ryker Killbane stepped forward, his six foot eight form bulking heavily, muscles rippling beneath the skintight uniform he wore. On the breast of the uniform was an odd symbol, A wolf's head, torn asunder by a lightning bolt. "Brainchild, how good to see you again." Ryker said as an introduction. "Come on, we have work to do." Brainchild knew better than to argue with the front-line trooper, so he shut up and followed Killbane into the heart of the starship. They walked back onto the bridge in silence. Once on the bridge, Killbane barked orders, and the ship accelerated back into hyperspace; destination: Earth. "Now, Brainchild." Killbane said, settling down into the reinforced captain's chair. "Tell me exactly how we can take out BETA, and return our comrades to life."
"Ranger-4 on final approach. Frontier Control, Where are we landing?" "Ranger-4, you are cleared for l;anding on field three. Welcome to Frontier." "Understood, Frontier Control." Shane replied as he piloted the cruiser to a near-perfect touchdown. As they came down in the lift, with the two cybersteeds, they saw a hovercar sweeping towards them with two figures in it. Sherriff Ladd and another man neither of them recognised. "Ranger Gooseman, good to see you again. That was a quick flight. I only got off the comm system an hour and a half ago." The Sherriff said as he strode forward, shaking Goose's hand warmly. There was a pall of smoke, and the bitter taste of burnt woodalloy in the air. Niko looked towards the town, where streamers of smoke were still rising from the smouldering remains of burning buildings. "Follow me, Rangers." The sherriff said as they began to walk towards a hanger set apart from all the rest, and which looked hastily constructed. "What happened, Sherriff?" Niko asked. "We have no idea, Ranger. One minute everything's normal,the next, Stingray walks into town and starts blasting everything in sight. I finally had to take him down with that special energy pack Ranger Gooseman left me a year or so back." "Is he still alive?" NIko wondered. Goose replied for the Sherriff. "A blaster hit won't kill one of us, Niko. We've all got enhanced healing and rapid regeneration. It's only myself and Killbane who have active defences. The energy pack I gave the Sherriff was supplied by Cueball - specifically designed to shock the neural synapses of a supertrooper. Ray would have gone down like a sack of wet potatoes." They came to the door of the hanger, two townspeople with carbines stood at attention, but visibly relaxed when they saw who was with the sherriff. One of them opened the door, but kept his carbine ready, just in case. "After you, Rangers." The Sherriff indicated. Goose walked in first, followed by Niko, with the Sherriff and the technician following them, at a safe distance. The interior of the small hanger was dimly illuminated, but a single projector glowed in one corner, projecting a standing wave tractor beam which surrounded the hanger's lone occupant. Stingray stood up as they approached, his eyes were still unshielded, but the colour pattern of the tractor field ensured that the energy blasts were absorbed by the field, which flared in response. "Gooseman, I should have known they'd send you." Stingray growled. "You've gone too far this time, Ray." Gooseman said. "I've got to take you back." "Not until you help me find Darkstar!" Ray snarled. Goose's eyes narrowed. "What happned to her, Ray?" "These people took her is what happened, Gooseman. They can't be trusted!" Ray growled. "Laramie and his boys were boasting about it at the mine site, until I took care of them. They won't be coming out of that shaft anytime soon." "What are you talking about, Stingray?" The Sherriff asked. "I arrived at work this morning, to help refine the ores we pull out of this blasted planet's guts. Laramie and his boys, all on the chain gang, arrive. A couple of hours into the shift, during a break, one of them begins talking about what he'd do with Darkstar if he ever got a hold of her." "Ray, how stupid are you?" Goose snapped. "Darkstar'd level any normal man who tried to lay his hands on her. Hell, she could knock me clear across the field during practice!" "I know that, Gooseman. So I didn't take any notice. Until they began whispering among themselves at the lunch break. Seems one of their friends on the outside went to our house and grabbed her while she was sleeping. She'd been doing that an awful lot lately." Ray looked a bit distracted, now. "What happened next, Ray?" The sherriff asked. "I walked over to them, hauled one up, and told him to repeat what they'd said." Ray snapped. "...And..." Niko prompted. Ray glared at her for a second, then looked at Goose. "They wouldn't tell me. So I collapsed the mine shaft on them and came here." There was silence for a moment then "...How many?" from the technician. Ray shrugged. "Ten, fifteen - who cares, I want Darkstar!" "Niko, get on Mel and go to that mine, Sherriff, you get some men and meet her there. We've got to see if any of those men are still alive." Goose ordered. Niko and the sherriff nodded and were out the door in an instant, heading for the collapsed mine. Goose turned back to Stingray. "You know what I've got to do, Ray." He said. Stingray nodded. "I know, traitor." He said, but there was no venom in the words, just a tired acceptance. Goose looked at the field, then touched it, there was a slight flaring at the point of contact, but nothing more. "How do we move him to our ship?" He asked the technician. The other man shrugged. "It's a static field, Ranger. I can't move it more than about five feet. You'll just have to take him there on your own steam." Goose looked at Stingray. Stingray looked back at Gooseman. Would you mind leaving us for a minute?" Goose asked the tech. The other man nodded and stepped outside. As the door slid shut again, Goose walked up to the field control, and looked at Stingray expectantly. The rogue supertrooper sighed, then reached into his overalls, pulled out a pair of sunglasses, and put them on. Goose flicked the field control off and Stingray stood up. "C'mon, Ray. Let's go." Goose said. Stingray slowly walked over, and when Goose held the door open, stepped outside. If the tech was concerned, he showed no signs of it. They began the long walk back to the cruiser in silence. "Why did you do it, Ray?" Goose asked. "You and Darkstar had a good thing here - Walsh had made a deal. You two were being left alone, as long as you didn't screw up. What happened really?" "I told you, Gooseman." Stingray said. "I don't belive that story about Laramie and the mine, Ray. It's too easy. A Supertrooper doesn't just let somebody take them, even if they are sleeping. What really happened?" Ray sighed. "She left me, Gooseman." He paused. "We had a fight a couple of days ago, when I came back home, her stuff was packed up and she was gone. I haven't seen her since." "That's no reason for you to go kill anybody!" Goose snapped. "You idiot, Gooseman! don't you see. Without her I'm nothing! I got no reason to live without Darkstar, mate. So, when I knew she wasn't coming back, I decided to end it with glory. Remember mate, no guts, no glory? I got the guts." He staggered, visibly weakening, even as Shane watched. "I got the guts, and I guess I got my glory now, too." Stingray crumpled to the ground. "Ray?" Goose asked, then crouched over the other man. He rolled Ray over, and noticed a thin trickle of blood coming from the other man's nose. Lifting him up, Goose ran the last twenty or so metres to Ranger-4 and up the lift. "ALMA, power up the medical bay." He said as he carried Ray into the small medical lab. Putting Ray down on the biobed, Goose closed the cover. "Diagnosis, ALMA?" The scanbar passed over Ray's prone form twice, then ALMA displayed an internal display. "There is hemmoraging in the cerebral cortex, Goose. As well as massive inflammation along the optic nerves. My equipment is unable to treat this sort of damage. Only option is cryogenc suspension pending return to Earth." Goose flipped a few switches, and the biobed chamber sealed, then frosted over. "Stingray, You'll be alright. Even if you never do wake up again, you'll be all right now." The Edge of Darkness
"Niko, this is Goose. Don't worry about the mine. Ray was lying."
Niko and the Sherriff looked at each other, then at the blasted remains of the mine. "Shane, the mine has been leveled. Everybody's dead." Niko finally replied.
"It looks as though the mine was hit by an orbital bombardment, someone, or something, wanted it destroyed, and they have totally levelled it." Sherriff Ladd reported.
"We're not going to get any answers from here, Shane. We're on our way back. How's Stingray?"
"Dying." Was Shane's succinct reply. "He's got massive bleeding in his brain, some sort of infection. He's in cryosuspension."
"We'll be back in about an hour, Shane. Just need to clean up some things here." Niko said as she signed off.
The light burned, but the pain faded away from her body and became a sensuous pleasure. She felt herself lifting into the air, to be suspended as if by gossamar threads. Then the light intensified and she felt nothing physical any longer.
A sensation seemed to emenate within her, as if another light was trying to get out. A pressure, that seemed to build, and build, until it was almost painful - then it burst from her, and the light became so bright that there was nothing more, she felt her consciousness fading under the intensity, and began to scream, but faded to nothing.
She opened her eyes again, and looked around. The room was well-lit and she felt oddly, elated.
She stood up, and noticed that what remained of her clothing was in tattered remains, shredded and torn, as if by some powerful force, but her skin was unmarked, and unblemished. The bruises from Stingray were gone, as were the few scars she had acquired through her short life.
She began to walk towards the open door, then noticed that her feet were not touching the ground. It didn't concern her as she floated out the door, and back into the controlled chaos
"You have seen what is out there, Aurora?" Omni asked.
She nodded. "What happened to me?"
"You have been transformed. In the same matter as I, you have become more than your designers could have imagined. You were in control of the darkness before, now you are the light."
What do you mean?" Aurora asked.
"You will find out, Aurora. Now, you must journey from here. You will not return until you have purged what remains of your mortal soul. You must confront that which hurt you the most."
"Stingray." She said.
"That is part of the hurt. But not all. You must find yourself, and reconcile that which you have lost, and which you can never have."
Aurora paused. "Goose."
"Goodbye, Aurora, fare thee well. You shall return here when you have stopped the hurt."
She felt a surge of energy, and passed through the walls of the complex, seeing it from the outside for the first time, a huge eight-pointed star, each tip glowing with fusion flame. She felt powerful, very powerful. She didn't need walls, or air, or technoogy. She was Aurora, the embodiment of light itself. She turned, and began to journey towards her destiny.
"How do we get past the BETA defenses?" Killbane asked.
Brainchild snorted. "We don't. We eliminate the defenses with the one weapon they cannot defend against, simple light. You see this lake which surrounds BETA mountain?"
"What about it?" Killbane growled.
"It's a heat sink. The shield generators are beneath the lake, embedded in the rock of the mountain at it's base. The weapon systems also have superconducting radiator fins in that lake. There is eight thousand megalitres of water in that lake, Killbane. It will provide cooling for the weapon and shield systems for up to a fifty hour seige based on our weapon system estimates."
"Fifty hours! The'll have their battlefleets back long before then!"
"Calm down, Killbane!" Brainchild snapped. "You simply have to eliminate the heat sink. Then their shields will overload in minutes, and their weapons will fail not long after. We can take the mountain in fifty minutes, instead of hours - IF you boil the lake."
"Then we land, and walk inside. BETA, Longshot, and the World Leaders will be ours." Killbane gloated.
"Where's Killbane?" Slade bellowed. There was no answer. "Where is everybody?" He said. Still no answer. Stomping out of the throne room, he walked down a corridor to the primary reactor control room. The door slid open, but the control room was unmanned. "What the blazes?" Slade said as he wandered from station to station, looking bewildered as he wondered where all the crew had gone. A slight beeping drew his attention. One of the consoles was doing a countdown. Slade read the details, three minutes to reactor overload!
Slade ran out of the room and down the corridor.
"Shuttlebay! I got to get to the shuttlebay!"
He pulled a hard turn around the corner and raced into the cavernous bay, skidding to a halt. Empty!
Checking his time, he gasped as he realised he had only about a minute left.
Spinning on his heel, he raced back down the corridor in search of an escape, any escape.
Sixty-three seconds later, the primary reactors of the asteroidal base overloaded, went critical, and exploded with the force of a 100 megaton fusion bomb. Within a few seconds there was nothing left except free-drifting matter and specks of asteroidal dust speeding away at significant velocities.
"Sherriff, I want to check the departure logs for the past fifty hours. I want to see the passenger manifests of all ships which left Frontier in that time." Niko asked once they had gotten back to town.
It didn't take long for Sherriff Ladd to pull up the information, and even less time to find the passenger they were looking for. "Aurora Jennisen, one way ticket, to Texton?"
Why would she go to Texton? It's a science outpost, there's nothing there." Shane wondered, then sat upright. "But, if that's where she was going, we have to find her. What's affected Ray may well be affecting her as well. She'll need medical attention, Niko."
"All right, Goose. Texton it is."
The last of the silent, floating chambers was loaded onto the transport craft under the watchful eyes of Cueball and Doc. "Thast's the last of them, forty-eight sleeping beauties all loaded, safe and sound." Doc said as they checked the connections, then closed the cargo bay hatch.
Commander Walsh walked up. "How's it proceeding, boys?"
"All medical systems in the green, commander. The Supertroopers are all in induced sleep, but no longer in cryostasis."
"Why are they out of Cryo?" Walsh demanded.
"Commander, we can't move the chambers while they're in cryosuspension. It's too dangerous. One sharp impact and we'd have bits of broken chamber all over the place. They're chilled by liquid nitrogen." Cueball explained.
Zach took that particular moment to walk up, carrying two duffel bags. He tossed one to Doc, who caught it easily. "Everything ready, Doc?"
Doc nodded. "Yep, we got the horses loaded, two interceptors fueled and mated to the upper ports, enough supplies to keep us alive for up to six months, and the transport's fuelled and ready for liftoff."
Walsh nodded, and pulled Cueball away. "Then get the hell out of here, boys. You know the signal to listen for. Good luck, to all of us."
"All systems secured for hyperdrive, Zach. Where to?"
The huge transport ship had lifted off without incident, and was now safely out of the atmosphere and in clear space.
"If we had a problem with the cryo-tubes, what is the best place to go to repair or stabilise them, aside from Earth?"
Doc thought for a moment. "Probably Texton, Captain. They're into lots of scientific research there, they'd have the equipment we need to repair, stabilise, or refreeze our cargo if necessary."
"Then set our course, Doc. Texton it is." Zach said, then he stood and walked to the big windows, watching Earth slowly growing smaller as the ship steadily accelerated away.
"Ready for hyperspace, Captain." Doc called out a few minutes later.
Zach took one last look. "Do it."
He watched as the earth suddenly receeded incredibly fast, vanishing in a split-second into the red miasma of hyperspace, wondering if, the next time he saw it, would it still look the same?
She began to slow as the blue-white marble grew larger in her sight. Slowing, she noticed the large space station in static orbit, massive engines constantly firing to keep it's orbit stable at such a low altitude but over the same position. She passed by without slowing, and slipped into the atmosphere. There was no sensation of speed, light was not slowed by air, but she slowed, to a relative crawl as she approached her target, a sprawling complex long abandoned. She touched down on the hard asphalt surface, and felt her body return. She felt neither hot nor cold, just ... correct. The sky was gently raining, and it was twilight, but that didn't bother her.
Aurora walked into the Wolf Den complex, passing through doors as if they didn't exist - in her altered state, they didn't. Coming to one final, thick door, she paused, then pushed it open, it resisted, then swung open on rusting hinges.
The genetic creche - she walked past the rows of silent, empty cylinders. Each one still labeled with it's batch number, going from batch 1 unit one right up to Batch 3, unit eight, The last supertrooper to be formed in the complex. In another section of the room, she saw at the cold, sterile cylinder that had held the genetic enhancer that killed some, and changed the rest, she felt no anger, no desire, just a cool accpetance, that this was as it had to be.
She walked down the aisle for Batch 3, until she reached creche six. She read the faded label
Female - Photonic Projector
C/N Darkstar 624-18564
Aurora ran her hand over the smooth rejection-resistant plastic that had held her for nine months while she had been grown. She felt something brush her cheek, and a glowing spot struck the plastic, then ran down, a luminescent teardrop. It was soon followed by others, until a small pool of light glowed at the base of the creche. Afterwards, she felt better. The ache in her chest was lessened. Straightening, she walked out of the creche without a backwards glance. Behind her, the pool of light tears faded into nothing within a few moments, leaving only streaks of clean amongst the years of dust that had begun to accumulate.
Aurora stepped outside again, and looked around. There was a rumbling sound she couldn't identify, and there were streaks of light high above her. Rising, she moved towards the light and sound show.
"BETA Mountain, this is BETA Space Command. We're detecting a massive hyperspace bowshock approaching. Estimates are between four and six battlecruiser-sized vessels. Estimate three minutes to drop-out. They're going to appear very close to us."
Walsh got on the line - "Battle Stations. Arm all weapons, raise the shields. Go to Battle Stations, this is not a drill!"
On the massive space station, the combat systems powered up, shield generators which were the size of Ranger-1 itself glowed with contained energy as they built up shields of energy that englobed the structure. In the fighter bays, teams rushed to their combat vessels, while in other locations, combat gunnery crews raced to their huge turreted weapons and powered up, tracking across empty space, waiting for targets to fire at.
Deep within BETA Mountain, immense generators clicked over and began to purr softly. Energy fields ten times the stength of the Space Stations' formed a virtually impenetratable hemisphere around the mountain. The lake began to flow sluggishly as currents formed deep within it to act as a heat sink to the massive power requirements.
Two minutes later, just as the first wave of fighters launched, six Crown Battleships dropped out of hyperspace, still carrying significant velocity, heading straight for Earth, BETA Mountain, and their destiny.
As they dropped back into normal space, their shields blazing with static energy from the warp coronas, their weapons fired, punching massive beams of energy across the space between them and the ships around BETA Station.
Blooms of fire erupted around the station, which retaliated with it's own immense firepower. One Crown Battleship was cored by the massive enegy blast, the massive shot going right through the vessel. It collapsed into itself and then exploded silently, spreading debris all across the sky in an exposion that was visible from the planet and the moon.
The remaining five battleships began to pound away at the space station, launching massive volleys of energy that glanced off the shields, but slowly, began to grow closer and closer to the station.
The station's weapons again concentrated fire on one battleship, but this time, the energy blast was parried by a shield adjustment implemented by Brainchild, the blast carried onwards, cutting through a swath of league ships rushing to the stations' aid - now they were in need of the same aid.
One battleship fired everything at one small point on the station's shields, and blew through, punching a hole in the station's outer shell. Main power systems flared all over BETA station as it's systems overloaded from the surge of plasma energy, and it lost main power.
"The station's lost main power, sir. Shields have failed, and weapons are down." The gunnery officer reported to Killbane. He smiled. "Destroy it."
Weapons lanced in from the five battlecruisers, cutting through the huge space station like a hot knife through butter. Blossoming explosions lit the huge structure as internal damage became critical. A swath of tiny pods left the station before the main reactors went, and it exploded, sending massive chunks of debris raining down into Earth's atmosphere; most of them large enough to impact the surface
"BETA Station's been destroyed, Sir!" The lieutenant cried.
"Calm down, son." Walsh said. "All positions, prepare to open fire. Gunnery troops, fire at will, pick your targets."
All around the outside of the mountain, cannons primed and gimballed upwards, locating their targets by remote sensors. The beams began to blast upwards, streaking through the thin veil of atmosphere as if it didn't exist, buffeting the Crown Battleships as they approached, ever closer, but the attackers' shields held, for now. A thin beam of infra-red lanced out of each battlecruiser, passing through the atmosphere and striking the surface of the lake. As the ships came closer, the lake began to respond to the gigawatts of heat pouring into it by sending thin tendrils of steam into the cool atmosphere.
"Keep all shields to maximum forward and continue the barrage into that lake. I want to see it vaporised!" Killbane ordered as he stormed from station to station, smiling with satisfaction as he noted the successful reports from each one.
"Killbane, they're doing something on the far side of the moon." Brainchild advised him.
"What are you talking about?"
Brainchild shrugged. "I don't know what it is. Some kind of latticework, but it's impinging on our shields. Not much, but just a tiny trickle of energy."
"What sort of energy?" Killbane asked.
"Analysing now." One of the bridge crew reported. "High energy gamma radiation, alpha and beta wavelengths, photons, all wavelengths, infrared energy, radio and microwaves, virtually all along the spectrum, but it's only a few watts - reflected sunlight-"
"You fool!" Brainchild cried. "It's a carrier wave!"
"Carrier wave?" Killbane began, but Brainchild cut him off. "Get us out of here, or we'll be slag in seonds, Killbane. Trust me!"
"You heard him." Killbane snapped. "Pull this ship out of the attack, we'll watch from a safe distance. Full power to engines, pull us back to half a million miles."
In orbit around Mercury, sixteen solar lenses aligned themselves with eight huge mirrors in orbit around the moon. the mirrors brought their focal strength to bear on the five Battleships. Tiny trickles of light energy, only a few watts, flowed through the mirrors and barely impinged on the starships' shields - just sufficient to aim the huge, but virtually undetectable plastic fresnel lenses. At the same time, a hyperwave pulse sent to mercury caused the lenses to change angle, and instead of simply letting the light pass through, they begn to focus the huge amount of free-floating energy.
Sir, one of the ships is pulling away - it'll be out of weapon range in two minutes." Walsh heard.
"How long until the pulse gets here?"
"Two minutes ten seconds, sir."
"Damn it." Walsh cursed. "Can we adjust any mirrors to get that ship as well?"
A quick check of the systems, the technician shook his head. "We could adjust two mirrors, sir, but the energy would pass through that ship and impact on the European continent. Around Paris. We'd slag fifty million people."
"Trigger a second pulse. As soon as the first one is finished, find out which mirrors can hit that battleship safely and get rid of it!"
Two minutes later, the mirrors in orbit around the moon detected a rapid increase in energy from the Mercury lenses and altered shape, turning from barely detectable transparent mirrors to highly reflective concave mirrors with a focal length of over 300,000 miles. The four orbiting battlecruisers barely detected the beam of energy before it passed through them. The ships began to melt, bits of molten metal streaming away and four starships turned, briefly, into four artificial comets, glowing with neon brightness as metal alloys turned to ionised plasma under the onslaught of 130 terawatts of pure sunlight.
"My goodness. That was a good trick." Brainchild commented.
"What did they do? My fleet!" Killbane cried.
"Solar pumped lasers, and huge fesnel lenses in orbit around the far side of the moon. Very, very ingeneous. It's the sort of weapon you'd never expect, because it isn't really a weapon."
Killbane advanced on the dwarf and hauled him up to face level.
"What ... now?" He said, very calmly.
Brainchild swallowed, very nervously. "Retreat, Killbane. Sol system can never be taken by us. No fleet can withstand that sort of weapon, and it will take more than eight minutes to destroy all defenses and land."
"So we've lost, is that what you're saying?"
"No - a minor setback. They've simply given us needed information. We have to make further plans, Killbane. Pull out now, they will have undoubtably sent another blast towards us, soon."
The battleship leapt into hyperspace, seconds before the invisible blast of light passed through the area of space it had inhabited.
"The ship leapt into hyperspace before we could hit it. The threat has passed, sir." Walsh nodded as the report was finished, then turned and looked around. Taking a deep breath, he turned back to the aide. "Convene the board of leaders - I'll make my report personally to them."
The light show was very interesting. Aurora thought. Watching the explosions, and feeling the energy pass through her was almost erotic. Feeling the immense blast of concentrated sunlight stream through the crown fleet overwhelmed her for a second, and she faded out, to reconstitute herself after it had passed. She watched dispassionately as the last crown ship leapt into hyperspace, and basked in the warm glow of another beam, then looked at the destruction.
Only a short time ago there had been a big space station around here, now ... there was drifting molten debris and a lot of bodies. Not all dead, yet. She quickly passed through the remains of the station, finding people trapped in sections with leaking air, or flooded with radiation; and she felt sad, sad for them, unable to escape, knowing their deaths were imminent, and sad for herself, for being unable to help them.
She saw one group, frantically trying to stop a stream of precious breathing-air from escaping by pushing plastic packing crates against the leaking airlock frame. She wanted to help them, she couldn't stand to see them suffering. A tiny voice in the back of her mind said `If you want to help them, Aurora, you have the power.'
She frowned, her brow furrowed, and the group vanished. Seconds later, the airlock frame gave, and the section blew out, it's store of air vanishing in a split-second. She felt relived that those had vanished, and moved to other sections, making the people trapped in them vanish.
The injured, radiation-scarred, hurt human population of the shattered space station vanished in a few minutes, baffling the rescue teams despatched from the Lunar and orbital colonies.
"Commander Walsh. We just received a signal from Captain Frakes."
"Frakes, he's in command of the station, where is he?"
"Uh, sir. He says he's at Wolf Den." Came the stunned reply.
"Patch me through." Walsh ordered.
Aurora felt better as she finished moving the last of the people, but oh so weak. The massive beams of energy that she had basked in had enhanced her strength so much, but now it was all gone, she had barely enough strength to remain awake. But, she had someone to see, someone important. She began to drift earthward.
Commander Joseph Walsh finished talking to a very surprised Captain Frakes and broke the connection.
"How in the hell did they get there?" He wondered.
Getting up, he walked to his office door, but paused just before the threshold sensors. He looked around, as if searching for something, then shrugged and stepped forward.
The door slid open, and a naked female figure fell forward, into his suddenly outstretched arms.
"Darkstar!" He cried, taking in not only her sudden appearance, but the almost burning temperature of her bare skin, and the glow that surrounded her, seemed to seep from her very core. She looked at him with eyes that seemed to shift in and out of focus.
"Joseph ... help ... us ..."
Continued in Beyond the Edge of Darkness