September 17, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Twenty-two

Glen swore. He could hear all their heavy breathing as they stopped their forward motion. He hoped none of them could hear how loudly his heart was hammering in his chest.

He felt Skylar’s hand on his shoulder as he pulled them into a tightly bunched knot. His low voice barely made sound as he warned them all.

"They'll be trying to locate us by sound and they'll also be looking for our body heat. We’ll need to be extremely careful of making noise."

There was a small crack and a green light sprang to life in Skylar’s hands. It was much brighter than the light stick Jenna had been using earlier, and was a deeper shade of green.

“Skylar!” Glen hissed in alarm. “Won’t they see the light from that?”

Skylar shook his head. “Klodfon eyes see well into infra-red, far past what human eyes can detect; but this green is beyond the other end of their visual range. They won’t even notice it. And we need the light; it will be too easy to get lost if we can’t see where we’re going.”

They moved as quickly as they could, but their progress was much slower than it had been. Their silence was very nearly perfect, broken only by the occasional sound of a quiet footfall. Glen knew their silence wouldn't help disguise body heat, but short of dying, nothing could be done about that. And he didn’t intend to do any dying today—he hadn’t seen any space ships yet.

They hadn't gone far when Jenna stopped. A soft humming sound came from the darkness in front of them and a faint orange glow outlined the edge of a corner ahead.

Jenna handed Glen the light stick, a hastily whispered “stay” reached his ears as she snuck toward the corner.

She got to her hands and knees, then laid flat on the floor, inching her head just far enough around the corner to get her eyes past the edge. Within seconds she had pulled her head back and carefully raised herself to her feet again.

The group gathered in a tight knot around her while she delivered her report. Her whisper was almost sub-vocal as she muttered, "They're just around the corner, waiting for us to show up. There's about twenty-five Klodfons, roughly ten lengths down the hall. With four rifles, that's only six or so a piece."

"Without the light how can you tell there are twenty-five of those monsters?" Glen asked

Though her voice was nearly inaudible, the trace of smugness was very clear. "Those stupid lights on their helmets make them easy to count."

"Are they between us and the hangar?" Skylar questioned.

"I...I think so." Her voice faltered a little.

"You're not sure?" he asked.

Jenna's voice betrayed her frustration as she answered, "I...know the general direction we need to go, but I'm not sure of the exact route."

"Are we lost?" Skylar voice held no condemnation.

"Not exactly, but I'm not positive where we are in the dark." She sighed, "Skylar, it's been five years." Her voice shook just a bit.

“Don’t worry about it,” he answered. “Do you know if we need to go through those Klodfons, or can we go around them somehow?"

"If we go through them, we're almost at the hangar." A low male voice whispered.

"Rantek?" Skylar queried.

"Yes. It's only about 30 lengths down that corridor to the hangar."

"Then we fight,” Skylar decided. "The Klodfons can't scan us around the corner. They know we're coming, but not when or exactly where, so we'll have a very few seconds of surprise on our side. We need to kill enough of them, or at least drive them back far enough for us to get into the hangar. Once there, we'll grab a ship and go. Anyone else here have experience in flying a Klodfon raider?" Silence was his answer.

"Fine. Jenna will be my co-pilot. Rantek will take the command chair. Glen and Lissanne will have to sit on the floor and brace themselves as best they can. We'll take the first ship in line to go out.” He took a deep breath and continued to direct them.

“Lissanne, you open the hangar door while we get the engines started."

"Right," she assented.

"Why her?" Glen asked.

"She can run faster than Rantek and you don't know how to open the hanger doors."

"So tell me how. I'll do it.”

"Can you read enough Klodfon to know which button is marked open and which one is marked self-destruct?" Skylar’s whisper was blunt.

"No.”

"Then skip it.”

"Skylar, I can't read Klodfon either, but I think I can open it," Lissanne's said.

"Hit the wrong switch and you'll destroy the panel and yourself along with it. The rest of us will end up back in the prison block...or dead."

"I'm fluent in Klodfon,” Rantek whispered. “I'll open it."

There was a long pause in the conversation; Glen waited to hear the end results of Skylar’s thought processes.

Finally, he spoke softly. "We'll give you as much cover as possible to give you time to get to the ship. Lissanne, you cover Rantek. Glen, you stay close to Jenna. Any questions?"

There was no sound in response.

“Everyone ready?" There was whispered acknowledgment. "On three."

They all moved as close to the corner as they could without being seen by the Klodfons, Skylar in the lead this time.

"Steady…one...two...three!" Skylar finished, stepping well out into the hallway and beginning to fire at the Klodfons.

It was difficult to see; the only thing they had to aim at were the lights on the Klodfons’ helmets. It soon became brighter, however, with the many-colored laser beams flying in a deadly web.

A high-pitched whine that didn’t sound entirely mechanical raised the hairs on the back of Glen’s neck, and a shiver whispered down his spine. The noise of exploding bits of wall and the sparks and arcs of the electrical equipment embedded in the walls was quite loud. In a strange contrast, Glen thought, the laser guns made no sound at all.

They slowly advanced down the corridor, firing at anything that moved ahead of them. A Clod-fawn laser grazed Jenna's leg, throwing her against the wall. Glen helped her up and she tried to keep pace, but found it painful to put weight on the leg.

Glen dropped the rifle he carried and slid his arm around Jenna’s waist, supporting her. She tried to hold on to Glen with one hand and shoot with the other, but the angle was too awkward to be effective.

"Give me your laser, Jenna. I'll cover you." Rantek shouted at her.

She handed her pistol to him and he fired with great vigor at the Clod-fawns in their path.

Finally they reached the hangar door, having forced the few remaining lizards far enough down the hall to pose little threat.

Skylar opened the door to the hangar and hurried everyone through. Closing it behind him, he used one shot from his pistol to destroy the controls. The lights were on here and he pointed at a ship at the far edge of the hangar. "That one!"

The small group moved across the vast floor quickly. Lissanne and Skylar led, followed closely by Glen, who still half-supported Jenna. Rantek turned away from them and headed for the console which controlled the hangar doors.

The piercing alarm sounded again and Glen knew more Clod-fawns were on the way.

With a final burst of speed, Skylar reached the ship. He slammed the hatch open and directed Glen and Jenna to enter first.

Jenna hobbled to the front of the small ship and slid into the right-side seat. “Glen, you sit there.” She pointed at the floor in the back corner of the ship. There was some heavy netting hanging on the wall. “You can hold onto the cargo straps to brace yourself during flight.”

Skylar entered behind them and settled himself into the left-hand pilot seat. He stared at the control panel for a long moment. Glen found himself praying that Skylar actually knew how to fly one of these ships.

Lissanne hovered just outside the door, rifle at the ready, covering Rantek. Glen moved toward the corner where Jenna had directed him, but did not sit. He watched Rantek’s progress across the hangar through the windshield of the space ship.

Skylar breathed out a deep sigh and began flipping switches and pressing buttons, Jenna following his directions.

Skylar found a moment to belt himself in, as Jenna had already done.

"How's Rantek doing?" Skylar demanded.

"He's just reached the control panel," Lissanne reported through the open doorway. "The hangar doors are opening now."

"Good. He's got about five seconds to get here before we're ready to go."

"The hangar doors are nearly fully open now. We've got plenty of room." Jenna said. She glanced back to the control station where Rantek was working and drew in her breath.

Lissanne stepped out of the door of the ship and began shooting.

"Klodfons in the hangar bay. They're firing on Rantek." Jenna’s voice was calm as she reported the events. She might have been talking about the weather. Her actions, however, were swift and economical as she released her straps and began to rise out of her seat.

Skylar's firm grip on her arm returned her to her place. "The best thing we can do for him now is to be ready to go." His voice was low, but the tone of command allowed no argument.

Jenna re-fastened the straps around her.

A large explosion rocked their ship, the fireball centering around the console where Rantek had been standing.