Detachment 2551 : A Star Frontiers Adventure

Chapter 21: Battle is Met

Quatro Village 'F' - 0700 hours - stardate 1111015

"Well, well. Looks like some fun has come knockin anyway. Marcus, whatcha say, boss?" Mrylinax says as he lets Marcus borrow the omnocs while he inserts a fresh magazine and adjusts the setting on his laser rifle. With practiced alacrity he loads the grenade launcher with one of his frags while explaining what he saw through the omnoculars to the others. "So - what's our plan?"

Cymon murmers... "This could be a golden opportunity. We face a small enough force to conquer, meaning prisoners, and information." Not seeking a confrontation, Cymon moves with the Quatro to cover. "Mr. Cole," the healer calls to the explorer, "how much time do we have. Are they on hovercycles or flitboards."

"Looks like seven hovercycles, and they'll be here in ten minutes or less I figure." Marcus answers.

Cymon produces a spray hypo and improvises it into a stylus, drawing crude diagrams in the sand as his teammates gather round. "Mr. Grogan, it is not advisable for us to confront them on our flitboards. However, we may be able to lead them into a trap. You are our best pilot. If you were to get to your flitboard, and lead them into a trap." Cymon draws lines showing Ty's projected path. "Mr. Cole, Mr. Grraf'Tzak... you could be mounted as well, ready to follow up from behind to take the convoy by surprise and herd them this way."

"Mr. Kar'Chudka, Mr. Myrlinax, Mr. Umpah, Mr. Kanditzex and this one can set up an ambush here, here, and here using our elevation and the confined space of the pass between the dunes to our advantage. Mr. Cole and Mr. Groogash can sneak back and flank the group or take them from behind."

There is a moment of silence as the party members study the drawing. Ty spits on the ground and starts the discussion.

"Well, I for one don't like taking chances! They'll spot our wrecked 'escape pods' and know we survived. Then they'll call for reinforcements to start a search for us, with the D6 as a starting point. They have no reason to think we're heading anywhere but their compound, so they'll come this way from behind, and from the compound, and get us from two ends. At least if we take out the patrol, we can buy ourselves some time."

If Marcus feels any intrusion into his role as ground leader it doesn't show. Instead he nods decisively at the plan and says "I like your plan, but we should be prepared for the consequences of destroying the patrol. What we learn from them dead isn't likely to help us. And I don't think they will communicate with us as prisoners. I'm concerned about what their base will do when the patrol doesn't report back in." Marcus pauses, then continues, "However, we're running out of time and the plan sounds solid to me. Gives us every advantage of terrain, surprise, and numbers. Let's do it." With that he stands and begins walking back to the village to retrieve his flitboard.

Groo leans over to whisper in Cymon's ear after everyone has broken up. "Pretty good for a ship's doctor. Keep this act up and maybe we'll give you captain's bars" he jokes as he elbows his Yazirian brother in the ribs.


Quatro Village 'F' - 0705 hours - stardate 1111015

Cymon crouches low on the edge of the outcropping plateau, watching with trepidation as the cluster of hovering figures draws nearer. Everyone is in place. He can see Ruby's eye- stalk peeking over a nearby rock, ids eye-spots peering intently through ids omnoculars. The hum of pressor motors can be heard gradually building. The smoke of the convoy's passage begins to cover the sky. The gang of hovering cycles moves up the passage between the half dozen prominent sand dunes. It is clear now that there are seven hoverbikes. Each is manned by a heavily cloaked Yazirian. Nothing more is evident.

As the group passes between the first two sand dunes Cymon hears a high-pitched whine off to his left. Just as planned, Ty bursts out of hiding on his flitboard and into plain view of the convoy. Through his omnoculars, Cymon can see the bundled Yazirians begin pointing and gunning their engines. Ty hesitates only long enough as the entire gang of cycles bears down on him at full throttle. The chase leads them westward through a hairpin turn to the north and the plateau. And Cymon.

Cymon can see the grin on Ty's face as the human slams his VTOL controls and sends the flitboard screaming up the slope of the plateau. The gang is right behind him.

(grid E6)

Cymon stands up from his hiding place and spreads his arms. The collective roar of the sand- modified hover fans threatens to overwhelm the yazirian, but Cymon holds his ground. He is confident of his plan. In one hand he holds aloft the Den Qritsa, in the other the golden Zamra Kohinoor. The dry desert wind whips his mane and cloak dramatically. The rising sun glints off the golden blades like an epiphany. The growling hover fans quiet to a dull roar as the squad comes to a complete stop. The gang members begin pointing and yelling in Gnarsh.

"BY THE SERPENT! IT IS THE KOHINOOR!!!"

"SERPENT TAKE US - HE HAS THE BOOK!"

"SURELY IT IS AZRAN HIMSELF HERE TO SLAY US! FLEE!!!"

Cymon takes the opportunity to break out into a chant memorized from the Den Qritsa. He drops the book behind him and produces another, red zamra. In one motion he brings the zamra forth and hurls it directly at the lead driver.

(Cymon Zamra BTH 68; rolled 03)

The red discus whistles through the air and slashes through the yazirian's neck, sending out a spray of frothy red gore.

"GAAAAAAAKHHH!!!"

As the driver convulses from the pain, his hood falls back to reveal his glowing red eyes concealed behind sungoggles. Somehow he manages to stanch the blood with one hand and gurgle out a retreat order.

Panic washes over the gang. They gun their engines frantically, sending up plumes of sand in every direction. Just as Cymon had hoped, the leader wheels around to the east to make for the village. To where Ruby is waiting. Their flight is so disorganized they don't even notice Ty and Freya bearing up on their rear from the west, with Ty catching up close behind.

They make it only a couple hundred meters when Ruby jumps out from ids hiding place on the plateau. The diminutive dralasite is barely visible at his elevation, yet somehow the entire group instantly registers ids presence. Again the gang comes to a screeching halt. The leader points upward at Ruby and gasps.

(grid E10)

"GAAAAAAHHHH! THE IX - WE ARE DOOMED!!!"

Nothing can be heard over the frantic retreat, but Cymon can see that Ruby is savoring ids performance. The dralasite drops all of ids arm-sprouts at once, signalling the full attack on the enemy hovercycles. Half a dozen Quatros appear at once on either side of the ravine, spears and bolas in hand. Three of them hold aloft grenades from Ruby's belt. Mrylinax, Groo, and V'Sndyk jump to their positions, rifles in hand.

Quatro 1 - Doze Grenade - BTH 65; rolled 91
(20% chance of hitting allies - rolled 87)
Quatro 2 - Doze Grenade - BTH 65; rolled 58
Doghan A STA CHECK - passed
Doghan B STA CHECK - passed
Doghan C STA CHECK - passed
Quatro 3 - Tangler Grenade - BTH 65; rolled 93
(20% chance of hitting allies - rolled 39)
Quatro 4 - spear - BTH 65; rolled 26
Quatro 5 - spear - BTH 65; rolled 71
Quatro 6 - spear - BTH 65; rolled 31
Mrylinax BTH laser rifle 68 + 15 = 83%; rolled 32 (careful aim)
V'Sndyk BTH gyrojet pistol 53; rolled 51, rolled 36, rolled 08
Groo BTH laser rifle 78; rolled 78, rolled 15
Ruby BTH laser rifle 63; rolled 12, rolled 72

Freya BTH mounted sonic disruptor 44; rolled 03, rolled 52
Marcus BTH mounted laser rifle 37 (set on 5 seu); rolled 80, rolled 92
Tiberius BTH mounted rafflur; rolled 26, rolled 02

The attack is swift and fills the ravine with a deafening noise. Blaster fire and explosions rock the landscape. The convoy of cycles is immersed in a flood of flashing light and erupting sand. The simultaneous attack from three sides breaks any organization the group has to begin with. Blasts from Mrylinax and Ruby pulverize the glowing albedo screen surrounding the lead driver. Salvos from the rear flitboard force rip into the ranks with devastating effect. One of the riders yells in pain as his screen blinks out and his body blackens from the attack. Ty's rafflur blast slams into the rear driver (Doghan G) and sends him sprawling. The hoverbike careens into a rock and the driver slumps to the ground unconscious.

(convoy surprised - group gets another turn attacking)

Quatro 1 - spear - BTH 65; rolled 33
Quatro 2 - spear - BTH 65; rolled 37
Quatro 3 - spear - BTH 65; rolled 26

Cymon BTH whoomp needler 38%; rolled 25
(Doghan 1 STA check - failed), rolled 60
Mrylinax BTH laser rifle 68%; rolled 50, rolled 77
V'Sndyk BTH gyrojet pistol 53;rolled 03,rolled 62, rolled 45
Groo BTH laser pistol 78; rolled 91, rolled 52
Ruby BTH sonic disruptor 63; rolled 80, rolled 86

(assuming mounted lasers set at 5)
Freya BTH mounted sonic disruptor 44; rolled 82, rolled 25
Marcus BTH mounted laser rifle 37; rolled 40, rolled 77
Tiberius BTH mounted rafflur 53; rolled 56, rolled 78

Once again the combined firepower of the two-prong attack rains down on the hapless Doghan. This time Ruby uses his sonic weapon to get around the powerful albedo screens. The withering blaster fire seems to weaken the screens, but every one of them stands. Cymon levels his whoomp needler at the lead driver and fires. The barbs find their mark, and the Doghan slumps over the handle bars.

The effect is galvanizing. All of the other Doghan, seeing their leader fallen, produce weapons and return fire.

Doghan 2 - hits a quatro
Doghan 3 - hits a quatro
Doghan 4 - hits Cymon for 15 pts. laser damage to screen
Doghan 5 - hits a quatro twice
Doghan 6 - hits Cymon for 17 pts. laser damage to screen
Doghan 7 - fires at Freya and misses

Cymon moves in to twenty meters and falls prone, firing his needler at every opportunity. The crossfire at this level is much thicker, prompting him to get cozy with several of the rocks near the base of the plateau. Taking a moment to scan the area for any surprises, he flashes a sign to Groo. Groo turns and yells a string of alien words at the nearby Quatro, trying to tell them to close off the eastern end of the passage that could provide an escape route.

(Groo Quatro Language 66%; rolled 92)

The Quatros seem bewildered by Groo's words, but charge the enemy nonetheless. The effect isn't an effective containment, but it does drive the attack to the enemy's front doorstep as the bone-chilling battle cry of the Quatro echoes throughout the ravine.

"KLATTTAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA"

Quatro 1 - charging enemy
Quatro 2 - charging enemy
Quatro 3 - charging enemy
Quatro 4 - charging enemy
Quatro 5 - charging enemy
Quatro 6 - charging enemy

Cymon BTH whoomp needler 38%; rolled 87, rolled 87, rolled 29 - hit Doghan F - STA check failed
Mrylinax BTH laser rifle 68%; rolled 60, rolled 95
V'Sndyk BTH gyrojet pistol 53;rolled 37, rolled 58, rolled 33
Groo BTH grenades 38; rolled 74, rolled 24, reload laser pistol
Ruby BTH frag grenade 63; rolled 04

Freya BTH maser pistol 44; rolled 51, rolled 94
Marcus BTH autopistol 57 +20 (burst); rolled 24
Tiberius BTH mounted rafflur 53; rolled 13, rolled 45

Cymon trains his whoomp needler on Doghan G and fires. The third shot hits its mark and the rider goes limp, falling from his cycle like a rag doll. Mrylinax pumps two large laser salvos into Doghan D. One of them hits, and he notices a shimmering after-effect on the rider's uniform, implying an albedo suit soaked up the damage. V'sndyk fires off three rounds from his gyroject pistol, hitting Doghan B twice, but the rider shakes it off and continues. Groo's helmet pops off two sonic grenades, one finding Doghan E and assaulting him with a sonic explosion. The effect is excruciating to the Doghan, but he presses on. Similarly, Ruby hurls a frag grenade at Doghan B and nearly destroys the vehicle with the explosion. However, a shimmering inertia screen shields the rider from half the damage.

Following up are the three flitboards. Marcus, realizing his mounted weapon is out of juice, whips out his autopistol and rakes the four remaining cyclists with a burst. Freya fails to hit anything. Ty wraps things up by blasting his rafflur at Doghan E. Both shots hit and the rider, apparently already beleagured, is ripped apart by the two salvos. His hoverbike slams into a rock wall, erupting in flames as his decimated body litters the ground.

Doghan B - hits a quatro
Doghan C - hits a quatro twice
Doghan D - fires wildly, missing

The remaining riders fight back, seriously injuring two Quatro. Sensing defeat, the three cyclists punch through the Quatro line and turn southward in an attempt to escape. Marcus and Freya follow them through the ambush pass in hot pursuit. Having jockeyed for a southern approach, however, Ty is in position to circumvent the pass and barrels straight for the fleeing party. He is practically on top of them when they emerge from behind dune 'C'.

"YEEEEEEHHHHHAAAAA, keep pourin' it on boys!" he says as he opens up again with his rafflur gun.

Tiberius BTH mounted rafflur 53; rolled 47, rolled 89

Ty's blast hits the lead cyclist, who weathers the attack and pours on more speed in desperation. All three return fire, two of them at Ty and one at Freya close behind them.

Doghan B - hits Ty once
Doghan C - hits Ty once
Doghan D - hits Freya twice

Ty's albedo screen shudders and winks out, absorbing a massive amount of laser fire before running out of power. The rest of the damage seems to be absorbed by his flitboard, which looks and acts no worse for the wear. Freya's gridsuit, too, weathers the twin blasts from the trailing cycle.

Freya BTH maser pistol 44; rolled 30, rolled 48
Marcus BTH autopistol 57 +20 (burst)=77; rolled 65
Tiberius BTH mounted rafflur 53; rolled 72, rolled 12

Freya returns the favor, hitting the trailing cycle with his rafflur once. Marcus strafes the entire party, damaging them somewhat all around. Ty lets loose with another blast from his rafflur, hitting the lead driver (Doghan B) and taking him out. His cycle dives into the ground as his body flies over the handle bars in a sickening heap.

Doghan C - hits Ty once
Doghan D - hits Freya once

The last two Doghan cyclists lead a wild chase over the sandy terrain. As they bob and weave past rocks and scrub plants, each takes the time to reach back and fire off shots at their pursuers. Ty is hit for 26 points of damage, taking the full hit without the benefit of an albedo screen. Freya, too, is hit for 25 points of damage, which are absorbed by his quickly fading screen.

Freya BTH maser pistol 44; rolled 63, rolled 22
Marcus BTH autopistol 57 +20 (burst)=77; rolled 84
Tiberius reloads clip into rafflur

Doghan C - hits Ty twice
Doghan D - hits Freya once

Ty's flitboard is rocked by twin blasts from Doghan C. Suddenly his board is shuddering and reducing in speed. He soon finds it difficult to keep up with the group. Freya, meanwhile, is also hit for 25 more points of damage, taxing his screen to the limit.

Seeing Ty's flitboard losing speed, Marcus senses the possiblity of losing the last two cyclists. With grim determination he cocks his grenade launcher and mutters "We are NOT losing these two... not if I can help it!"

Freya BTH maser pistol 44; rolled 19, rolled 13
Marcus BTH frag grenade launcher 57 ; rolled 32
Tiberius BTH mounted rafflur 53; rolled 49, rolled 11

Freya's maser tags the lead driver, causing him to weave crazily. Marcus' grenade, meanwhile, lands right on top of the second driver. The explosion produces a thick black cloud that engulfs the entire cycle. Somehow the rider and his partner emerge from the attack and press on, both looking on the verge of collapse: their uniforms blackened and torn, their cycles gutted and shaking. Ty finishes reloading his rafflur, shakes off the assault on his flitboard, and looks up to see the two battle-weary targets turn to return fire.

"Oh no you don't", he says cracking a grin. "The fat lady is ready to sing..."

Ty's rafflur barks out two white-hot blasts, one at each driver. Barely limping along as they are, both drivers are catapulted from their mounts and nearly cut in half by the proton beams. One of the bikes does a nosedive into the sand and rolls end-over-end like a smoking ball of junk. The other bike voids its warranty against a rock jutting out from the sand.

In unison, the three flitboards lean into steep turns and circle around to review the damage. Stretching back to the plateau they see a telltale chain of black smoke plumes rising up from the desert where each hover bike met its end.

Marcus thumbs his comm. "Come in, expedition team: the rabbits have been run to ground. Repeat, the rabbits have been grounded. We are heading back."


Desert Battlefield - 0800 hours - stardate 1111015

"VICTORY" Cymon shouts, using the ancient Den Qritsa form that Azran shouted when Srytra was bested. No, they had not done much. A small, poorly armed group of scouts. But the Doghan could be beaten! That he had personally stopped three of the Doghan was of little consequence. Others had taken the brunt of the battle. But the result was a flow of adrenaline like he had never experienced since slipping into the shimmering skies of Zharda, his own beloved home floating in the sky above.

"WE CAN DO THIS" He cries out to the wind, to his companions, to the innocent Quatro he had pulled into a fight that may end their innocence forever more. The thought had a sobering impact. Clearly he saw the battlefield before him, and knew there was humble work to do. Azran must step back for a moment. He must be Haiokah now. There were wounded to attend.

The small yazirian holsters his sidearm as the others move in to make sure the dead were dead, and that the wounded Doghan were secured and kept separately from each other, making sure they were gagged well, along with their eyes covered.

He makes sign to Groo and approaches with open palm and the Tome of the Dens to the severely wounded Quatro. "I am a healer,... a haiokah to my people." The Quatro seem to understand his meaning and offer no resistance to his attention. Cymon breaks out his medkit and begins his work. As he does so, a high-pitched whine approaches. It is Ty, limping back on his damaged flit board, wearing his typical cocky smile after proving instrumental in stopping the Doghan retreat.

As Ty dismounts his board, though, there is a hint of worry on his face. With one hand on the flitboard controls, the other holds onto his wounded areas where his albedo screen failed and the Dohgan's shots got through.

"Uh, hey, your Holiness?" he says weakly, walking up to Cymon with less of the swagger he had an hour ago, "When you're done preachin' maybe you can take a look at me, would ya?'

Cymon Diagnosis level 3 + 2 CS = 58%; rolled 30,14,40,48,62,56,94
Doghan A unconscious
Doghan B dying at -2 stamina
Doghan C dying at -14 stamina
Doghan D dying at -5 stamina
Doghan E UNKNOWN but no pulse
Doghan F unconscious
Doghan G UNKNOWN but breathing

Cymon Medical Wounds I: 97%;
rolled 24; Ty receives 12 points back
47; Quatro 1 gets 12 points
02; Quatro 2 gets 12 points
32; Quatro 4 gets 12 points
19; Quatro 5 gets 12 points
Freya refuses medical attention

Cymon Medical Wounds II: level 2 + 2 CS = 53%
rolled 97; Ty gets no points back
99; Quatro 1 gets no points
24; Quatro 2 gets 10 points back
67; Quatro 4 gets no points back
19; Quatro 5 gets 10 points back

Cymon Medical Wounds III: level 2 + 1 CS = 49%
rolled 37; Ty gets all points back and is laid up for 10 hours
26,32,95,53: 2 of the Quatros are up to full health and are laid up for 10 hours 2 of the
Quatros have grevious wounds that are proving difficult to heal

The next couple of hours see the wreckage of the battle removed to a nearby cave. Ruby sets idself to sifting the aftermath for parts and answers. Watching Cymon in his avatar role made the jolly dral furrow some psuedo brows that appear. He moves quickly to the hovercycles. The job of getting the area scrubbed was perfect for the elusive Quatros and Marcus. No need to make it obvious what happened or where.

"Move it, boys" Ruby grumps "If they were transmittin', we got mebbe an hour or so afore we need to be on our way. I don't wanna be caught here rummaging through their pockets. Scour these creeps for their gear. We wasted a lot of juice on 'em. Time to make it pay."

Ruby's assessment of the enemy hoverbikes:
Ruby: Vehicles - Repair level 3 = 49%; rolled 57 - can't repair bike 'B'
Ruby: Vehicles - Repair level 3 = 49%; rolled 94 - can't salvage from 'C'
Ruby: Vehicles - Repair level 3 = 49%; rolled 50 - can't salvage from 'D'
Ruby: Vehicles - Repair level 3 = 49%; rolled 23 - can salvage from 'E'
Ruby: Vehicles - Repair level 3 = 49%; rolled 12 - Ty's flitboard repaired
Doghan hoverbike A - working condition
Doghan hoverbike B - badly damaged
Doghan hoverbike C - destroyed, some parts salvageable
Doghan hoverbike D - destroyed
Doghan hoverbike E - destroyed, some parts salvageable
Doghan hoverbike F - working condition
Doghan hoverbike G - working condition

Ruby Comm Devices: Repair: level 3 = 49%; rolled 06

In the course of ids work, Ruby finds a radiophone on one of the hoverbikes and removes it for his own personal use. Finally, satisfied with ids job on the bikes, Ruby wipes ids pseudopods on a greasy rag and ambles across the cave to where Groo and V'Sndyk appear to be having fun with the captured gear.

"Hey, Grooby", id shouts, "catch anything on yer scanner during this little brouhaha? Howsa bout letting me scan it."

Groo checks the memory buffer in his hear-all progit to see what broad-band readings it may have detected during the battle.

Groo Communication Devices: Operate level 1 + 1 CS = 45%; rolled 21

"I've got a brief unidirectional reading on an obscure channel, very low gain but very high power meaning it was geared for long distance. The coding sequence stops abruptly at about the same time we finished off the last of the bikers, so we probably cut them off in the middle of their conversation. Didn't last long, so I don't know if anyone heard it way out here. Mean anything to you?"

"Only that it was intended for extreme long range and used a section of the bandwidth most folks don't operate on. Let me run what you've got through my c.a.s. and see if we can play back their message."

Unnoticed by the others, Freya moves over to the junked hoverbikes and removes their parabatteries. He then moves off to the flitboard motor pool. One by one he produces a power converter mechanism and drains the hoverbike parabatteries to recharge the type three parabatteries of the flitboards.

Nearby, Mrylinax moves from one hoverbike to the next with his bomb-sniffing equipment. As he does so, Ruby follows behind him with his own scanner, looking for hidden communications devices.

Mrylinax: Security Systems Detect level 2 + 1 CS = 49%; rolled 99, 93, 98, 03, 12, 31, 36
Mrylinax: Communication Devices Operate: level 1 +1 CS = 45%; rolled 34

"No hidden transmitters or emergency beepers that I can find." Mrylinax says.

"What about BOMBS!!!??" his Vrusk companion asks nervously.

"Oh, yeah - those! Gee, bug, there's only one bike I could make a clean sweep on for booby traps - I'd stick to working on that one if I were you. " he says, pointing to an innocuous bike in the corner.

"Okay" V'Sndyk states matter-of-factly, then proceeds to work.

V'Sndyk: Computers Access and Operate +X = 97%; rolled 36
V'Sndyk: Computers Defeat Security level 4 + 2 CS - 1 CS = 58%; rolled 52
V'Sndyk: Computers Display Information level 3 + 3 CS - 1 CS = 58%; rolled 30

V'Sndyk finds an accesses a small onboard computer built into the lead hoverbike. His computer access computer, linked to the unit's memory bank, pulls up a terrain map of the surrounding region and a file containing numbers.

The terrain map is overlayed with a set of red lines running out from the location of outpost Calas to each of the sites where ancient temple ruins are located. Another, long line runs straight from Calas to the immense crater formation to the southwest. Finally, a short crooked line connects temple site #3 to the general location of the mountain peek where the light show occured.

(GM's note: I've posted this version of the map on the web site for your viewing)

Next, V'Sndyk takes the file with the numbers and runs a check on it using the decoding programs he has in his portable memory module. After several minutes a program runs, displaying two sets of numbers that look like clocks counting down. One indicates 10 hours left until the countdown is complete. Another reads 60 hours.

"What do you make of it?" Ruby asks as id watches the Vrusk play with the data.

"Well, the first counter looks exactly like the counting algorithm I saw when I hacked into the computer network of the Crimson Pirates' space station. Just like that one, this clock is counting down to some time today - stardate 1111015. The second clock shows a countdown to a time exactly two solar cycles later, 25 hours for this moon. Whatever's going down, we're here just in time."

"Maybe they count down the time in-between the light shows/apparations appearing to the Quatro?", Ty suggests from his resting spot on the floor of the cave.

"Doubtful", V'Sndyk replies. "This countdown seems to have been in progress for several days if not longer. And the time it counts down to is in the evening, not the morning. No, something of singular importance is being marked, and it happens tonight around 2000 hours. The next happens two days from now at the same time."

"Come on, let's tell the others." Groo suggests, turning to the rear of the cave.

Ruby sits on the floor of the cave, playing with the radiophone he salvaged. "You guys go on, I'll catch up in a minute."

Ruby Crypto level 1 = 41%; rolled 15

Several minutes pass while Ruby fidgets with the controls and tweaks the sound characteristics of the output waveforms. Finally, garbled electronic noise coalesceses into intelligible speech emanating from Ruby's c.a.s. unit.

"Tazris Group to Clutch - we are under attack - Ix has landed - Azran spotted - send reinforcements!"

"Bingo!" Ruby chimes.

Several meters further in, the cave narrows into a small opening that leads to a secluded and darkened inner chamber. There on the floor are three of the Doghan prisoners: bound, gagged, blindfolded and lying in a circle. Cymon stands over them, staring at them grimly as he grapples with the feelings of revulsion that they stir up in him. His brief examination of their bodies revealed extensive synthetic alterations on a cellular level, the like of which he'd never seen or heard of before.

It was true - the Doghan were cybernetically enhanced Yazirians. But the level of technology involved was far beyond anything seen before in the Frontier. None of the obvious electronic enhancements could be found - only traces of conductive materials lacing the entire body. Muscle tissue was thickened and lean, organs functioned beyond operational limits, life signs were off the scale, and the central nervous system, the most curious component of all, seemed accelerated beyond belief. The Doghans' eyes, at last revealed after removing their protective sungoggles, showed bright red optical orbs that burned luminescently with the fire of some strange cellular activity.

"Cymon", Groo asks, almost afraid to disturb the eery silence, "did you get a chance to check the Doghan I hit with the sonic grenade? Did it to any special damage to him?"

Cymon: Medical Diagnosis level 3 + 2 CS = 58%; rolled 91

"I can't be sure. There was a rupture in his tympanic membrane, but I have yet to see if this affects the method of communication I observed it on Exib."

"Curious", Freya says, holding a tiny metallic sphere in his fingers and studying it closely.

"What is that?" Groo asks.

"It is one of the bionic visual receivers I extracted from one of the other Doghan."

"You mean you ripped his eye out?!"

"Correct.", Freya says without a hint of remorse. "Hideous process, but it yieled a wealth of information. The circuitry I'm seeing here is most impressive - even more advanced than anything the rich can buy for eye replacementson the Frontier. The Hooris clan must be very well funded."

"What are you going to do with it?"

"Add it to the collection of bionic parts I scavenged from the bodies, of course."

Groo supresses a shudder, then asks "Hey, where are the other prisoners anyways?"

"DOA!" Mrylinax laughs. "Looks like we put the kibosh on 'em somethin' fierce! Ol' Marcus and me, we skinned 'em and left 'em for the sandsharks. Made a few nice coats for the girls in the village HAR HAR HAR!"

Groo smiles weakly in return. He turns to find Freya staring back at him.

"You did know that I extracted this from a corpse, didn't you?" Freya asks.

"Uh, yeah. Yeah, of course. Heh heh what else?"

"Well, whaddya we do with them now?" Mrylinax grumbles, a little sore that no one shares his sense of humor.

"I have some questions to ask them", Cymon mutters as he preps a spray-hypo.

Cymon: Administer Telol - automatic
(80% chance of working on each Doghan: rolled 54, 39, 00)

Questions to first non-leader Doghan
*What are the names and designations of you and the members of your patrol
(he gives them all to you)

*What is the patrols recognition code to base
"Tazris Group - clearance code DL179278"

*How many troops are garrisoned at Calas?
"300"

*Why do you fear the IX?
"Our essence was once the Ix. They seek to reclaim us."

*What starships are at Calas?
"Two dropships - the Hydra and the Medusa."

Questions to second non-leader Doghan
*Where is the command computer operation of Calas
"In the administration building, top floor."

*Where is Calas least guarded?
"Along the southern perimeter, bordering the great lake."

*How many levels deep is Calas?
"Ten"

*What sensors guard Calas perimeter?
"Some security robots, a few watchtowers with heat sensors."

*What is most heavily guarded at Calas?
"The great Arrkwythe."

Cymon next injects the leader of the group with Telol. After a few minutes the altered Yazirian's face becomes very calm and he begins murmuring nonsense. Cymon poses his questions, but it quickly becomes obvious that he is in no shape to say anything intelligible.

"Blast! The Telol hit him too hard. Well, he won't be of any use to us for a while."

Just then, Ruby walks in, carrying a file computer and looking very excited.

"Hey, guys, look what I found...."

"SSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!" All of a sudden all three Doghan sit upright and begin clawing at their bonds to get at Ruby. The unmitigated hate burning in their eyes is even more fierce with the goggles removed. It takes Mrylinax, Marcus, Ty, Groo and Cymon to hold two of them back. Freya holds the third by himself. Mrylinax ends the tussle by smacking them with his stunstick, driving them to the floor again. Ruby trembles a few meters away, flat against the wall in shock.

"WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT ALL ABOUT!?!" Ruby stammers.

Cymon's eyes narrow with interest. He produces his medical research equipment. "Interesting. It seems they take a particular interest in you, Ruby. I want to try something. Mrylinax, hold that one down for me."

Cymon produces a set of spray hypos marked with labels. He selects one and injects it into one of the Doghan. Instantly, the Yazirian begins convulsing violently. Marcus and Groo rush to help hold him down.

"What did you do to him?!" Marcus yells at Cymon. Just then the Yazirian's body settles down to a regular trembling motion, then goes limp. Cymon is ready with his medscanner.

Cymon: Medical Devices level 3 + 1 = 53%; rolled 98

"I injected him with viral cells sampled from Ruby's body. I can't seem to get a reading on what's happening, however."

"It's a family reunion", Ruby mumbles, almost too low to be heard. All eyes turn to see Ruby staring blankly at the twitching figure on the floor. "The Ix...that's who they are. That's what the voices are telling me. The 'WE'... those voices in my head. They're the IX. They're living inside me."

"Mother of Gomra" Cymon mutters, "the Ix...the moon 'G' virus. Of course!" He rushes to connect his file computer to V'Sndyk's portable memory module. Records of his viral studies fill the screen. "The moon 'G' virus mutated into five different strains, as evidenced by the gradual differences as you observe the different strains. Accounting for several factors, it can be shown that the various cells found in the Doghan and their associates are almost identical, except for synthetic components added to its structure to make it a perfect enhancement for the nervous system. See here..."

Cymon presses a key, causing all five strains of the moon 'G' virus to line up next to the different stages of viral cell found in the Doghan. With some work, the cells are shown to match one another almost perfectly. "The Doghan were making use of a natural mutation, using it to supercharge their altered bodies to function with incredible speed and strength. The enhanced central nervous system seems to feed into and out of the temporal lobes, where auditory information is processed. This accounts for their use of high-pitched screeches to communicate with one another. Together the Doghan form a network of high-speed processing nodes, to use a computer analogy... a walking, fighting, calculating computer network on legs."

"But why would there be different versions of the synthetic cells?" V'Sndyk asks.

"Perhaps the conversion process for the Doghan is a gradual one. I noticed that the corpses of the goons that broke into the Vercingetorix and killed Breanna were tainted with primitive versions of the Doghan cells, and that the goons themselves were normal in every other aspect. It seems they may have been mere initiates."

"Then what are you carrying inside you?" Ty asks, looking at Ruby.

Ruby doesn't seem to notice his question. Instead, id moves over to one of the other Doghan and raises a pseudopod. With casual effort id extends the pseudopod until it is touching the stunned Yazirian. Then, without warning, one of ids fingers lashes out, piercing the Doghan's body and sending it, too, into a convulsive spasm.

"What the...! Ruby, what are you doing?" Marcus yells.

"Wait!", Cymon says, holding up a hand, "what's done is done... the answers may be right in front of us!"

Ruby's body goes rigid, ids pseudopod tenaciously grappling with the flailing feral figure on the floor. Ruby makes no sound, staring off into space as the agonizing screams of the Yazirian echo through the cave. Cymon notices peristaltic movements running along Ruby's arm and into the Doghan's body, as if something were being pumped into it.

"By the cold... what has Ruby become!?" Mrylinax whispers.

After several seconds Ruby pulls ids pseudopod back into idself and topples to the floor. Cymon rushes to ids side, medscanner ready.

Cymon Diagnosis level 3 + 2 CS = 58%; rolled 03

"Ruby's fine, ids signs are in the green. Viral activity is off the scale, but it isn't affecting any of ids systems."

Marcus shakes the Dralasite hard, rousing id out of ids stupor. "Just what the hell did you think you were doing!?" he demands.

"I...I couldn't help it. The voices..they told me to do it. I-It's okay. I heard a cry going out from the body of that creep and felt this urge to help it. Like a billion voices crying in anguish, trapped and dying. The voices talked like they could help."

Cymon rushes to the Doghan's body and begins scanning it as well.

Cymon Diagnosis level 3 + 2 CS = 58%; rolled 54

"Amazing. This one's viral activity is off the scale, as well. From what I can tell, the cells lining the Yazirian's nervous system are reverting to another form, casting off the outer sheaths encasing them. I'm reading a massive buildup in potassium and other minerals."

A groggy Ruby sits up. "The Ix... they're reclaiming their own kind. Correcting the abomination these Hooris jerks had made of their people."

Marcus' jaw drops. "You mean the virus is a sentient lifeform? It's what's talking to Ruby?"

Cymon injects the last Doghan with serum and begins taking samples. "Precisely. What we have here is another intelligent species altogether."

"An entire race used as an organic form of cybernetics. Then the moon 'G' virus?"

"We must presume that it, too, represents an altered form of the race we know only as the 'Ix'. After studying Ruby's medical history, I am inclined to believe that his body chemistry was slightly altered due to a potentially fatal disease he contracted at a young age and somehow fought off. Somehow ids body represents the perfect incubation chamber for the Ix to revert to its original state. Now the Ix are cognizant again and capable of reversing the process when they come in contact with it."

"What would cause an entire race of microscopic beings to mutate into these virulent horrors?", Ty asks, feeling a little unprepared for the biology lesson.

"An ecological breakdown", Marcus offers. "Something introduced into this system could conceivably alter its DNA structure, causing it to mutate several times over."

"Could that account for the strange DNA patterns Cymon found in all the native flora and fauna?" Freya asks.

"Can't tell as of yet", Cymon says. "The alteration I noticed was the same across the board for every lifeform on this planet, the Quatro included. Mutations are random things - it is very unlikely that every life form would be changed in roughly the same way, or for that matter that the change would constitute nothing more than harmless, extra DNA code attached to the normal code."

"What does the extra code do?"

"It would take a geneticist months to decipher the thousands of markers in the code and translate it into phenotypes, or outward traits, that they cause. I just don't know."

"Damnation!" Mrylinax shouts. "Just when we were getting down to a straigh fight, we're back to talking about microbes and viruses. Are we ever going to figure out who or what we're fighting?"

"Ruby", Cymon says, monitoring id further, "can you talk to the 'Ix'? Can you ask it to talk with us?"

Ruby's expression goes blank again, his voice returning to a monotone level.

"We are the Ix. We are not of this world. Long ago we fell asleep. When we awoke again, we were in the body of the Rubyself. The Rubyself opened our eyes again. The Rubyself took away the blight that we suffered. We sensed more of our kind in the Doghanself. But they were asleep. They were suffering. We woke them up. We are joined with our own kind again. There are countless more on this world that are asleep. We sense them calling to us. At long last we are to join them, too. At last we will be whole again."

"That's creepy, Ruby" Mrylinax says, shaking his head. "You could take that voice act on the road."

"What could possibly have done this?" Cymon asks.

"Or who", Marcus offers. "Something or someone is operating as a factor to twist this race into a dangerous viral agent. And, it seems, the entire native life of the planet."


Desert Battlefield - 0900 hours - stardate 1111015

Marcus and the rest of the group emerge from the cave hideout to meet with the Quatro who have returned from their village. Even the Quatro can tell that the offworlders are shaken by something they'd seen in the cave. One of Kanto's men approaches Cymon to discuss their next move. He speaks through Groo:

"Great Azran", he says, bowing low and averting his eyes, "Kanto wishes to signal the other Quatro villages to tell them of your arrival. Our seer says that time is running short and we must move quickly to repel these demons. He says the stars tell him the final battle is at hand. We must enlist the aid of our brethren.

"There is a meeting place to the north that the Quatro use to assemble the council members of the villages when there are weighty matters to discuss. They will use their.....shiny discs?..to call the other villages. We can meet with them and with your help they will surely follow us to move on the unspeakable horrors that live in the northern fortress."

Further questioning about the shiny discs reveals that the Quatro have devised a crude long- range communications system by using reflective sheets of metal found in the desert to reflect the sun at other villages several kilometers away.

"Honored Kanto, the Azran agrees. Summon all of your people. A march upon the fortress may be at hand. We will meet at the earliest moment." He turns to his comrades: "We had better damn well find a way to become tactical geniuses very quickly, my fellows. Amradar is at hand."

Within the next half hour the team's flitboards are loaded up and ready to pull out. Ty is fastened to his flitboard to accomodate his weakened state and allowing him to travel. Marcus is busy going over the final checks on the group's weapons and equipment when a gong is heard. Looking up, the group sees the entire population of the village marching over the nearest sand dune. At their front marches Kanto, Keena, and Tozat, followed by roughly fifty armed and Quatro males and females mounted on Vrada. Priests carry decorated poles and play war drums in marching time. Behind them trails the rest of the village: the elderly and the young. Kanto approaches Groo and Cymon.

"Great Azran, the time for the final battle has indeed come. We are ready to march with you to the great Quatro meeting place to the north. There, we will meet our brethren, who have been marching since your arrival and should be there when we arrive. They have sent us messages that there are other offworlders coming with them, too. We have told them you hold the secret to our religious differences and that we will together beat back the mighty serpent Srytra. Let this day long be remembered."

Kanto takes a rock from the ground and holds it up high for the crowd to see. "Let this stone bear witness to this day's actions. As they have been, so shall they always be - forever watchers of the plights of our people. May the prophecies be true - may they come to life in the final battle and drive this abomination from our land."

With a great cry the crowd rejoices. Marcus nods that all is ready. Kanto and his retinue turn their Vrada to the east. Cymon and his teammates gun their engines and with a feeling of purpose the team heads out with their new allies.

The trip itself is uneventful. The Vrada lope across the sands of moon 'G' in long strides, enough to sustain a travelling speed of fifty kilometers per hour. Marcus is amazed at the stamina of the animals. Even so, the team feels held back, travelling at such a slow speed when they are capable of moving twice as fast. Still, these were allies, which the team had learned were hard to come by.

Three hundred kilometers later, the group turns north to cross the great east-west mountain range. The Quatros direct them to the hilly pass that bisects the great range, allowing for much easier movement. Aside from occasional stops for water and resting the Vrada, nothing much happens. On the other side of the mountains the harsh sands of moon 'G' are a welcome sight, allowing much easier travel than the hills.


Quatro Village 'G' - 2000 hours - stardate 1111015

After another fifty kilometers, the Quatro stop. The sun has set. It is nighttime again. Suddenly the Vrada begin to get nervous.

"Why are we stopping here? I thought we were resting the night at the next village." V'Sndyk wonders out loud.

"That's why", Marcus says, pointing his power light at a nearby vertical rock that has lines painted on it. "Territorial marker. We're probably waiting for an escort or something."

Marcus is about to dismount and study the rock when a blinding light flares on the northern horizon, sending the Vrada into a panic and causing everyone to avert their eyes.

"Everyone to cover!" Mrylinax shouts, instinctively worried that it could be a high- powered explosive device.

"No, wait", Marcus replies. "Look!"

The group watches in awe as the flash settles into a glow and finally a narrow shaft of intense light projected into the night sky. Omnoculars and macrobinoculars are whipped out.

"What the hell is THAT?"

"Whatever it is, it seems to be coming from beyond the northern range."

"Or the midst of it.", Marcus says. "Remember that's where Calas compound is located."

"You think...?"

"I think Pan-Galactic has been snowing us from the beginning." Marcus says decisively. "Whatever it is, Calas compound has got to be more than just a storage facility."

Before anyone can respond, figures emerge from the dark and take position around the group. Marcus counts another fifty Quatro, all armed with spears and other melee weapons and leading a Vrada each. One of them approaches Kanto and begins speaking. He too wears a gold headband, implying he is the chief of the village here.

"Kanto's giving him the skinny, it sounds like", Groo offers. "Looks like we've got company for the rest of the trip to the great meeting place."

"What are they saying about the great light we just saw?" Cymon asks.

"They sound spooked, but not surprised. I'm thinking this isn't the first time they've seen this light before."

The escorting Quatro follow the group until they come to a massive opening in the side of one of the mountains. Other Quatro emerge from the opening and usher them inside. Kanto's people are shown their rooms, as is Cymon's group. The Quatro of the new village stare curiously at the offworlders, reminding Cymon that he had yet to win their trust. Yet Kanto somehow persuades the chief to wait until the great meeting place to see the Kohinoor. It is a time for rest.


Quatro Village 'G' - 0600 hours - stardate 1111016

With the same fanfare that accompanied Kanto's departure from his village, the people of village 'G' appear the next morning to see their own warriors off. V'Sndyk, still yawning and scratching his carapace from a rough night's sleep on a dirt floor, blinks at the rising sun.

"Hooray, we get to travel again."

"What's the matter, bug?" Mrylinax snickers as he climbs his flitboard. "Did that big Quatro girl not agree with you last night? HEH HEH HEH"

"What?! I didn't do anything with any..."

"Awright, let's move out." Marcus cuts him off. "Cymon, are you ready?"

"Ready." Cymon finishes checking Ty's bandages and throws his medkit onto the back of his hoverbike.

Cymon: Medical: Wounds I level +X; rolled 74
Ty gets back 12 more points of STAMINA, bringing him to 68 points

"Freya, did you figure out what that thing was last night?" Marcus asks, starting his engine.

"Negative. My scanners measured intense energy for a period of sixty seconds, but the readings were inconclusive."

"Well whatever it is", V'Sndyk cuts in, "you'll get another chance - that clock was counting down to the same time two nights from now."

Ruby seems to have reverted to ids own self again. "On the road again....glad to be back on the road again..." id hums happily, gunning ids motor and pulling in behind the massive entourage that now heads to the northwest.


The Great Meeting Place - 1100 hours - stardate 1111016

The sun hangs high in the sky as the offworlders and the two Quatro convoys near the Great Quatro Meeting Place. Through his omnoculars, Marcus can see that the meeting place is a huge oasis in the middle of an otherwise flat, sandy terrain. A low rock wall rings the entire oasis, which stretches for hundreds of meters across. Tall desert trees stick up all around the shore of the oasis lake, and are surrounded by mounds of dry scrub bushes. The wall and foliage together offer little view of the lake, itself or its banks. This explains why the convoy is almost at the oasis before Marcus notices a huge crowd waiting inside the walls. Scores of Quatro, settled in groups according to their individual tribal markings and clothing, sit idly next to their grazing Vrada. They all rise at the sight of the newcomers.

Kanto and the other chief dismount and approach a group of Quatro emerging from the oasis. From their head-dresses, the Quatro appear to be the chiefs of other villages. There is a short exchange and the offworlders are led into the oasis amidst a surging throng of murmuring, awe-struck Quatro.

"Azran... Azran....Azran" they mumble to one another.

Cymon is led to a large flat stone set in the ground. Set in the stone is another stone, circular and a meter in diameter. It is adorned with the symbol of a winged humanoid carrying a zamra, the Den symbol for Azran. Before Cymon can ask the meaning of the artifact, the lid is removed and he is ushered to descend a flight of steps leading down into the darkness.

Marcus becomes nervous at the prospect of splitting up. "What's down there, anyways?" he asks Groo.

"I have no idea. All they keep saying is 'Azran' over and over." Groo says.

Cymon takes a deep breath and descends the stone steps. The light dims as he moves downward, prompting him to remove his sungoggles. Finally, at the bottom of the steps, he looks back as if to ask what this is all about. But a voice cuts him off.

"Welcome, Azran." a female Yazirian voice says calmly in Gnarsh.

"Greetings. Who are you? What is this all about?"

Cymon's nocturnal eyes quickly adjust to the dim light. It is then he realizes he is standing in a ring of Yazirian figures surrounding him.

"I am Shra'eka..." she says, "and I am Azran." With a ringing sound of metal a zamra appears in the hand of one of the figures. It shines brilliantly with a golden light.

"I am Cho-No, and I am Azran," another voice says as a second golden zamra appears in the hands of a Yazirian silhouette next to her.

"I am Kronos, and we are all Azran here, brother Cymon" a deeper voice intones. With a bone- chilling sound several golden zamra appear simultaneously in every direction. In the silence and darkness of the room, Cymon notices for the first time a soft hum given off by each zamra, but he isn't sure if it is imagined or not.

"I - I don't understand."

"Surely you have heard of Azran surfacing throughout modern Yazirian society, indeed throughout our history."

"Of course. But most of them are honorary titles, held by rich eccentrics who somehow find or buy the antique Kohinoors and set themselves up as heroes."

"True. But that wouldn't describe you, would it?" the female says.

"No. I was given this Kohinoor." Cymon replies weakly, unsure of the implication she was trying to make.

"As we all were, in some way or another. All of us had destiny thrust upon us - had our lives interrupted by the appearance of a Kohinoor. We are not authors of our fate. We are destined to take part in history."

"You are here for the final battle?" Cymon asks, eyeing the exit behind him.

"Come now, Cymon...you know we are. And so are you. The prophecies of the Den Qritsa have long been dismissed. But you know they are coming true here, now on Amradar."

"How do you know who I...?"

"Everyone knows of Cymon Ak-Barruda and the rest of the infamous Exib Marauders. You all occupied the holovid news dispatches for a week. It only took some careful deduction to know where you would head after a run in with the infamous Gardus Ch'Holo, leader of the Crimson Pirates. He was a strong believer in the prophecies. We all knew he was a holder of the Kohinoor. He wouldn't die easily without passing it on to a worthy successor."

"You said 'the' Kohinoor?"

"Yes. Bear your blade and see."

Cymon reaches into his pouch and pulls out his own golden zamra. He holds it up and marvels at the collective hum the entire room gives off. For as he does so, he notices something else that escaped his attention all this time. A tiny hairline crack running across the width of the blade's base.

"The break in the blade...but that means..."

"Several Kohinoor were given to the Yazirians in the book of Seera, but only one was cracked when struck against Srytra's head. You hold the original blade of Azran himself."

Cymon stands silent, staring dumbfounded at the blade he knew to be precious, but never knowing HOW precious. He held in his hands the most priceless of religious artifacts known to Yazirian legend.

"We are here, Cymon of Ak-Barruda, to stand in the place of the original warriors of Buturaq. We are here to defend the Yazirian legacy against the timeless evil of Srtytra, back from the pit of Ghuransch after all these milennia. We are here to follow you. You are this generation's true Azran."



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