Dark Hunter's resolution.
Chapter 31: Colony of Fear part 2, sanctuary lost.
11th January 2902, early morning.
Fetal'ra system, Planet Ras'hana, Underground river cavern.
Fear drove them along the river tunnels, no longer bothering to avoid the shallow water, their footfalls splashing and echoing in their flight.
The flickering blackness around the lighted caverns through which they fled, and the rumble of death pursuing them with predatory intent, was all that the five Ral'craz escapees knew.
Coming to a 10 foot ledge, over which the river cascaded down another level, they leapt down, the impact from the 1.5 G gravity jarring their legs more than what any of them were accustomed to. Moko'tel stumbled on landing, his legs weakened from the burns he sustained from the collapsed, burning tree branch falling on his legs and head. Alex, trailing behind, gripped the Predator on the shoulder and hoisted him up, prompting him to run again.
"They're in the tunnel ahead!" Yelled Je'rol, coming back from one route ahead. Looking around, Alex knew that only daylight would save them. He saw the river itself, flowing into a long tunnel, darkened and seemingly endless, the rumble of the faster water echoing through.
"The river's current can take us! It always flows outside! All of you, go first, I'll follow!" Alex croaked, just loud enough to be heard in the cavern. Not seeing any other alternative, Je'rol leapt in first, the water itself only 3 feet deep. The Sril'sask let himself float, and paddled to slow down himself as Kae'tano leapt in to join him, followed by Razid.
Alex leapt in, gripping Moko'tel's frame to ensure he stayed with them. Hitting the riverbed, Alex let himself float, lying face up on the river. As he looked back, he saw the creatures swarm the small cavern they had come from, one of the bodyguard Ta'rikei's pursuing them murderously.
The river flowed into a tunnel 3 metres wide and 4 metres deep, and sloped down for a significant current. Moko'tel and Kae'tano held the torches, doing their best to keep the flames above the water.
Among the loudly flowing water, screeches were heard, as 2 soldier Ta'rikei perched on the ceiling above the river, claws outstretched, beaks clicked hungrily.
Panicking, Razid slashed the ripped mandible he held out, taken from a dead soldier Ta'rikei. The perched soldier Ta'rikei recoiled in pain, as a cut was made in the side of its head.
As the other soldier Ta'rikei made to attack Razid, helpless in the current, Je'rol raised his club, a ripped off soldier Ta'rikei leg, upwards. The soldier Ta'rikei screeched as it lost its footing, falling into the river with them. Behind them, Kae'tano swam towards the creature, pulling it down underwater, its body scraping along the river bed as they flowed down the tunnels.
Meanwhile, the first soldier Ta'rikei stretched out its mandibles, eager to slash Moko'tel as he lay in the water, unable to swim, kept afloat by Alex. It screeched in what seemed like glee.
Alex's salvaged mandible blade caught it in the open mouth, puncturing the gums between the open beak segments and mandibles, and its screeches became ones of pain, and then of panic as it fell into the river with them.
Splashing and thrashing, the creature's panicked motions knocked Moko'tel back in the water, the torch flying from his hand, and extinguishing as it fell into the river, lost forever. As it struggled, the Ta'rikei felt a cold blade puncture the top of its head, as Alex gave a croaking cry of anger, his dark matter blade piercing the creature's head.
The creature continued to thrash, heavily wounded though, as its brain was actually in its torso. Alex stabbed maniacally, still attacking the head, until the Ta'rikei only began twitching in the water from the cuts and blood loss.
Behind him, as Moko'tel watched the creature's death, he found himself grateful, but said nothing for now, as the tunnel continued to twist and turn in the dark, the torch gone now, and the tunnel only lit by the dim light of Kae'tano's torch ahead.
Alex pulled Moko'tel, more hacking coughs leaving his throat, swimming with the current to catch Kae'tano, Razid and Je'rol, the holders of the last torch, and the sought kills of the second Ta'rikei.
Ahead, Kae'tano held the creature underwater, as Je'rol and Razid stabbed and hacked at its head and thorax, the creature's struggles finally dying. At last, it shuddered as Razid's blade made one last stab into its torso, letting loose enough blood to effectively kill it.
Panting, the three saw Alex and Moko'tel approaching in what torchlight they had from Kae'tano, who had somehow kept it dry as he held the creature's head under.
The tunnel twisted, and at the tunnel's narrowing, they were hurled into rocks and boulders in the water, only strong enough to bruise, as they actually used the dead Ta'rikei soldiers as rafts of sort.
Finally, they emerged into a small underground lake, spat out over a small, wide waterfall, and at long last, as the current gently carried them further along the body of water, daylight.
The five saw the underground lake leave the mountain, through a mouth of sorts, until it met with a large body of water ahead, presumably a lake of some sort. They rode the Ta'rikei soldier bodies on the small river, finally exiting the mountain's underworld.
Not wanting to get drawn out into the lake, they paddled to the river banks, and quickly climbed out, soaked to the marrow and cold, hungry, tired, stained with Ta'rikei resin and still slightly suffering from the plant burns earlier in their escape. They were harmed, but they had escaped, and there was no sign of any trouble from the guards.
As quickly as they got out though, it was as Razid exited the water that something erupted from behind him. A beaked mouth with mandibles, clicking hungrily, screeching like metal grinding together.
Trying to dodge, the mandibles deeply scratched the Arabic man's arm, and knocked him into the water. In panic, the others backed off, as the lone Bodyguard Ta'rikei lunged at them.
Sensing easy prey, it began to turn back into the water for Razid, now beginning to flow with the current.
Alex reacted quickly, and leapt at the creature, taking a swipe at its head with his mandible blade as he grabbed its head.
The creature hissed, and whipped its head around, and took Alex's right arm into its mouth, its beak reaching up to near the shoulder. The mandibles flailed as it tried to pull Alex in with it, to swim back to the hive, but the human held on long enough to act, fighting back the pain of nearly having his arm wrenched out of its socket.
A dark matter blade suddenly stuck up through the roof of the Ta'rikei bodyguard's head, extended from the same arm it tried to eat. The 4 metre tall and 6 metre long beast gave a screeching bellow as a creature, large for its own race but a fraction of its weight, inflicted a near mortal wound on it.
With a great roar, Alex grabbed the jaw of the Ta'rikei bodyguard, wrenching his blade arm out, and hacked at its beak and mouth joints. With them weakened, he used his cybernetic limbs to their maximum, and pulled. With a wet ripping, the beak sides and bottom jaw were ripped off, blood seeming to explode from the creature's head.
The Ta'rikei began to fall into the river, its cries now spluttering, drowning in its agony and pooling blood. Alex leapt out, and croaked back, his breath ragged and scratchy from his acid injured windpipe: "Get Razid!"
Nodding, Moko'tel waded into the water, not having to actually swim to catch Razid. He grabbed the human, pulling the man in as he began to splutter water from his recovery. Razid was pulled out, and they all watched silently as the Ta'rikei slowly floated out to the lake, drifting along the current of the river to the open lake.
Behind them, the mountain ridge beckoned, stretching 3000 feet upwards. The river they had just left housed too many possible dangers from their escape.
No one lingered at the riverside, and just seconds after the Ta'rikei bodyguard's death, they were already marching up the mountain side.
Fetal'ra system, Planet Ras'hana, Ette'rek mountains, mountain ridge.
"We'll rest here for the night. The trees can provide cover." Said Alex.
Exhausted, Je'rol asked sceptically: "What about the plant life? It's already given me scars today."
Coughing from his scarred throat and vocal chords, Ales couldn't answer. Moko'tel said: "No, the trees here look normal, and we're on a slope, far from the water. That's where the carnivorous plants will be, near water, where the animals are."
Not seeing a fault in the answer, Je'rol sat down roughly, as Razid asked from his sitting position atop a rock: "What now? We're safe, they probably think we're dead, but we don't have a way off this damned planet."
"Look down the mountain side, the one we didn't come out of." Moko'tel said. All five looked, and saw a sight that caused great relief for them all.
On the mountain's west side, the colony of Ral'craz lay, its lights beginning to shine in the darkening sky, with one sun already disappearing over the horizon, the other slightly higher in the sky. 10 miles beyond, further down in the valley, the lights of the Ral'craz prison guard towers shone.
"This is where you come in Kae'tano. You can sneak into the city, disguised, and contact a series of frequencies that we know of. I say you, as you are the only Alliance race member here."
Alex nodded, and croaked out: "I'll tag along, cloaked, and will keep some dark matter on you to better disguise you."
Moko'tel elaborated to Kae'tano, seeing Alex beginning to suffer from talking through his injured windpipe again once again: "You'll need to hack a public communications terminal, which Alex can do, and you punch in the frequencies. To avoid getting caught, you should try multiple terminals, different for each frequency. Make the calls each day, and we wait here."
Nobody spoke, while Kae'tano looked down at the colony, commenting without much enthusiasm: "I suppose there is not much else we can do."
14th January 2902, late morning.
Fetal'ra system, Planet Ras'hana, Ral'craz colony
The centre of the colony was busy as usual, and with the twin suns high in the sky, scattered clouds patterning the sky, life continued as usual.
A young Kro'nogri female passed a box of food spices over the counter, an elderly male Kro'nogri, who muttered a few words of thanks before leaving the shop. Seeing the small lines at the retail service computers, she knew that she would have more orders.
Her job was mundane, consisting of collecting items from the back rooms after the orders were input and paid for through the retail service computers. Today was a quieter day though, and she could afford a few brief instances to gaze out the shop's window, looking out at the colony plaza outside.
Pedestrians walked with their purchases, some assisted by semi intelligent robots, while one that walked by was a robot, likely a more intelligent servant unit. On the street, a few trucks wheeled by on their tracks, their hydrogen powered electric motors noiselessly driving their loads to their destination.
She briefly noticed one truck marked with the logo of the Ral'craz prison facility, and her thoughts wandered to the incident 3 days before. There had been a local news report of another escape attempt by a group of prisoners en masse, resulting in a fire in one small part of the rainforest between the colony and the city. The 5 more successful escapees had been blocked, and took the route through the mines.
Thankfully, a spy robot had been sent down, tracking the footprints, and confirmed that they had been taken by a Ta'rikei attack, and were presumed dead. No one ever had escaped those creatures.
Hearing another order request from the overhead speakers, she turned to head into the backroom.
Had she looked for a second longer, she would have noticed a Kro'nogri, face slightly covered in a sun protecting shawl, and arms with pale green and yellow scales, wander past briskly. Even if her eyes had lingered on him, they likely would have never spotted the faintest shimmer of light behind him, as a cloaked, cyborg enhanced human, with a scarred body and scarred throat and voice to now match, following close behind, alert for any potential threats to him or Kae'tano.
"Last one, then we head up for the day." Muttered Alex into Kae'tano's ear hole.
Acknowledging, Kae'tano stepped back as Alex got to work, carefully unlocking the computer circuitry box of the communications terminal.
Getting to work, Alex used a basic hacking code, siphoning through the basic security codes with bypass encryptions and disabling them, and installing a basic worm in the system that would go unnoticed. Now they could dial a frequency in for free, and the origin of the call would be scrambled within the local network, lost to random code dissolution.
Stepping back, Alex let Kae'tano input a message, pre-recorded onto the first terminal they hacked and copied, into the frequencies they needed. It covered their location and situation, but did not mention being Ral'craz escapees, as for some of the frequencies, they would assume that with the call.
One of the frequencies was Konurich station, as news had been heard by them that the Decepticons, led by Shockwave, had seized control of it as a stronghold, but not much else. Alex had high hopes for at least an acknowledgement from them.
Other frequencies were sent to Underworld Guild branches that Kae'tano once associated with at a higher level, promising reparation from the NKI for their rescue. The same went for some of Kae'tano's mercenary band, though hopes for a response from them were lowest.
16th January 2902, midday.
Fetal'ra system, Planet Ras'hana, Ral'craz colony
"Acknowledged J230, departure flight course approved. Expected at Ral'craz depot bay 3 for resupply and refuel before departure. Have a good day."
"J230 instructions clear, done." The female Leg'hrul pilot ended communications there, programming the autopilot to make the course for the departure flight. The freighter shuttle streaked down into the atmosphere, mist trailing off it as it rapidly approached the colony.
Looking out the viewport, the pilot eyed the mountain's east face, thinking to herself as to what her employers could want her to land there for.
But she was just the pilot, and a well paid one too. The Underworld Guild had offered her a handsome sum for her service, asked with picking up a 'deposited' cargo on the east mountain face, under the guise of 'scenic tourists', wanting to head straight out to their next system.
The colony came up, and the pilot swung the shuttle into an approach path, the craft coming to a hover and landing on the platform, fuel and cleaning drones rushing to the craft once its engines shut down.
Behind her, the 4 passengers disembarked, a Kro'nogri female, older, stern and scarred slightly, flanked by 3 younger males, 2 Kro'nogri and 1 Leg'hrul. She was known as I'rilk, a high ranking crime lord in the Underworld Guild.
But the pilot was not paid to know that, so she kept quiet.
Outside, arrangements were made, as the bodyguards went into the colony to fetch basic supplies.
I'rilk came into the cockpit, and merely said: "2 hours, then we fly to the east side of the peak on these directions." She handed the pilot a datapad, with a set of coordinates pointing to an eastern mountain face near the colony.
Looking, the pilot was nervous, and the female Leg'hrul looked away from I'rilk quickly, afraid of the Kro'nogri woman. The crime lord disappeared into the back of the shuttle, and the pilot continued to work, shaking off the nervousness of the situation.
Fetal'ra system, Planet Ras'hana, Ette'rek mountains, east ridge.
Sitting on a rock, Alex carefully ate the grass Moko'tel had found, safely edible, though not useful in Je'rol and Kae'tano's case. The Sril'sask had killed a small mammal, the size of a small pig, and had skinned its furry hide and was eating it raw. Kae'tano had been adverse to the meal, but had peeled of both legs for himself.
Razid flexed his shoulder, stiff from the dressing on his arm wounds where the bodyguard Ta'rikei had scraped its jaws by the river, knocking him in. Looking over to the other human, he offered some consolation:
"That acid will have altered you're voice. If you relieve the pain, it may work to disguise you."
Leering at the Arabic man, Alex made to retort, but he didn't, not wanting to aggravate his throat further. Sitting back, the cyborg human realized that Razid made a valid point, though how a changed voice would help was beyond him.
Moko'tel came out of the clearing, sitting down near to Alex, splintering a stick into a sharp point as a weapon.
"I want to thank you again for helping me in the tunnel, for helping all of us in that place. You could have escaped on your own, but you came for us. Why?" Moko'tel asked, curious
Coughing, Alex said briefly: "You I needed for your intellect, Je'rol is what I could have been if I never escaped the gladiators, Kae'tano was needed to escape safely, and Razid was the first friendly face in that prison."
Frowning, Moko'tel asked: "Is that all?"
"No, you all were victims of Varya, and that prison was impossible to escape from alone."
Realizing the point, Razid said: "I see, we would never have escaped without you, yet you would have failed without us."
Alex nodded, coughing again. Moko'tel looked over at Kae'tano, noting: "We aren't going anywhere until his messages are received."
2 hours later, evening, sunset.
"Wake up." Je'rol whispered loudly, himself and Razid awake for the watch.
Alex groggily sat up, a source of light in the corner of his vision. In realization, he turned, and shot to his feet, Ta'rikei mandible in hand. Beside him Kae'tano was on guard, mandible in hand also, as was Moko'tel.
In front, a middle aged Kro'nogri female marched out, flanked by 2 male Kro'nogri and one male Leg'hrul. Without flinching at the sight of all five dishevelled, starving members in prison rags, she asked:
"A group of repeated messages called about 5 Ral'craz escapees wanting a ride, one of them a leading NKI officer, to be delivered to NKI high command for a sizable fee. Is that you?"
Kae'tano came forwards, saying cautiously: "That's us. We snuck into the colony, sent those messages and hid here. We have Alex Hunter with us, over there."
I'rilk looked over at the cyborg human, noting the scarred condition of his body, more so than usual, and his rasping, gravely voice: "Who are you?"
"I'rilk, a leading Underworld Guild lord, and my branch is a good funder of the NKI. I met Kirth when he was starting it, and his scheme had brought me more open places for business, so I help him. End of story."
Looking around, she gestured to the shuttle behind them, lights dimmed as it was hidden in an area of denser foliage a few dozen metres below on the east slope.
"Your flight out of here, get aboard now. And any trouble in flight, and I'll vent you out the airlock."
Soon enough, the five were aboard the shuttle, rocketing out of the atmosphere, not wasting any time in jumping to FTL.
In the passenger room, Alex asked in a croaking voice, his pain dulled by a non drowsy anaesthetic to his throat: "Where are you taking us?"
"Konurich station. The NKI took it, with a Decepticon army. Their leader Shockwave offered us a few crates of cybertronian weapons and technology for your safe delivery to him." I'rilk said, not paying the escapees any heed, consulting her messages on her wrist holo-computer.
Alex was relieved now, he was finally out, after 3 months since he awoke in Ral'craz prison. Then, thoughts of the events before he awoke came back, the bridge of the Dawnbreaker.
"What happened to Sha'krii Herensk?"
"She was captured, they showed it on the news, but they won't say where she was taken. The likelihood is a high security prison. It's really disheartened the NKI, the Decepticons are really the only branch in full swing, and they seem to be in it for their own agenda of glory as well as the NKI."
Satisfied, Alex turned back, and saw the other 4 on the seats near him. Je'rol said:
"I say we just make it up as we go for a brief period of time, or at least once we get to the station."
"Agreed, we'll asses the facts, then make out moves then." Alex said.
Outside, the shuttle flew through FTL, bound for the Alliance's capital station, their next stop for safety.
17th January 2902, Solaris system, New Earth orbit.
The remnants of a communications satellite glinted in the sunlight, as the Alliance flotilla orbited above the planet, geosynchronous above the coast of a vast continent, drawn as being to the east by the planet's native humans.
But the target of the flotilla was a few thousand miles further east, an array of small volcanic islands in the largest ocean on the planet.
Resistance from the rogue KI autonomous defence satellites had been small, and scanners detected a pair of destroyers and a cruiser inbound, the cruiser named the Subjugator.
On the bridge of the Alliance battleship, the Leg'hrul female sneered down at the distant island chain, knowing that today a branch of the NKI would be crippled, probably for good.
4 weeks earlier, Tarihhis, military council boardroom.
The meeting had been brief and to the point.
The Dreadnought attacks were still effective, but now the UIP fleets had mobilized heavily, making the progress of these attacks slow. The Dreadnoughts themselves were still suffering little loss, only one having been heavily damaged since New Cybertron, still leaving 5 in operation, with plans already underway to repair the damaged vessel. No plans were in place to manufacture more dreadnoughts, but maintaining such an effective weapon was a high priority.
Such a matter, and the spin off consequences, was the subject of debate of this meeting.
While effective and all powerful, the Dreadnoughts raids often came at significant cost to the escort flotilla needed with each one, with many ships lost or written off in each battle increasingly. With the slowing in progress, the option was put forward to hold back the Dreadnoughts for home defence, defending industrial sectors until conventional forces had been repaired, rearmed and increased.
At a minor majority, the decision was made to postpone Dreadnought attacks on UIP centres until their forces were repaired and rejuvenated, and only suppression raids on UIP frontier systems would be the main forays. Outposts, patrols and minor colonies, not much more.
Though the issue of the NKI came to an interesting conclusion.
Admiral Kal'sik, present by hologram, conferred with the leading military commanders, namely Kro'nogri Councilman Veleran, a holographic Leg'hrul Councilwoman Dae'karya, and a handful of other admirals and generals, all the Leg'hrul present by hologram. This was not a meeting that required the presence of the monarchs, as none of the plans called for large scale action on the scale of an invasion or a Dreadnought raid.
Kal'sik had risen in the ranks by his success, not just with the Dreadnoughts, but in tactics concerning suppressing the NKI for long term following their extreme moral blow of New Cybertron, where their political head Sha'krii, a high officer Alex Hunter, and their flagship the Dawnbreaker, were lost.
It was a former protégé of Kal'sik's that argued the case for this new plan. A battle hardened female Leg'hrul, and a decorated Alliance fleet Admiral. She was known for her strategic brilliance, planning every attack carefully, though she was a specialist in smaller scale operations, namely hit and run attacks, whittling down defences before going in with her own forces, or letting reinforcements take over.
Unlike Kal'sik, she had not suffered setbacks, likely a result of her not being as frontally active, therefore less risk of failure. Because of this, she was now only one rank below Kal'sik, having quickly risen in the ranks for her age of only 33.
Indeed, Ke'ranes was not one to take unnecessary risks, nor present a plan that would have any significant degree of not fully succeeding.
"What of the NKI Dreadnought? Surely they might be using this system as a fuel or service base with the supposed resources available on that world?" Councilman Veleran asked. Kal'sik intervened at this point, as he specialized in all things to do with Dreadnoughts:
"It is likely that they once did, however the system is known to us, the NKI wouldn't risk it. Besides, they are using Konurich station as its service port right now, though it is still heavily armed, a reason why we will not make any plans for a full assault until at least a few months from now."
"Of course Kal'sik, we aren't foolish enough to launch an attack on that station, not with an active Dreadnought, and a stronghold with a fortified, more advanced race, even if they are less in number." Commented Councilwoman Dae'karya.
"That is why I will lead a small flotilla of ships, a standard attack fleet, against the planet. Sources show that is where the KI remnant fleet is based, though it may still be depleted from it outsourcing a large amount of forces to the NKI groups across our territory and the UIP." Said Admiral Ke'ranes.
"But a Battleship? And only 4 destroyers? With our need to strengthen our border systems, surely they could be better used?" Asked Kal'sik. Beside him, numerous Kro'nogri officers debated, the opinion split.
"If they can support a Battleship, cruisers and destroyers themselves with that base, then I insist that a Battleship of my own is needed. Though this is not an invasion, this is an attack. I don't intend on using ground forces. As long as the rough area of the target base if found, I will be able to destroy it from orbit. Besides, their fleet will be semi devoted to defending the Dreadnought the NKI now has."
A while passed, until Councilman and Councilwman agreed. Councilman Veleran spoke: "Very well Admiral Ke'ranes, you may have the ships and forces you need. If this works, an old branch of the NKI shall be cut off permanently."
"It will work sir, for which I have you to thank Kal'sik. You removed Alex Hunter from the equation, which removed their head in that branch. It seems that your loyalty and devotion to the Alliance, and its outcomes, are helpful in more ways than thought at the time of their happening."
Kal'sik allowed himself a small grin of pride. As his former protégé, Ke'ranes had been loyal to him, albeit questioning him at times, never truly as loyal to a cause or leader as he was. In hindsight, this was impossible, for Kal'sik was legendary for his dogmatic loyalty to the Alliance monarchs, though naturally the Kro'nogri more so.
He was concerned though, as Ke'ranes had always been more forward in her approach to tactics, believing the best form of attack was attack. While it worked in her case, she didn't stop to steel herself like Kal'sik often did, and she butted heads with him now over strategic matters, to the annoyance of each other.
In this instance, Kal'sik wasn't in the mood to clean up more of the human's mess. He was glad to be able to step back and let someone else do the dirty work for a change, while he concentrated on home system defence.
Present, 17th January 2902, Solaris system, New Earth orbit.
Checking the maps, Ke'ranes saw the traced lines of comms signals from the destroyed satellite network. While the systems had built in scramblers to activate on destruction or hacking, they had managed to trace the transmissions to a chain of many islands.
The plan was now to simply bombard each and every island into craters. Simple, efficient, and effective.
Ahead, the 2 forward Alliance destroyers fired a volley of missiles and laser fire towards the incoming rogue KI cruiser and 2 destroyers thousands of miles away.
The long hidden Solaris base would be revealed, and destroyed, today.
Another chapter done, the story will be picking up the pace from here on in.
Please read and/or review with honesty.