Beyond the Black Part 9

Don’t remember where we left off? Don’t worry, catch up Here. Radley ached as he crawled through the vents under the Voyagers’ ship, dragging the sack of parts he’d scavenged from the service-bots’ debris pile.

Don’t remember where we left off? Don’t worry, catch up Here.


Radley ached as he crawled through the vents under the Voyagers’ ship, dragging the sack of parts he’d scavenged from the service-bots’ debris pile. The corridors would have been faster, and easier, but he couldn’t risk running into the Chryl.

He couldn’t take too long either. If the Chryl found something valuable enough, or just got fed up waiting, Hicklepeck and Pellina weren’t long for this or any other world.

Radley gritted his teeth and crawled faster.

His mental map of the tunnels proved accurate enough to deposit him just outside the control room where the rest of the hostages were. One of the Chryl blocked the doorway, making it impossible to see if the others were still inside.

Or alive.

Radley carefully backed down the vent until he came to a conduit that ran parallel to the corridor. He exited several meters farther down, just past a turn in the hallway.

It was as good a place to start as any.

He took a blocky robot head out of his sack and skidded it across the deck, away from the control room.

It scraped and clanked its way to a stop at another bend in the passage.

The Chryl guard made a guttural clicking as Radley ducked back into the vents and out of sight.

He crawled farther down the tunnel in the direction of his distraction.

Hopefully, it would draw the trooper out. He’d needed something to get the guard’s attention, but not so enticing that the trigger-happy Chryl decided Hicklepeck and Pellina had served their purpose.

And he needed to split them up.

Even with the element of surprise and a weapon of his own, any firefight around the hostages would end with at least one of them dead. The Chryl would make sure of that.

Radley stuck his head out of a vent on the far side of the corner where the robot head had stopped.

No sign of the Chryl following yet.

He took a piece that might have been a leg and banged three times against the bulkhead.

More words from the Chryl echoed down the corridor.

Radley banged twice more, then chucked the strut across the deck. He slipped back into the vent as heavy metal footsteps reverberated through the hall.

Finally.

He made two more lures, each progressively farther apart. All the while he wished he could’ve set traps first. But even if he had the time, there was no telling if the service-bots would have left them alone long enough to work.

His final stop was a vent on the outside corner of a sharp turn. The opening would be practically invisible from the direction the Chryl would come, even if they thought to look down. He tossed another scrap of metal down the hallway, then slid the vent panel most of the way closed.

He waited for the Chryl to catch up and checked over his rifle. The design wasn’t really suited for humans, but experience allowed him to work around it. He held the control chip he’d stolen from the dead Chryl against the stock, but there was no discernible difference.

Hopefully they hadn’t changed the protocol since the war ended.

Heavy Chryl footsteps drew Radley’s attention.

The Chryl trooper was cautious, peering around the corner carefully before advancing, weapon first.

But it never looked down at Radley.

He waited until it was about halfway through the corridor before sliding the vent open enough for a good aim.

The Chryl trooper stopped.

Radley froze.

It squatted down and ran one of its tentacles across the metal scrap.

Radley could still feel footsteps above him.

After a pair of agonizing heartbeats, the Chryl commander stepped into Radley’s view.

He cursed silently. He hadn’t given the Chryl enough credit. Hicklepeck and Pellina were no threat. Of course they would focus more on external dangers.

Radley knew he couldn’t take both Chryl before one of them sent a signal to the third. Then his friends would be dead.

He watched silently as the two Chryl continued on past his last lure. Their formation wasn’t just textbook Chryl, it was flawless. Radley guessed that at least the commander was a veteran of the war, maybe the whole squad.

But if they’re here….

Radley slid the vent closed, abandoned what was left of his sack, and booked it as fast he could crawl back to the control center.

There was no guard in the doorway.

Radley slipped out of the vent and took up a position to one side of the opening.

“Pellina, come look at this.” Hicklepeck’s excitement was palpable.

So they were still alive, but if the scientist had actually found something of value, that might change quickly.

No time to waste.

Taking a painful, deep breath, Radley leveled the Chryl rifle and slipped into the room.

Hicklepeck and Pellina stood by the displays on one side of the chamber, enamored with something they saw there. The Chryl guard loomed behind them, his tentacles poised to strike.

Radley struck first.

The Chryl rifle hummed, and the heat of the discharge radiated up Radley’s arms as energy arced from the weapon to the trooper. The guard spasmed for an instant before collapsing into a pile of sparking, smoking metal and ichor. The tentacles twitched for a few moments as their circuits fried from the power surge.

The smell of seared flesh filled Radley’s nostrils and he wished again that his pressure suit wasn’t breached.

The two scientists turned to him.

“What—?”

“How—?”

Radley didn’t think the Chryl had time to send a message out but that didn’t mean the others wouldn’t be headed back. “We need to get out of here. Now.”

Hicklepeck’s scales shifted to green. “But there’s so much data here, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface.”

“There are more displays where we’re going. And fewer Chryl. Now come on.” Radley stepped out into the hallway and checked for the other troopers.

No sign of them yet.

Hicklepeck and Pellina followed him. Their pressure suits were too bulky to go through the vents, even if they’d been willing.

Radley pointed down the corridor in the other direction. “Go that way, stay on this path for three intersections, then take a left. Wait there and stay quiet, I’ll catch up with you in a moment.”

After he was sure they would follow his instructions, Radley went back into the control room. He rolled what was left of the Chryl’s body over so he could pry the control chip out of its palm.

He didn’t need it, and it probably wouldn’t work after the surge, but he wanted the Chryl to know that he knew their weaknesses.

Radley set the fried chip, the spare rifle, and his helmet on a ledge by one of the displays, hopefully out of reach of the service-bots.

These Chryl troopers were disciplined. That kept soldiers alive. But the things most likely to break that discipline were fear and anger.

And lust, but that wasn’t an option.

Content with the scene he’d set, Radley hurried down the corridor to Hicklepeck and Pellina. He led them through the curving passages to the service-bots’ dumping ground.

Hicklepeck tried a couple of times to share some tidbit he’d learned, but Radley silenced him.

Not only were the Chryl undoubtedly searching for them, but he really didn’t care about the differences between the Voyagers’ and modern astrogation systems.

As they entered the compartment, Hicklepeck and Pellina lit up. They rushed to examine the central control panel and its robot guardian while Radley sealed the hatch as best he could.

“This is incredible.” Pellina’s boxy pressure suit loomed over the ancient automaton, which stared impassively back at her.

“Ah, the ship’s schematic.” Hicklepeck studied the display. “Convenient for us that this was pulled up.”

“Yeah, sure.” Radley didn’t want to get into a prolonged discussion. He still had two Chryl to take care of. “You stay here while I handle things.”

Hicklepeck and Pellina didn’t seem to notice.

“Hey!” He waited until they turned to face him. “Stay here and keep the door sealed. I’ll come back when it’s safe. In the meantime, I need you two thinking about how we’ll get past those gunships in orbit. Got it?”

“We’ll do our best.” Hicklepeck was less than convincing.

With a sigh, Radley crawled back into the vents. Without the light from his helmet, it was pitch black, but his previous forays told him that there wasn’t much worth seeing. He didn’t know where the Chryl might’ve gone. The control room was as good a place to start as any.

By the time he returned, the troopers had reclaimed the chamber and were methodically searching.

“Showtime.” Radley took a calming breath, then switched on his suit microphone. “Your mistake was arrogance.” He spoke softly, but his voice echoed out of the helmet’s speakers.

A rifle blast sent it careening around the metal room.

Radley winced. Hopefully the speakers still work after that. “You were so convinced of your superiority, you never stopped to consider what we were capable of.”

The speakers crackled and popped, but his words still came through.

“Not just now. Out of arrogance you started a war with the Halmeenans a generation ago. What else could it be? Their system is barren. Only a couple of worlds, none with precious resources. But they were close, and they were weak.”

The Chryl commander picked up the helmet. “You will show yourself.”

“The Halmeenans had one thing going for them—they were good at making friends. That concept must be truly foreign to you. And before you know it, Chryl ships stop coming back from their little raids. You should’ve taken the hint, cut your losses, and moved on. But you just had to keep pushing.”

“I am aware of our history.”

“I bet you are. Tell me, where were you at the end? The only battle in the war that really mattered, and you were…what? Cowering in some little colony out here at the edge of the system? Fleeing into deep space? Wherever it was, you weren’t where you were needed.”

“Where are you?” The Chryl shouted at the helmet.

“I was roughly thirty thousand kilometers over the southern continent, watching the planet being pulled apart beneath me.” Radley tried to keep the tears running down his cheek out of his voice.

“How many billions died that day, while you were vacationing?”

The commander hissed and clicked.

Radley hoped this would work. He didn’t know how much more he had in him. “Did you know, the technology we’ve found on this old wreck could have prevented that catastrophe? And it’s just been sitting here, under your noses, for as long as you’ve had space travel. All you had to do was claim it.”

The commander snarled, and the other trooper headed down the corridor, rifle in hand.

Radley listened for the retreating footsteps as he continued. “But hey, maybe I was wrong about your war. Maybe it wasn’t about conquest, or purification, or any of the other stupid buzzwords both sides threw around.”

He paused. The vibrations of the other Chryl’s footsteps continued away from him.

“Maybe you just wanted to create another race as ruthless and brutal as you. If so, congratulations, you succeeded. But it wasn’t the Halmeenans, they were too noble to stoop to your level. No. It was another displaced little race that should’ve known better from the pain of losing their own home.”

Radley opened the vent and shot the Chryl commander again and again, melting flesh and metal together into a heap of slag.

“It was the humans who ended your war. And all it cost us was our souls.”

To Be Continued…

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