“It will be there in five Solars.”
Stanton knew she meant earth time rather than attempting to calculate and live by a calendar set up to matched the ring world.
“What if they have additional ships on the way now?”
“It seems unlikely since the two in orbit now are large enough to hold twice as many people as are here.”
Stanton frowned and rubbed an itch under his left eye. “Okay. That sounds logical, but I’d like to be prepared in case we’re wrong about that.”
“We have nothing we can use to destroy them.” Attrea squatted and looked Minerva in the eye. “What do you think?”
Minerva had obviously been listening. She nodded and pointed at the sky. “They plan to invade and conquer the territory around them as far as possible. They will slaughter males including boys and infants. They must be stopped completely.”
Attrea nodded and put her hands on Minerva’s shoulders. “I am glad you are with us. I only wish I might’ve known you mother Margaret.”
“The healers claim I am like her but how would they know without truly knowing her?”
“The healers have the gift of mind read. They only use it with creatures that are struggling to live. So it is possible they knew Margaret through what they call a mind mesh.”
Minerva smiled weakly. “Can they share with me what they learned?”
“I am not sure. I will ask for you.” Attrea stood and took Minerva’s hand. “For now we should eat and rest. I believe Taisie will join us come sunrise.”
With the sunrise Stanton viewed through the satellite link the smoke on the ring where the invaders lived had grown substantially. To him it looked like a large segment of the ring world became in inferno.
How can they plan to live there? How can they even breathe? He scratched his head as if his hair itched. Damn! They went back to the colony ships. That’s how. We will need stealth gear and full body armor to invade their ships and survive. Weapons too.
In the distance he heard to gristmill begin operating. The sounds were unique. The steady splashing of water dropping from the wheel cups. The grind of gears. The odd noise the huge belts made and they glided over pulleys and guides. The grinding stones made a noise that hurt his teeth.
Shaking his head to dismiss the feeling of annoyance he felt, he turned to the sound of someone approaching. A tree disk had settled about a hundred feet behind him. Attrea, Minerva, Taisie, and two Healers stepped off.
He smiled warmly when his eyes met Taisie’s. “You appear well. How do you feel?”
“I am ready to return for a bit of retribution. This time I will not attempt communications.” She stopped in front of him as if reluctant to touch him. Then she shrugged and stepped closer, put her arms around his shoulders and hugged him hard. “Thank you again. I live due to your generosity.”
Gently, he kissed her cheek. “You live cause you’re too stubborn to do otherwise.”
She laughed lightly. “That may be so, but it is your blood that mingles with mine now. And that gave me new life.” She let him go and stepped back. “But I must tell you it feels a little itchy.” She grinned.
Stanton did not know how to reply so laughed with her. “Just be sure you don’t lose any of it.”
Together they turned to face Attrea. Stanton pointed up. “There is more smoke now than yesterday. I think the fire got away from them. And I think they returned to their ships.”
“You don’t think they plan on moving elsewhere do you?” Attrea sounded concerned.
“Maybe. Can we program a drone to explode and send it to the engine room?”
“We can arm and program it to do that but we do not know where the engine room might be.”
Stanton sighed, shook his head, and thought that invaders had the advantage.
“Why don’t we send a larger drone equipped to do a 3D scan of the ship. Surely the engine room is in the lower rear section.” Taisie said.
Attrea smiled. “That we can do. We can also determine where the invaders are staying.” She turned and walked away, tapping a message into her wrist pad.
When she returned she smiled weakly. “Everything is set. Our first team is assembling the final components. Second team arranges the portal and connects it to the satellite. The trick is timing the arrive to the moment the satellite opens to accept the drone. But you shouldn’t concern yourself too much. Both teams are experienced. It is they how build and connect portals to one another. They’ve worked together for several decades since we discovered this world.” She opened her hands and spread her arms to encompass the ring world.
“Is there a note time frame for completion?”
“Twenty-four solar hours.”
“Then I say we get something to eat. Taisie and I need to be fitted with armor and stealth gear. I want us in and out quickly and successfully.”
“As do we all,” Attrea said. “Once we have the data from the satellite’s scanning probe I will show you where you two can enter the ship without immediate confrontation. We will create a temporary portal there. That way you can get in, do the work that’s needed and get out. Hopefully before any of the invaders discover your activities.”
Minerva nodded vigorously. “I am hungry too.” She grinned when the adults looked at her slightly astonished.
Then they all laughed, which sounded as much like relief and humor. Eating the foods prepared by the Healers, which Stanton thought was more vegan mush that anything protein rich, settled them into a warm family-like routine.
Attrea’s wrist link beeped twice. She stood, walked away and raised it so she could read it. Stanton watched her nodding. Then she returned and tapped the tiny keypad. That created a holograph of the colony ship’s rear lower hull.
She tapped more directions into the unit. Now the hull slowly became transparent. The engine room was huge. The twin turbines, with FTL drive ability glowed yellow orange as if they were but idling.
“They look ready to use.” Stanton stood and pointed to the light red/yellow glow. “And there are several people working around them.”
He turned and looked at Attrea. “How soon can we get the gear we need and then transfer over?”
“Everything already exists. We may need to make some minor adjustments so the armor fits properly. Otherwise you and Taisie can leave before sunset.
“You should also know that the portal from here will pass through the satellite. There is slight risk that you may be affected negatively. But it hasn’t happened before so I feel you’ll be safe. We will hold the portal open for eight hours. If you do not return by then, it will automatically shut down. After that the portal will reopen every three hours and remain open for two hours.”
Stanton opened his mouth to reply, then drew a deep breath, held it and slowly released it. “Let’s get started.”
Forty-five minutes later Stanton and Taisie stood side by side. Both wore the newest armor design. It covered from the tops of their heads to the soles of their shoes. Stealth gear was built in and controlled by a trigger device in the right hip pocket of the armor. They had impregnable facemasks invisible to the viewer. Both carried the most powerful laser stun hand weapon available. The weapon was attached to the armor suit’s belt so if it was dropped it would not be lost. They also had mini-nucs that would emit a powerful burst of energy to destroy the targets. But would not emit more than a trace of nuclear energy. It had a null half-life so the ship would not be contaminated.
They reviewed the detailed scan of the colony ship and chose a target area where the portal would open.
“We’re ready,” Taisie said calmly.
Attrea scrutinized each of the carefully. She walked around them and finally nodded her satisfaction.
Without speaking, she turned and used her wristband to open the portal. It started as a pinpoint of purple light and grew into a hole big enough for a person to pass through. The edges shimmered and then slowly stabilized.
Attrea glanced over her shoulder. Stanton could see she struggled to hide the emotions she felt.
“We will return,” He said and stepped into the portal. Taisie followed the recommended thirty seconds between travelers.
The portal sprang into a long twisting tubular shape. It’s end was not visible.
Attrea turned to the Healer and Minerva. “We should get some food and rest. They will need several hours to complete their assigned tasks.”
She led them back to a travel disk, which took them high in the tree.
Stanton stepped out of the portal and found he stood behind one of the massive FTL drive turbines aboard the colony ship. The space around him was the same yellow orange they’d seen before.
A brief tap on his right shoulder told him Taisie was with him. He tapped the side of the facemask to activate their comm system. When he turned to look at her, Taisie was nearly invisible. He knew she’d not fully turned on her stealth gear.
“Let’s find the power source for these engines. Then we can plant the explosives where they won’t be seen.”
She nodded and went around the engine. “I’ve got on here,” she said softly. “Explosive planted and activated. We have three hours to finish.”
Stanton found the second power source and planted and turned on his explosive device. “Ready?” he asked her.
Taisie came around the engine and stood directly next to him so their shoulders touched.
Stanton activated the portal using the wristband Attrea gave each of them. The portal opened instantly and second later they were in the other colony ship. Where hell’s fury awaited.
Laser fire criss-crossed the air surrounding them. The red beams didn’t damage the FTL turbines, but did etch lines in the outer metal casings.
Stanton dove for cover when the laser beams started sizzling the air around him. His stealth shield held. He looked for Taisie and found her standing her ground. She fought with vengeance in mind and bodies began filling the access points to the engine room.
In less than five minutes, she stopped the invaders’ attack.
Stanton felt a bit foolish, got to his feet and stood shoulder to shoulder with Taisie. He added his firepower as a second wave of invaders began crawling, climbing over the bodies of their dead comrades.
When they finally stopped, Stanton attempted to count the dead and injured. He could not. Both he and Taisie bore the scars of hundreds of laser hits. And he saw they both had trickles of blood dripping down their bodies, legs, and arms.
“Don’t know what type lasers they used, but they are more powerful than ours.”
“We should collect a few and return with them. Then we can reverse engineer and create our own.”
Let’s get the explosives set first.” Stanton pulled his from his carry pack. He examined it and saw that somehow a single laser strike had penetrated the trigger mechanism. “Shit,” he said. “This one is already counting down.”
“How long?” Taisie asked.
“Five minutes.” Stanton located the spot where it needed to be fixed and did so.
Taisie had to climb over stacks of bodies to reach the far turbine. By the time she finished, the damaged trigger was counting down from two minutes.
“Open a portal from there and get out now.” Stanton called. He listened and heard the sound of her portal open.
“See you when we get back.” She called and then he heard her enter the portal.
At that moment the first colony ship exploded.
Stanton was tossed around and slammed his head on a metal beam. He struggled to keep from passing out fingers fumbling with his portal controls. He heard a rumble and knew he was out of time.
Then his portal opened and he staggered into it. Behind him cascades of fire and debris followed. Something slammed into the back of his head. I’m not going to survive this, he thought and passed out.
Taisie fell through the portal opening and landed at Attrea’s feet. She could only crawl. “One of the triggering devices was damaged. Hundreds of the invaders awaited us on the second ship.” She turned and sat. Blood began pooling around her.
Attrea tapped into her wristband. “We need multiple Healers at once.”
That was when Stanton literally blew through his portal and rolled to a stop when he collided with a boulder. He did not show signs of life.
It was five days before Stanton opened his eyes. His head felt like someone was drumming inside it. The sunlight burned his eyes. He attempted to sit, but failed.
He groaned loudly. Instantly, he was surrounded by Healers. The sight of them gave him a moment’s fright. “My god where am I?”
Then Taisie appeared. She took his right hand and held it with both of hers. She opened her mouth to speak and found she could not.
Stanton squinted and focused on her face. His lips moved to smile, but failed. “I hope I didn’t take back my blood from you.”
Tears ran down Taisie’s cheek. She shook her head. “You are seriously concussed. The Healers have treated you for days. They didn’t believe you would even regain consciousness. I am deeply thankful they were incorrect.”
“Me too,” he mumbled and drifted into sleep.
Another five days passed before he recovered enough to attempt to stand. He managed to sit and then saw Minerva and Attrea watching.
“I think I’ll live,” he said glad his voice sounded normal.
Minerva ran over and climbed onto his lap. “Good,” she said. “I was pretty worried. But Attrea told me you have a very hard head.”
“I did not,” Attrea said fighting a smile. “I said, well okay I did.” She sat next to him and rested her head on his shoulder.
“The colony ships burned. I’m afraid most if not all the invaders may’ve died.” She turned and gently kissed his cheek. “Their earth-made lasers are quite powerful. We have a tech team working on them.”
“I hope we never need to use them,” Stanton said. “I am sorry we killed so many invaders. I did believe we would destroy the engines only.”
“From what our aftermath scans displayed the invaders’ ships were laden with explosives. The damage done was due to that not what you and Taisie accomplished. Which, by the way was astonishing. She told us about the damaged timer.” Her voice broke. Her eyes watered. “If you had not reached your portal when you did, even if you’d been five seconds later, you would be dead now.”
He took her hand. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Speechless at last,” Taisie said as she joined them. She placed a hand on Attrea’s shoulder and said softly, “Did you tell him yet?”
Attrea reached and put her arm around him. “I want to carry your child, Stanton. With Minerva I want us to be a real family this time. Earth is beyond repair. We have fought for too long to prevent the self-destructiveness that seems part of humanity’s DNA.”
He nodded. Used his arm to pull her closer. As if that was possible. “It’s time I stop hunting and start living.”
But he was immortal.