When the aleks ame
hapter Two – High Orbit
Stephens, in those last few seconds as their Interceptor broke out of Karbala Minor’s atmosphere, felt his body being firmly pushed back into his seat. In the same few moments he felt his stomach being pushed up through his throat – he could physically taste the last two meals he had eaten. Some people enjoyed that moment of breaking through the atmosphere, said it was exciting; some people were nonchalant about it, like North the other crewmember of their Interceptor; he was one of those people who hated it. He always let the Interceptor’s computer pilot it out of the atmosphere.
Then it was over, they were free of the atmosphere, and he felt his body rise a few millimetres within his seat harness. They were finally in zero gravity (the Interceptor class ships were too small for artificial gravity). He opened his eyes and quickly took back the pilot controls, setting the computer back to controlling Interceptor’s systems.
“Stephens? Stephens? Are you there?” North’s voice sounded in his ears. He glanced down at the monitor, at his right-hand side, and saw North’s face staring back at him (The Interceptor’s two person crew were seated in two separate and unconnected cabins – the theory being that at least one of them would survive a direct strike, but in reality it just made things more awkward).
“Yes, I’m fine,” he replied – speaking into the microphone in the front of his suit’s helmet.
“Not passed out or thrown up?” North said, half joking and half patronising.
“I said, I’m fine.”
“Good. I’ve got the upload of the co-ordinates.”
“So where are these ‘alien ships’ now?” He asked.
“On the far side of Karbala Seven, almost on the rim of our solar system.”
“Okay, Karbala Seven here we come.”
For the next three hours, the Interceptor raced towards the edge of their solar system. Karbala Seven was hardly more than a large moon, it had no atmosphere of its own, but it was in its own orbit around their sun. All there was at Karbala Seven was an interstellar relay station and a deep space observatory. Stephens had never visited it, never been that far out through their solar system. Mostly he would fly out to Karbala Four, to escort the star-liners past Karbala Major and into orbit around Karbala Minor. Occasionally they would intercept unknown spacecraft that entered their solar system – but these were always planet-hoppers or plantitary scout ships that had no flight plan. Now, for the first time he knew of, they were flying out to intercept unknown and alien spaceships.
As they rushed past Karbala Major’s moon, with their usual traffic of spacecraft shuttling between the moons, a woman’s voice broke into the silence of his helmet – it took him a moment to realise she was calling from the military base on Karbala Four.
“Interceptor ship CAS 12, come-in. Interceptor ship CAS 12, come in. This is the communications centre at Fort Shindler, Karbala Four. Come in”
“This is Interceptor CAS 12, pilot Stephens speaking,” he replied to her. “Go ahead.”
“We have a report for you about the alien ships beyond Karbala Seven. They have overrun Karbala Seven and captured it.”
“Are you sure of this?” He asked her.
“They have killed all the observatory staff. They have now passed Karbala Seven and are heading directly for Karbala Major. I am transmitting their new co-ordinates directly to your ship’s computer.”
He didn’t reply for a moment, his eyes watching the monitor until the co-ordinates had fully downloaded (Her words had left a sharp taste in his mouth) – then he said:
“Thank you Fort Shindler,” he then broke the communication.
Quickly he made the course adjustments, causing the Interceptor to bank around and begin to pass Karbala Major in a high orbit – skimming the edge of Karbala Major’s gravity field, higher than most of the moons. Once he had their new course locked in North’s voice filled his ears.
“So they have moved into our solar system?”
“Yes,” he replied to North but only half-heartedly.
“They call themselves Daleks,” North added. “Annie in surveillance told me that. She likes me, Annie does.”
“She told me as well, she’s a gossip,” he flatly replied.
“Well, Annie told me that the Daleks had landed two shuttle crafts on Karbala Minor, both in remote farming communities, but all the Daleks were destroyed.”
“Collins told me that when he briefed me.”
“Oh, right,” disappointment resounded in North’s voice.
“Collins also told me that those Daleks were defeated by sheer force of numbers, but not before they killed a large number of people. They are only scouting ships, to see how we would fight back. They were expendable. We’re going to intercept the main invasion fleet.”
“Why didn’t Collins tell me this?” Annoyance now filled his voice. North was so transparent, Stephens thought, never trying to hide the way he felt about anything.
“I don’t know, you know what Collins is like,” he replied.
“But what’s the good of us, in a two-person Interceptor, going out to meet a whole invasion fleet?”
“We’re not to attack them, we’re just on a recognisance mission. Record as much data as we can and then get back, as quickly as possible. Fort Shindler is already preparing to attack them.”
“Sounds easy,” North said sarcastically.
“This is our job, just shut up,” he snapped back at North.
“Sorry,” North mumbled.
“Now warm-up the plasma cannon because we might run into some trouble.”
“Yes,” North quietly replied.
The last part of their journey they carried out in silence. He concentrated on piloting the Interceptor – not that there was much to do – yet out of the corner of his eye, in the monitor screen, he saw North busying himself too. On his forward scanner he could see that Dalek fleet, though only the large ships, he couldn’t make out many details. The moons of Karbala Major were interfering with the Interceptor’s scanners.
It was not until they cleared Karbala Major’s outermost moon, Sophie, that he was finally able to see that Daleks fleet. Suddenly, and simultaneously, the front of his cockpit and the display screens before him were filled with Dalek ships. The main battleships were huge, they seemed the size of whole cities, round disks that spun slowly around as they cut their way through space. They were silver-grey in colour, round and smooth in shape, looking for the entire world like the historical myth of flying saucers. The electromagnetic field scanners, of his Interceptor, were going crazy, displaying readings impossible for the position in space they were in (Stephens’ mind was too occupied with the scene before his eyes to realise the ships were using a magnetic field as a power source). The battleships were moving, surprisingly fast for ships so large in a planetary system, in an obvious attack formation. Between the battleships he could see smaller crafts, moving to and fro. The scanners told him that they were herds of tiny vessels moving in close formation around the battleships. All in all it was an impossible sight and yet very terrifying sight before him – Stephens had never seen a battle fleet before, never been in battle himself (only simulation after simulation after simulation).
Staring at the Dalek fleet Stephens felt all the warmth and energy being sucked out of his body, being rapidly replaced with cold and colourless fear. His mouth was dry, painfully dry, and his eyes unblinking. Terror was gripping his stomach and twisting it, and twisting it, and twisting it.
“Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!” North’s voice sounded around his ears.
“Shut-up and do your job!” Stephens snapped back, using a sharp tone to hide the fear dogging at his own words.
“Yes, sorry,” mumbled North.
Stephens then turned his attention back to the Interceptor monitors, at the flood of information pouring into the ship’s computers. The scanners were collecting information on the Daleks’ ships’ armaments, power-sources, size, number, speed and direction. The scanners were detecting what these ships were made of, the energy signatures they were radiating, and force fields surrounded them. The data he saw dancing across the ship’s monitors was priceless, worth it’s waiting in gold. He knew, once Fort Shindler and Command on Karbala Minor got their hands on it they would be able to find cracks in the Daleks’ armour, find ways to attack and defeat those Daleks. He did not dare broadcasts this information in case it betrayed his position and alerted the Daleks to him, so he would have to return as soon as possible once all his precious cargo was downloaded.
He was still awash with fear at the sight of that battle fleet before him, but there was a glimmer of hope. With all this data he had they now had a chance to defeat those Daleks. The proximity alarm and North’s voice sounded in his ears simultaneously.
“Oh God, oh God they’re coming for us!” Screamed North into his ears.
The proximity alarm flashed across the monitors, warning that there were a large number of the smallest Dalek crafts heading straight for them.
“Shut-up and start shooting!” He shouted at North. “I’m going to get us out of here.”
He quickly tried to alter their course, to fly the Interceptor closer to the main moons. He fired the directional boosters, beginning to change the Interceptor’s vector. At the same time there were three, solid shudders to the ship – signalling that North was firing the plasma cannon. He glanced out of the starboard window of his cockpit and saw three plasma bolts, fanning out, racing away from the Interceptor and then three explosions as the bolts all stuck home – three of those small Dalek crafts destroyed.
“Well done,” he told North.
“Thanks, but there’s hundreds of those bastards heading towards us.”
“Then get firing!”
Stephens carried out his rapid course changes; directional booster after directional booster firing while repeatedly the Interceptor shuddered with the energy bolts North was firing. He didn’t look out of his starboard window now, didn’t listen for the shouts from North as his shots hit home. He was too busy with course changes. They were in an extremely high orbit, only the smallest of Karbala Major’s moons near them that offered any protection, and he was afraid they didn’t have enough time to reach the safety of the larger moons. He was having to turn the Interceptor in a very wide arc, so is not to lose any of their precious velocity, and he was afraid the Daleks would reach them before that acre was achieved. Suddenly his palms were very sweaty as his hand moved over the controls.
Then the whole Interceptor shock, a violent jolt that physically throw his body against his seat’s harness and snapping his head back and forth. A fraction of a second later North’s voice screamed around his helmet:
“Shit, they’ve hit us! They’ve hit us! Shit!”
Stephens pushed his body back into his seat and shouted back at North:
“Shut-up and keep firing!”
“They’ve hit us!”
“Just bloody do it!”
He switched Interceptor’s computer onto audio, leaving his cockpit’s monitors displaying their course and orientation. The computer’s soft, synthetic voice replaced North’s panicked tone inside his helmet.
“We have received a direct hit to the starboard tail fin,” the computer told him. “We have lost all stern directional boosters and stern monitors. We have lost twenty percent of our forward velocity and our course has been changed by 12 points.”
“How does that affect us entering Karbala Major’s orbit?” He asked the computer.
“We are on a direct coalition course with Moon Rosemary.”
“How effective our are directional boosters?”
“Without the stern boosters it would cause us only to spin on our axis, we would still collide with Moon Rosemary,” the computer told him.
“If I find the main engines, a fall energy burst, now?” He asked.
“We would fly past Moon Rosemary and by, at most, five points.”
“Do it now,” he almost shouted at the computer, the adrenalin pounding through his mind. “Fire engines in five, four, three…”
“They hit us! Shit, they’re actually on top of us!” North’s voice interrupted him.
“North!…” Before he could say anything else the whole Interceptor violently shook again, and again, and again. It felt as if a giant hand was throwing his whole world around.
“They’ve hit us! My cannon isn’t working and they’ve hit us!” North’s voice screamed in his helmet.
“Main engines firing now,” the computers voice told him.
“Wait!” He shouted but that fraction of a second too late.
A low and steady vibration rumbled through the Interceptor as its main engines fired. He felt a surge of velocity and a moment later the whole ship shook again, with more violence then before, the giant hand now smashing down onto them. Instinctively he closed his eyes.
For those few seconds he had his eyes closed it seemed like he’d entered hell. North’s voice, shrill with panic, screamed into his ears; every alarm that it seemed the Interceptor had sounded off in a wall of noise; his body was thrown around in his seat’s harness, with bone jarring pain. Then there was a silence. A terrible silence.
Stephens opened his eyes and found the world outside his cockpit was racing past him in a wide acre– obviously the Interceptor was spinning around, tumbling over itself. Most of his monitors were blank; the ones that were showing anything were showing a jumbled garbage of figures.
“North? North?” He cried into his into his intercom, but the only answer he got was silence. “Computer? Computer?” He called next, into his intercom but was greeted by the same reply.
None of the Interceptor’s controls were responding. None of the directional boosters responded, the radio was silence and dead, the scanners and instruments were only telling him a string of useless garbage. Then he saw it. For a few seconds his whole cockpit window was filled with a grey mass, and then it was gone as the Interceptor carried on spinning, only again to be repeated a handful of seconds later. The Interceptor was tumbling, out of control, towards the Moon Rosemary and it was all happening much faster then he’d thought it would.
Frantically, he tried to regain control of the Interceptor. The frantically, he tried all Interceptor’s controls, searching for a system that was still working, searching for a way into the Interceptor’s flight controls, some way to gain control of the spinning cage the Interceptor had now become. Then it was all too late.
The whole of the cockpit window was full of the sight of the grey rocks of the surface of Rosemary. He was so close to the moon now that all he saw was the spinning surface of it. Nothing to be done now. Instinctively, without thinking, he draw his hands up in front of his face, bracing himself for impact, held his breath and closed his eyes. It took a few, agonisingly long; seconds for the Interceptor to reach the surface of Rosemary, as it silently tumbled through space. Then it struck the surface. The force of the impact seemed to thrown his body forward with a bone breaking force. His head was snapped forward and all breath and feeling forced out of his body faster than he could think. Then his world dissolved into a void of forces striking his body, everything spinning and twisting around him, movement throwing him back and forth, back and forth. All this within the silence of his space suit. When it finally stopped, when the movement and forces were no longer pushing and pulling at him, when everything came to a rest and stopped spinning, he was sure he was dead. That nightmare of pain and force, as the Interceptor struck the surface of Rosemary, had been his death and now he was dead. It seems so simple and yet very logical to him, now he was dead and no longer felt afraid.
When he, eventually, opened his eyes he was surprised to find himself still in the Interceptor’s cockpit, strapped into his seat’s harness, and even though the Interceptor was now lying on its side. Slowly, as his mind readjusted to the fact that he was still alive, he looked around the cockpit. The first thing he saw was the cockpit’s window or, to be more exact, the space where the window had been. The window was not cracked or broken, but was simply gone – an empty space in its place. Next, he saw that there was no power to his cockpit. All monitors were blank and dead, none of the lights or instruments had any power to them. He tried all the main controls; one after the other, but none of them had any power to them, none of them worked. Lastly he tried the ratio but now he did not expect it to work, without any power to anything else, and he was not disappointed.
Next, he set about climbing out of the cockpit. Carefully he undid his seat’s harness and then he tried to open the cockpit door, but without power it would not move. Eventually he gave in and decided to use the emergency, explosive bolts to blow the door open. Quickly he armed the bolts and then, with one solid pull of the handle, detonated them. A small shudder ran through the cockpit, tiny puffs of smoke slowly rose away from the door’s hinges and locks, and equally slowly the door fell away, leaving an empty space for him to climb out of.
Carefully, making sure he didn’t damage his space suit, Stephens climbed out of the Interceptor. Once he was free of the crippled craft he began to walk along its length to North’s cockpit. He walked slowly, each step he took placed carefully down on the ground, because of Rosemary’s very low gravity. Rosemary was one of the smallest moons of Karbala Major, uninhabited and he could probably walk right around its circumference in less than a day, yet it had still broken the back of the Interceptor. The Interceptor lay on its side, the force of the impact had almost bent it in two. Casual glances told him it would never fly again, or even leave this moon under its own power.
When he reached North’s cockpit he found that about half of the cockpit window was missing, leaving a strange half-dome hanging over it, and where the plasma cannon should have been, a few metres away, was just a black and scorched hole in the hull. Carefully he climbed the side of the Interceptor and looked into North’s cockpit. North was still strapped into his seat’s harness but his body was unmoving, his hands just rested in his lap. Stephens did not bother trying to open North’s cockpit, there was no point in even trying. The far side of North’s helmet was smashed wide open, his eyes were staring straight ahead of him, staring lifelessly out of dead face – his once golden skin was now grey and desiccated.
Stephens climbed back down to Rosemary’s surface, in silence. He was alone. North had been an annoyingly self-confidence, almost cocky, kid straight out of training. He had flown less than 20 times and this had been his first real mission. At times he had annoyed Stevens but this was no way for him to die – Stephens told himself. Once back on Rosemary’s surface he looked back at the broken Interceptor. The radio was dead, no power meant no distress beacon and no one knew he was here. There was no way off this moon. Inside that broken Interceptor, sealed away forever now in its data cells, was megabyte upon megabyte of priceless information on the Dalek fleet and he could do nothing about it.
He glanced down at the data pad and monitor on his suit’s arm, which displayed all the details of his space suit, and saw that he had just over two hours worth of air left in his suit. With no power left in the Interceptor there was no chance of him replacing his space suit’s air. He felt an overwhelming sense of frustration.
Story © 2005 Drew Payne.
Layout © 2005 Visagraph Films International.