Chapter 4

The 12th Galaxy

Chapter 4

Captain Turner faced the main screen on the bridge of the Bluebird. The silver haired head of admiral Woods appeared on the screen.
– Admiral, Turner said.
– What are our orders, Sir?
The admiral cleared his throat twice before he spoke.
– We would like for you to remain here as a last defense for now, he said loud.
– With the Raven on mission and our other ships gone, we don’t want to be totally defenseless.
Turner nodded in agreement.
– I quite agree, admiral! How long have the fleet traveled so far? The admiral turned his head as somebody whispered something to him from the side.
– They’ve been gone a good two hours or so by now, he exclaimed.
– It will be another six hours or so before they reach Xyver.
– Any particular place you want us stationed?
The admiral bit his lip.
– Yes,  I want you to go outside Orto and do a large orbit round Orto and Xyver II, doing long range scanning continuously. If any ships approaches from anywhere at all, they must be thoroughly checked before they enter any of our atmospheres. Understood?
Turner nodded again.
– Yes, Sir! We’ll find an orbit straight away!
He put his hands behind his back.
– Would that be all, Sir?
The admiral looked thoughtful for a while.
– I’ll be in touch if there are any news! he promised.
Turner turned to the first pilot, and the Bluebird’s engines roared into life. It didn’t take long before they reached Orto, and an orbit was laid, encircling both Orto and Xyver II. Quarter-master Brown and private Walls were scanning continually for and traffic in the nearby space.

***

Sheriff West sat by his desk in his office in one of the suburbs to Minoa as his wife Charlene came running into the office.
– Darren! she shouted.
– Something is wrong, awfully wrong!
She grabbed her husband’s arm and pulled her away from his desk.
– I think they’re fighting!
West ran out into the street, holding on to his wife’s hand. Out in the street, the dark-haired sheriff straightened his glasses as he looked up into the sky. His wife Charlene was young and beautiful, with long blond hair that went almost all the way down to her slender waist. Now, she was pointing up into the air.
Way above them, sheriff West could see Minoa spaceport, still some traffic going in and out of there, but above that, some huge spaceships could be spotted, and some distant sounds like thunder could be heard. As he strained himself to see better, it looked like one of the ships exploded. The other big spaceships seemed to move away, and one came closer to the planet. The black warship grew bigger and bigger as it approached the spaceport. Suddenly, a great, blue ray shot out from the closing spaceship, and the spaceport exploded like a big piece of firework.
– Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no! West called out to himself.
He started running out in the street.
– Run for cover! he shouted at the top of his lungs.
– It’s gonna rain metal from the sky!
He opened his patrol car and called up the headquarter.
– J17 calling headquarters, he yelled.
– This is headquarters! a lady answered.
– What is wrong, sheriff?
Sheriff West was panting.
– The spaceport has just been blown up, he said.
– There’s bound to be debris falling from the skies all over Minoa. We need to get a warning on the radio right now for people to seek cover. We only have a minute or two.
The lady on the other end answered.
– Got you, sheriff! Run for cover!
The sheriff hang up his microphone and turned to his wife.
– Run into the basement right now!
– What about you? Charlene shouted concerned.
– I’ve got to warn more people, he answered.
– Please, run, NOW!
Hesitatingly, Charlene West ran for the basement whilst her husband ran off down the street, screaming and shouting as loud as he possibly could.

Quarter-master Ripley looked over at captain Anderson.
– The message has been sent, Sir!
Anderson moved around towards Swift.
– How long will it be before the repairs are finished?
Swift zoomed in at his screen with a serious look on his face.
– Still about an hour on the thrusters, he said.
– Then, we need to do some repairs on the rear hull, and that will take about three hours!
Anderson grunted. Not only would it be three hours before they could get back into combat, but they had also lost 18 lives as the back section exploded. Luckily, the engines were situated at the center of the ship, so they were still working.
– What about the shields? Anderson asked.
Swift shrugged his shoulders.
– About two hours, Sir, but that’s just a guess!
Anderson thought to himself that by the time they were functioning again, both Plinky and Xyver should know about the attack on Minnus, but that might be too late!
The captain breathed heavily as he tried to determine what else he could do. As he was too tired to think of anything, he decided to get a couple of hours kip before they were ready to jump back to Minnus and continue fighting.

Pieces of Minoa Spaceport came down like meteors and projectiles. They crashed through roofs and garages, stores and banks, skyscrapers and cottages, a wide area got covered with the lethal pieces of the spaceport. Lots of people got killed, an even more injured. Police cars ambulances, not to mention fire wagons, were roaming back and forth in the streets, helping injured and trapped people everywhere. And as the noise rose from the streets of Minoa, the black warship, the Erlking, came closer, about fifty space-fighters came out, and a bombardment of the city started. Laser guns blew up people and buildings, and even some of the emergency vehicles got hit. More and more fires broke out, and an increasing number of buildings fell to the ground.
Out from a fallen wall, a dirty, bleeding sheriff West was creeping on all fours. His head had a long cut in it, but otherwise he only had scratches and bruises on him. Standing up, he found a piece of cloth he could bind round his head  to stop the bleeding. It really looked worse than it was! Now, the sheriff ran on home where he had left his wife to hide in the basement. He ran round the corner and stopped as his heart jumped up into his throat. His house that had contained his sheriffs office and personal living quarters, had been leveled to the ground.
– Charlene! he shouted at the top of his lungs.
In a few steps he had moved over to the house, and furiously, he started digging in the debris with his bare hands. A space-fighter came along, firing both forward laser cannons, but Darren West never noticed it was there. He just kept digging like crazy, uncovering the hall where the stairs went down to the basement. Throwing big, wooden beams away like they were straw, he finally found the entrance to the cellar.
– Charlene? he shouted, hoping that the love of his life was still alive.
He pushed his way into the basement, relieved to see that the cellar had not collapsed under the otherwise collapsed house.
– Charlene? Where are your?
He roamed around in the dark, waiting for his eyes to get used to the dark. After a few minutes, when the eyes had adjusted themselves to the lack of light, he realized that his wife was not there at all, not living or dead. He raced out again, looking around. Many houses had been flattened, fires were burning all around, but there weren’t that many people about. West suddenly spotted one of his neighbors, Mr. Fisher, who was sitting in a pile of rubble that used to be his house, staring emptily out in the air. West ran up to him and grabbed him by his collar.
– Have you seen my Charlene? He shouted.
Mr. Fisher turned his head slowly, looking straight at the sheriff. His mouth opened, but there was nothing coming g out. West shook him back and forth.
– Charlene, he reminded.
– Have you seen her?
Mr. Fisher hardly blinked, still being in shock.
– They’re all gone, he mumbled.
West shook him again.
– Who’s gone? Where’s Charlene?
Mr. Fisher suddenly seemed to snap out of it.
– Who? he repeated.
– Alice, Gina and Glen!
West suddenly realized that he was being very self-centered. He had just been told that Mr. Fisher had lost his wife and two kids.
– I’m so sorry, Alan! he said, sounding caring all of a sudden.
– I’m really sorry for you! I need to know, though, if you possibly can, do you know what has happened to my wife?
Mr. Fisher looked thoughtful.
– She wasn’t  here with us, he said.
– I think she went in to old Mrs. Bartlett on the corner, he added.
– She was sitting outside in her wheelchair when the metal rain started.
Darren West thanked him as he started running for the house on the corner. It was still mostly left standing. Maybe Charlene was still alive?
A load noise was heard as the Erlking came sweeping over the area and settled only a few blocks away. West peered toward the end of the street as several platoons of robots were being lowered down towards the ground.
– Oh, shakes! West uttered quietly.
The robots were unfolding, and soon they would be walking through the city, probably killing everybody in  their way.
West ran quickly to Mrs. Bartlett’s house and tore the door open.
– Charlene? Mrs. Bartlett?
He ran in and stopped suddenly.
Mrs. Bartlett was sitting in the middle of the living room, a sharp piece of metal sticking deep into the back of her head. Over her, the roof had a long opening where the piece of metal had come down from the spaceport. There was no sign of Charlene.
West went out of the house. He looked around him, trying to find where Charlene could have wandered off to.
Five black robots came round the corner and opened fire with their laser-guns. West drew his colt and fired back at them. One of the robots had a small explosion, then fell clumsily to the ground. West threw himself onto the ground as the other four robots started shooting at him. He crawled on his belly round the corner into the next street, then he rose and started running as fast as he could. The entire city were a mess, and West was running to a friend’s house on the outskirts of town. The damage was not as bad here, and Darren West’s friend, that was living out here, was a freighter pilot. As West came round the corner into his friend’s street, he saw that a small spaceship was outside his friend’s house. He ran up to it as fast as his tired legs would carry him, then he shouted out:
– Stanley? Stanley Roth? Are you in there?
A shaggy haired, plump man with a big, long beard stuck his head out the door of the spaceship.
– Darren? he called out.
– Come in quickly! We’re ready for take off!
West threw himself in as Stanley bolted the door.
Some robots came in at the top of the road and started shooting towards the spaceship.
– Where are we going? West called out.
– Plinky, Stanley shouted back before throwing himself down in the pilot seat.
The ship lifted up with a great roar and rose up towards the sky. Two fighters came and started shooting at the little spaceship, but it jumped back and forth, avoiding their shots. Then, as they had gained a higher altitude, they shot into hyperspace and were gone…

***

The city of Hazilda was bathed in sunshine, and the white wooden houses shone brightly in the old part of town, all the houses going in steps down the hillside. It was a very expensive part of town to live. That part of town still looked like it had in year 100. Duchess Blacklock was one of the many rich people who had enough money to buy a house in this part of town. Of course, being prime minister caused her to spend most of her time on the opposite side of all the skyscrapers and shopping centers down town, in the eastern part of the city where the Warden Avenue went all the way to the top of the East Hill, where the prime minister’s estate was situated, surrounded by a great, thick wall, and several uniformed guards. In here, the duchess entertained visitors from all parts of the galaxy trying to promote the Democratic Nation of Xyver and open up trading routes with as many planets as possible.
Blacklock sat behind her desk, reading as her secretary, Neil Simmons, stuck his head through the door.
– Urgent telephone, prime minister! he shouted.
– It’s from general Drummond.
Sheila Blacklock stroke her fingers through her long blond hair, an with a big sigh she picked up her receiver.
– General! she said in a cheerful voice.
– How are things at the Hexagon Head?
A picture of a skinny, but tall, old man, practically without any hair, appeared on the telephone display.
– Not well, I’m afraid! a deep voice roared.
The duchess shook her head slightly. The general had contacted her several times after the break off with the emperor. He was a pain in the backside, and his concerns were not favored by any she knew in political circles.
– Prime minister? the general continued.
– The emperor has attacked Minnus. The McManus is indisposed at the moment, and the planet might already be in control by the emperor’s robots.
Blacklock raised her eyebrows in shock.
– How do you know that? she inquired sternly.
– Message from the McManus, Drummond answered promptly.
– She’s injured, but managed to escape for making repairs!
The duchess scratched her head.
– Doesn’t Minnus have a smaller warship as well, she mumbled.
General Drummond nodded his head with a serious expression on his face.
– There is the McAllister, but it’s been in space dock for over two weeks now.
The general rubbed his chin.
– It was probably on Minoa Spaceport when it blew.
The prime minister stood up with a sudden jerk.
– General, she said in a loud, authoritative voice.
– Contact our fleet immediately!
She sounded sterner than ever.
– Leave for Plinky ASAP!
– Yes, prime minister! the general replied.
– Straight away, ma’am!

***

The Powell and the Brixton came out of hyperspace only half of a second behind each other. They put themselves in orbit round Minnus and scanned for any other space ships. A shuttle left the Brixton with a party of five commanding officers, captain Freeman as the head. They landed on the planet, and Freeman went over to the Minnussian Capitalis, the house where the senate had been. The roof had caved in, and dust and debris was everywhere. A couple of men were digging in the rubble.
– Gentlemen! captain Freeman shouted.
– What’s the situation here?
The two men stood up, shook some dust of their hands and trousers, and looked quickly at each other.
– The capital has fallen! the dark haired man said in a sad voice.
– Yeah, the blond man joined in.
– It’s controlled by robots! You better leave straight away, Sir!
The captain nodded.
– What about Lord Greyhill and the rest of the planet?
The two men shrugged their shoulders.
– Lord Greyhill was not here when the spaceport came down, so only a few knows where he is, blondie said.
– Yeah, the other guy cut in.
– I believe there is fighting going on all over the planet. The place is swirling with robots.
Freeman held his fingers up to hush them.
– Where are the warships?
The two looked at each other again.
– We don’t really know, Sir! they exclaimed.
– The McAllister blew up when the robots shot down the spaceport, and the McManus disappeared into thin air. One of the robot warships partly exploded, then crashed down miles outside the capital. The other two robot warships jumped away after they had landed their ground troops here.
The captain thanked them, then withdrew silently back to the shuttle with his other officers, sneaking around a small group with robots that marched through the messy street with a prisoner who had something like a brown bag over his head.
They took pictures of the robots and prisoner, and of the bombed out streets and houses of the capital on their way.
As they started up the engines of the shuttle, some robots suddenly appeared out of the blue, firing at the shuttle. They took off with a swish, going back to the Brixton.
Back at a safe distance, captain Freeman contacted captain Stowell of the Powell.
– Daniel, Freeman said.
– I’ve got a bad feeling about this!
Stowell replied.
– Where do you think those tin cans jumped?
Freeman sighed heavily.
– If I was a betting man, I would bet all my money on Plinky…
Stowell nodded in agreement.
-So, he said.
– What do we do, old friend?
Freeman rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
– We need to go back!
Stowell nodded again.
– But we need to help Minnus as well!
Freeman hit his fist on his chair.
– Let’s do both! he exclaimed.

***

– All repairs are complete, Sir!
Commander Swift looked really pleased with himself. They had managed the repairs in about two thirds of the time.
– Thrusters? Anderson wanted to know.
– Working perfectly, Sir! Ripley answered.
– Shields?
– Functioning at 100%, Sir!
Anderson sat down in his chair, biting his lip.
– Get ready to jump on my mark, he said in a horse voice.
– Destination Plinky? Swift wanted to know.
Anderson shook his head.
– No, he said with a dry throat.
– We’re going back to Minnus!
Ripley’s eyes got really big.
– But Sir! she exclaimed.
– We’ll be pulverized for sure!
Anderson just looked straight ahead at the main screen as he spoke with a calm, steady voice.
– If you question my orders again, quarter-master, they will go on your otherwise spotless record. Your comment has been duly noted, but we are the only operational warship on Minnus, and we will return to do our duty!
Commander Swift spoke out with a quiet voice.
– We’re only about two hours from Plinky, Sir! Are you sure you don’t want to join with another warship or two to better our odds?
Anderson turned slowly towards Swift.
– We are all brave Minnusians. We will do what we can! If the odds are too great, we’ll elope again!
The first pilot turned his head.
– Coordinates for Minnus are plotted in, Sir!
Captain Anderson turned back to face the main screen.
– Execute!

***

Sheriff Darren West was talking to his friend Stanley Connors aboard the small spaceship, the Livingston. Stanley had set the coarse for Plinky, because that was the closest planet, only three hours away from Minnus, going into hyperspace. Now they were approaching the system where the planet was, and Stanley pulled a lever back, causing the Livingston to jump out of hyperspace.
Stanley and sheriff West opened their eyes in shock as they realized where they were. There seemed to be four huge warships in the nearby space, and three of them were shooting at the other one.
– Oh crap! Stanley blurted out as he realized they were heading for getting in the middle of the crossfire.
– Hold on to something! he yelled as he tried to turn hard to starboard. Suddenly, the Livingstone shook in a violent vibration.
– We’re hit! Stanley shouted at the top of his lunges, trying to compensate as he was turning the spaceship about.

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