The creature slept. It was old, so old that it had even forgotten its own name, but not its purpose. Here in the almost perpetual night of the city, it waited; its task to defend home and treasure. Any and all who had once lived here had been the food which kept it alive, but they were long gone now and all that remained for sustenance were its own offspring.
It lived in a perpetual downward metabolic cycle; birth drawing hard on its remaining reserves, which then in its consumption became death. A clawed hand flashed outwards, catching the thing which slinked out of the dark. They never learned, their racial drive for domination was written deep within their genetic code. With the minimum expense of energy, it bit off the thing’s head, chewed once and swallowed.
One enormous lazy eye looked upwards, the spinning shapes hung in low orbit, their rapid pulsations making them blink in the night sky. At its most rudimentary level the creature welcomed their activity; soon sustenance would be here.
A small ship dropped out of fold space; its on-board instruments questing and finally locking on the now powerful signal. Carefully it advanced forward, like a beast sniffing for danger; cautious, its savagery held in check until it was needed.
Then, a small spheroid split from the main ship, its speed incredible as it shot past the revolving objects and crashed through the planet’s outer atmosphere, where it began to glow, the still tenuous air protesting at its passage.
Once through, there was a low explosion and it spilt into numerous separate parts which sprayed out fan-like, across the sky.
Below, the creature watched languorously, as the spectacle unfolded. Strange feelings surged upwards, emotions long forgotten; anticipation, anger and ultimately hunger.
Sleek cylindrical shapes surged downwards, quickly reaching terminal velocity, their fluted sides whistling as their self-generated wind roared past. Their tops were broad, thinning to a sharp point at their furthest extremity, which made them appear like inverted cones. Each of them slammed into the earth, clawing their way downwards into the protesting dirt and rock, until finally they came to rest. Steam rose from the holes they carved as their outer skins cooled rapidly, throwing off the memories of their violent passage through the air.
Whirring quietly a circle of metal began to rise from the head of each construction, finally blowing free with an explosive snap. Segmented limbs unfolded, tentatively probing, before gripping fiercely and pulling the concealed contents of the drop pod free. One by one, accompanied by a fierce clicking they rose from their self imposed prison, righting themselves on four spindly legs.
Spider-like, a spherical metallic body hung suspended from the limbs, swaying slightly. Two bright red lights blinked, before burning in a steady glow. Moving jerkily on knife life feet, they joined together and as one pack advanced on the silent city.
The creature knew they were there, and it unfurled its great leathern wings, holding them outstretched and motionless for a heartbeat. With a great leap and a massive down stroke it rose into the air, its muscles complaining at the unexpected demand. Then with ponderous beats it moved to meet the oncoming threat.
Behind it, there rose from various buildings a cloud of small flying creatures, their hunger overcoming the fear of their parent. Together they sped towards the advancing constructs, avarice gleaming in their eyes.
“How long?” asked Arn, as the Galleon continued its seemingly endless journey through the warp.
“Not much longer,” replied Walters turning to face him, “the signal becomes stronger.”
Then Walters face twisted in anger, his eyes flashing, and a low growl began deep in his throat.
“My Lord, what is it?” questioned Arn, worried at the change in Walters.
“Others have found it!” he snarled, whirling to stare out of the view screen, but there was nothing to see, “Prepare the men,” he said more calmly now, “this is not going to be as easy as I thought!”
A scream of rage echoed through the sky, as the creature realised that there was no food here, the metallic nature of its enemies would give no sustenance. With an inclination of its great wings, it banked and turned, its great maw opening. Its mistake meant that it would have to expend much of its depleted resources now in the destruction of its unknown foes. Its jaws opening and closing it began its harvest, its offspring would provide.
As one, numerous pairs of red eyes focussed on the beast, commands were passed and metallic carapaces split. Slender rods extended out from the constructs’ shells, locking into place and then following the creature’s flight. Bright pin points of energy coalesced at their tips and then with a shuddering roar, plasma fire surged upwards.
“Contact! We have an unknown contact sat close to the planet’s atmosphere, my Lord,” said Arn, as he studied the read outs.
“Only one?” mused Berbatov, “Well that shouldn’t give us too much of a problem!”
“Strike that!” shouted Arn, spinning to face Walters, “We have multiple contacts, missiles I expect, and they’re headed straight for us!”
Walters and his party’s arrival had not gone unnoticed, as ships dropped into real space, slowing and reorienting themselves, a beam scanned and rapidly analysed them. The correct response was calculated and the once crescent shaped ship remoulded itself. Its wings extended, exposing a central cylinder and small, bulbous pods dropped down to hang heavily underneath like some kind of over ripe fruit.
Then they split apart, birthing numerous spheres whose propulsion units quickly kicked into life and hurled them towards the Galleon and its sister ships. About half way to their targets, long thin appendages flowed from their rear, solidifying in the frightful cold of space, and sticking out rigidly,quill-like, behind the now rapidly moving objects. Two red lights flicked on at the front of each of the spheres and began to blink, faster and faster the closer they got to Walters’ fleet.
Marius was taking a well-earned rest, chatting with some of his men about the modifications which had been made to their fighters and the advanced technology of the Delta-winged craft they had found here in the Galleon. He had just raised a glass to his lips, ready to take his first sip, when the attack alarms shrilled.
“Scramble! Scramble! We have incoming!” boomed the announcement and he raced towards his fighter, his forgotten glass bouncing once before shattering into tiny pieces on the hard decking.
“What do we have?” he demanded on the control circuit and was surprised to hear Walters’ reply.
“Captain, we’re not sure. We have multiple signals and whatever they are, they certainly aren’t friendly. They didn’t wait to get to know us, they launched immediately on our arrival in the system. You and your men are going to be vital, either as our eyes or as a means to destroy them.”
“Yes, my Lord,” responded Marius, as he approached his craft, only to be waved away by one of the ground crew.
“Oh and Captain?”, said Walters, laughter in his voice, “I hope you like your new ride.”
Engines roared, the signal was given and the Galleon’s new Eyotalian Fighter Wing screamed out into space. The truth was that they were not all Eyotalians, some of the original pilots from the Galleon had been placed under Marius’ command and even now it was hard to accept them. When they had removed their armoured helmets, Marius had needed all of his control not to shoot them there and then.
Well, thought Marius, at last they would see how well the unit could mesh together, no more discussions on teamwork, this was live combat.
His biggest surprise had been the delta wing waiting for him, the paint still fresh on its newly added decals; the snarling K’ran’s head and the Eyotalian Eagle. It was technologically far beyond anything he had flown before; fast, powerful and so very responsive.
Calls came in from his wingmen, verifying their status and position and in one tight formation they surged towards their unknown enemy.
Plasma shot skywards, yet no hit was scored; the beast’s size belied its agility. It had fed now, the gamble to consume its only known food source taken, and it was angry, so very angry.
It had taken time to beat its way upwards, to gain the height it needed to increase its maneuverability, but now it was here. Folding its wings against its body it plummeted down, its speed increasing rapidly. When it almost looked as though it was about to crash into the ground below, its wings opened with an audible crack, the resultant stress on its body tremendous.
The change of direction was sudden, it planed horizontally above its still firing enemies and opened its huge jaws. Out from its cavernous mouth came a jet of dark green liquid, expelled with such a force that its impact on the first of the metallic creatures, sent it tumbling. That however, was not the only effect.
Wherever the fluid touched metal boiled away, its corrosive force irresistible. Drops spattering out from the impacted creature burned their way through another’s limbs, causing two of the spindly appendages to snap and the creature to crumple to the floor. The spider-like construct frantically tried to scrabble its way upright, yet only managed to turn in a jerky circular motion. Its misery did not last very long, as on its next pass the beast destroyed it.
Under attack, the metallic creatures adapted, their close formation splitting apart, and once more a barrage of high energy soared upwards. One round burnt through the membrane of the beast’s left wing, destabilising its flight, the strain of its evasive tactics finally taking its toll. Bones splintered under the extreme stress, collapsing one gigantic limb and sending the beast crashing to earth.
As the beast tumbled, it smashed its way through the city, demolishing buildings with the sheer force of its momentum. At last it lay still, unmoving and the creatures skittered their way towards it tentatively. One huge eye opened, teeth snapped and more of its enemies fell. Again they moved back and once more bombarded the beast from distance.
This time it was no use, there were simply too many of them and it had no more strength. Its remaining wing flapped feebly, corrosive liquid dribbled from its mouth burning into the ground where it fell, and with a gigantic shudder, the beast died.
The creatures stayed for a time, as though waiting to see if it was truly dead, then as one they turned towards the now unprotected tower.
Guest post with D.P. Prior
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