September 13, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Twenty

Glen watched Skylar take a deep breath and let it out slowly before turning back toward himself and Jenna. Skylar looped the card’s chain around his neck and tucked the card itself inside his shirt, apparently for safekeeping.

Jenna moved silently up beside him. Glen followed, "Where'd she run off to?"

"To keep the Klodfons off our backs,” Skylar muttered. “Come on."

Skylar and Jenna both drew their pistols as they continued forward down the hall. With Lissanne gone, Glen wondered how Skylar, now in the lead, knew where he was going.

The thudding grew louder, accompanied now by a deeper boom that reminded Glen of the anti-aircraft guns he hadn’t heard since he had been discharged from the army.

Suddenly, Lissanne crossed the corridor ahead of them at a run, shooting back the way she'd come.

Skylar moved instantly to stand against the wall where he'd be least likely to be noticed. Jenna joined him there within a moment. Glen scrambled in their wake. Jenna opened her mouth to speak, but Skylar silenced her with a gesture. She unslung the rifle she’d been carrying for Rantek and laid it on the floor. Skylar crept as near to the cross-hallway as he could. A dozen…things… burst seemingly from out of nowhere, all intent on their pursuit of Lissanne. They were firing laser rifles at her, the bright beams kriss-crossing in the hall and illuminating it in various shades of red, yellow, and green. Glen thought the laser beams did a better job of lighting the hallway than the dull orange light glowing from the ceiling.

Lissanne’s dodging, unpredictable course down the hall made it hard for the things to hit her. Most of their shots were destroying sections of the walls instead, with great explosions of noise, and flying bits of red-hot metal shards spraying in all directions.

The leading creature fell, a victim of Lissanne's aim. Glen saw its companions move right over the top of it, as if it weren't there.

Skylar watched passively as they continued to shoot at Lissanne. Glen wanted to scream at him. How could he just stand there and let them kill her? His own fear of what might happen should the creatures turn and see them, froze his tongue to the roof of his mouth. Apparently Skylar was a coward, more interested in saving his own skin than in coming to the aid of a woman who was in need.

When the fighting had passed them, and the creatures were a good length down the hall, Skylar stepped into the corridor and fired at them. Jenna moved with him and between them they had killed several before the things realized they were under attack from two directions. Ah—he understood now, it was strategy and not cowardice prompting Skylar’s lack of action.

Suddenly Glen realized what he was seeing. These must be Clod-fawns. They were huge! Jenna had been conservative in her description of seven foot lizards. These lizards walked on two legs and used their tails for balance. Covered from head to toe with bright, neon green scales, they reminded him vaguely of a tyrannosaurus rex, only with well-muscled, usable arms attached on the sides of their shoulders.

The helmets they wore were too big for any dinosaur. Glen rather thought they would fit on his own head, though the squarish corners might be uncomfortable. Their faces were different, too… they were definitely lizardish; red eyes with a slit for a mouth, and absolutely nothing where the nose should have been. Glen wondered absently what they would do if they needed to wear glasses, with no nose to hold them up.

They wore black bits of stuff strapped to various parts of their bodies, and Glen recalled Jenna saying something about blast armor. It certainly looked like armor—not the kind knights used to wear—more like a roman soldier’s…breast plates and back plates, helmets, and guards on the forearms and shins.

Other than the helmets and armor, they wore no other clothing. Apparently the lizards had no problem with nudity, but then, Glen couldn’t recognize anything that modesty should prompt them to cover.

Glen watched numbly as the three Cavaliers made short work of the enemy.

As silence descended, Skylar lifted a rifle from the floor and clipped his pistol to the stock of the Klodfon rifle, apparently recharging it. Jenna and Lissanne did the same. Glen came forward to meet them, balancing himself precariously above his shaking knees.

"Are those Clod-fawns?" he asked. Even to his own ears his voice was a little unsteady.

Skylar nodded as he watched Glen’s face. "Are you all right?"

Glen nodded, swallowing hard. “I…I think so.”

“Sorry you came?” Skylar asked.

There was no hesitation before Glen answered. "Not at all, but even with what you told me, I expected lizards to be on all fours on the ground."

Skylar gave a wry grin. “We did try to warn you.”

Glen shuddered, "And these weapons—they're laser guns. Like on TV. This…this is real…and these…Clod-fawns…they’re not from Earth." It was a quiet statement, but said so much more.

Jenna looked up from the weapon charging in her lap. "Neither are we. Glen, I'm sorry I had to deceive you all this time. I didn‘t like having to lie, but when you get stranded on a planet not in the Fellowship, the list of Standing Orders starts with ‘don’t let the locals know who you are’ and goes on to ‘protect them from the Klodfons at all costs’. I'm not a kid without a memory; I never was. I'm a trained Cavalier—a professional soldier. But even if I had told you about the Klodfons in the beginning, would you have believed me?" Her voice was as serious as her face, her somber eyes watching him.

Glen looked at the floor, then at her. "No, especially not in the condition you were in when I found you. I didn't really believe you or Skylar about the Clod-fawns until I saw them myself and I'm still not quite sure this isn't a crazy dream. I'm still not sure I believe all of it yet. It does explain why there wasn't a mark on that dead cougar, though. You used a laser gun, didn't you, Skylar?"

Skylar detached his pistol from the larger weapon and put it away, the silence hanging heavy in the corridor. Setting the now-depleted laser rifle down near its previous owner, also in a useless condition, he addressed Glen.

"Yes, I did, and no, you're not dreaming. Glen, now that you've seen what we're up against, will you please go back to your camp before you get killed."

"No way. I'm in this to stay. It’s my planet, and it’s about time some of us helped you protect it.”

Skylar looked at him for several moments without speaking, their eyes conveying messages enough. Then, apparently accepting Glen's decision, Skylar took a few minutes to instruct him in the art of how to use the stolen Klodfon rifle he’d been carrying.

Between the scales and the armor, Glen realized his own weapon would be practically useless against these creatures. As it did not have a carry-strap, he regretfully laid the rifle down in the hallway, knowing even as he did so, that he would never see it again.

Jenna picked up the spare rifle and re-slung it over her shoulder. Their weapons all at full charge now, Skylar looked at each member of the team, then softly spoke. “Let’s get moving before that patrol is missed. Lissanne, you take lead position, I’ll follow you, and no running off. Jenna, stay right behind me and Glen, take rear guard again.”

Glen nodded his assent. He wasn’t about to be more of a burden on these people, but intended to pull his own weight and assist in carrying out his mission.

Wordlessly, Skylar gave the signal to start.

They moved quickly now, trying to get as near to their objective as possible before another patrol came their way. Stealth was no longer an option; speed became their ally.

Lissanne led them without hesitation through several more long corridors and they entered the cell block. Skylar produced the card Lissanne had given him earlier.

He said quietly, "The best place to hide is in the cells, against the front wall of the cells, just out of sight on the side of the door, one body per cell." Turning to Lissanne, he asked, "Which one is Rantek's?"

Lissanne pointed to one of the doorways, and Skylar nodded. “Which cell is yours?”

She stepped to the door of a different cell, roughly across the hall. Glen noticed that none of the doors lined up exactly, probably to keep prisoners from communicating with each other.

Skylar opened Lissanne’s cell door, remarking, "They'll expect to see you, Lissanne; you can stand in open sight and keep watch for Rantek’s return."

She nodded, "Maybe they'll think I've been recaptured," she said, her voice not showing fear, but also giving no evidence of enthusiasm for the assignment.

Skylar opened the cell next to Rantek’s and motioned Jenna in. Hesitating only a moment, she stepped inside and he closed the door behind her.

The last cell, next to Lissanne’s, was apparently for Glen. Skylar opened the door, then turned and smiled at Glen.

“Your turn.”

Glen stepped in, then turned quickly, stepping back out of the cell. Keeping his voice at a whisper, he asked, "Do you have to lock us in?"

Skylar nodded, pulling the card from the slot to demonstrate it for Glen. The door slid silently closed. "When the door closes, it locks automatically as the identicard leaves the slot."

"Well, can't you leave the door open? I can see all of us getting trapped in here quite easily." Anxiety gave hoarseness to his whispered voice.

"The door doesn’t stay open. That's the general idea of the design; however, we do have the key." He held the card up for Glen to examine as he continued to explain. "As you can see," he gestured toward Jenna's cell, "the holes in the door will give you plenty of ventilation without letting you out. Stand out-of-sight and the Klodfons won’t even know you’re anywhere near, and won’t have reason to do anything to you."

Glen turned from Skylar and more closely examined the closed door of the cell. "Looks like some kind of plastic,” he said, turning back to Skylar.

Skylar gave a half grin. "It's transparisteel—see-through, blast proof armored metal." He re-opened the door and gestured for Glen to return to the cell. Glen swallowed hard and stepped through and Skylar sealed the door behind him.

Skylar went to Rantek's cell and let himself in, closing the door behind him, then moved to the side, out of Glen’s view.

Glen examined the door once more, then took Skylar’s advice and seated himself on the floor of the cell, against the front wall, where the Clod-fawns would never see him, and where, if Skylar and the girls were killed, he would probably die of starvation before anyone happened along to let him out.