In Fire and Ash
Chapter Three - Shifting Paradigm
The Saratoga coasted through the undulating
wormhole at breakneck speed. The ship rattled to her core
as she was expelled once again into empty space. Captain Serman
let go his white knuckled grip on the railing near his station.
"Comm. Status?" the Captain asked.
"All systems nominal. Hull stable. Everything is in
the green, sir", replied the man at the helm.
Serman turned a questioning glance to Lieutenant Leline Aria,
his most trusted advisor and closest friend, manning the sensors.
"Lieutenant. Anything out there?"
"Yes, sir." She replied, almost bewildered "There's
a planet. Class 6 Large Swampworld. High sulfuric levels in
the atmosphere, but still breathable. But, sir, there seems
to be some sort of ion trail leading to the surface."
The Captain felt the hairs on his neck stand on end. This
was where the Admiral had come. He knew it. He could not help
but grin with pride for his crew.
"Very well, Lieutenant!" Serman remarked "All
ahead full. Bring us into a high orbit and we'll set up..."
"Captain!" Aria interrupted "There's...something
approaching. I'm not picking up any energy signals, just a
very large object moving in our direction off the starboard."
"Helm. Bring us about. I want to greet our new friends
face to face." The Captain ordered.
The Saratoga was not a combat vessel, but had seen its share
of battles. If these new visitors were hostile, they would
soon find their prey to be quite formidable.
The ensign stationed below looked back at the Captain. "Weapons
and shields, sir?"
"Not yet, ensign" the Captain calmly relayed, "Let's
see what they want first."
Lieutenant Aria carefully studied her console's readouts
as she said "Captain, I'm detecting something strange.
These ships appear to be organic in composition."
"Organic?" the Captain pondered. "How can
something organic be out..."
"Captain!" the helmsman spouted. "We've got
contacts! Lots of contacts! They're closing from all directions!"
"Shields!" the Captain shouted just as the first
of the unidentified objects slammed into the hull. "Bring
us about! I want to see these damn things with my own eyes!"
As the ship swayed hard to starboard, one of the objects
came into view. Captain Serman's widened in awe as the massive
lamprey-like monstrosity drifted towards them. He had only
heard of Leviathans as a child, never really believing they
existed. He watched as the enormous deep blue worm glided
through space like a fish in water. The body of the creature
radiated and pulsed with pale lights in every shade of blue.
The beast's mouth, nearly as large as the Saratoga herself,
slowly strained open to reveal the tunnel-like throat from
which thousands of small, spearhead-shaped creatures poured
"Captain!" the ensign pleaded, "We need orders!"
Captain Serman was jolted alert as several more of the lampreys
struck the ship. "Take us to that planet! We have to
get into the atmosphere immediately!"
The ship had only landed on a planet once before, not something
Serman wanted to remember. But if they did not land now, there
would be nothing left of their ship after these creatures
pounded them into oblivion.
"Shields are no good, sir. They're moving through them
like they aren't there!" the ensign said. "We're
losing power to main systems and hull integrity is at 60%!"
"Weapon systems online, sir. Give me a target."
The weapons officer said gruffly.
"No! There are too many! All power to engines, make
for that planet, helm!" the Captain blared above the
shuddering hall of the ship.
The Saratoga pitched violently as the larger Leviathan moved
in to attack. The Captain could only try to hold on as the
massive worm brushed along the ship, ripping off pieces of
his ship's armoring. Crewmen were thrown across the bridge
and explosions obliterated many of the consoles. Fires had
sprung up across the entire ship and many crewmembers were
attempting to put them out with small extinguishers. Outside,
the smaller creatures were tearing into the hull of the ship.
Some sectors had reported breaches where the parasites had
penetrated the hull, but those maydays cut off abruptly.
The planet was nearly within reach, but the ship would have
to make a hurried landing, something the Saratoga was not
equipped to do. With the planet drawing near, the landing
legs were dropped and more power was sent to the shielding
systems. As the ship entered the upper atmosphere of the planet,
the Leviathan turned away and the worms attached to the outside
peeled off in the intense heat. Everyone struggled to reach
their seats as the red alarms were loudly blaring the alert.
Outside, massive streams of black smoke poured from the external
systems of the ship. Fires had consumed entire areas of the
Saratoga and an acrid cloud of smoke had begun to fill the
"Systems are failing all across the boards!" some
far away voice announced.
"We're losing control of the helm!" said another
echoing voice that sounded a thousand miles away.
"Life support failing!"
"All systems red!"
"The hull is buckling!"
The noise was deafening inside the ship. Fire licked the
outside of the Saratoga, tasting its imminent demise. Red,
gold and green light flashed across the faces of the men and
women of the C.W.S. Saratoga as she broke through the dense
cloud cover at a speed far beyond the safety limit. Captain
Serman looked at the faces of those with whom he had served
for so long. Looked for the last time. Tears streaked from
many of them and some were mouthing silent prayer. The Captain
turned his eyes one last time to the viewport ahead. The ground
rushed to meet the mighty ship and embraced her with unfathomable
· * * * * * * * * * *
Airoue had not taken his eyes from the fireball that descended
to the surface, perhaps a few miles from their position. It
could not have been a normal occurrence; the atmosphere was
far too thick to allow any space debris of that size to fall
all the way to the ground. Captain Airoue stood at the north
end of the clearing the team had found. In the open, the milky
rain fell to them unfettered, but it was a small price to
pay for getting out of the woods. None of the men could find
water pure enough to drink safely. Without water, they would
not survive more than another day, not in the muggy climate
of this swamp world.
Night began to stretch over the land as the nearby blue star
fell behind the mountains. Airoue looked at his watch to see
that time passed much more slowly on this planet. Judging
by the position of the star during the time they had been
on the planet, Airoue guessed night would last almost 60 hours
and they had been unfortunate enough to crash just as it approached.
Blackness soon loomed over the camp and there was tension
between the three different men, each with different proposals.
Martek Cain removed his dirty glasses and began scrubbing
at them with a muddy shirt. It produced no results, but cleaning
his glasses was a nervous habit that Cain had yet to shake.
"We need to head back to the shuttlecraft. There is
a chance someone will find us there. Out here we're as good
as dead." Cain's nasal voice sounded as he stared off
into the night.
"I'm not goin' back there." Stated Brooks "It
ain't safe wanderin' at night."
Airoue looked at the Admiral, moaning half conscious on the
ground. "Say we head back. Who's carrying him? I couldn't
lift him any more if I wanted to and he'll die if we leave
"He's nearly dead anyways." Cain whispered under
Brooks shot a dangerous look at Cain that could be seen well
in the blue light reflecting off of the 3 moons. "He's
the Admiral! We can't just leave 'im here!"
Airoue shook his head as he ran a gritty hand through his
hair. "We're not leaving the Admiral, there's no debating
that." The Captain looked into the shadowed woods for
an answer he knew he would not find. "We need to find
food and water, that's first priority."
"Aye, sir. But we need sleep first, we'll die of exhaustion
if we don't get some rest." Brooks interjected. "To
be safe, sir, maybe we should have someone stay awake to keep
Airoue nodded approval. Davidian Brooks was smarter than
people gave him credit for. "I'll take first watch. Cain,
you can take second." The Captain said.
Cain sniffed and mumbled something under his breath before
walking over to a large boulder near the center of the clearing,
where he sat down to rest.
Airoue kept watch over his men during the uneventful night.
It gave him plenty of time to think. To think about the events
that got them here. The Admiral made foolish calls by deciding
to waltz into possibly hostile space without properly searching
the area or setting up protocol for an ambush. He stood at
the front of the bridge with that huge smile on his face,
his chest puffed out with pride. When the Sakkra ships appeared
behind them in attack formation, the Admiral issued defensive
actions. The ships were not ready for an attack and needed
more time. It was no surprise that the Saurian ships made
short work of the escorts, but the Silicoid battle cruisers
waiting nearby, that the Admiral dismissed as strange rocks,
were puzzling. Silicoids helping Sakkra was not something
even Captain Airoue could have predicted. The Admiral resigned
command to the Captain too late. There was nothing Airoue
could do but give the order to abandon ship. He caught himself
as he realized he was glaring at the writhing man on the ground.
Looking down at his watch he noticed his shift was up and
went to waken Cain.
"Cain", the Captain said as he approached. "Wake
up, it's your shift."
"I'm awake, I'm awake." Cain muttered sleepily.
"That bloody old man kept me up with his complaining."
Airoue watched as the lanky bald man walked to his position.
The Captain sat down for some rest that he would surely need.
After only a short time, Airoue was awakened by a strange
noise behind the rock against which he was sleeping. He pulled
himself up to peer over the boulder at the strange crunching
noise coming from behind him. What he saw chilled him to the
The Admiral's legs were the last to disappear down the huge
gullet of a four-legged animal standing just a few feet from
the Captain. The beast stood at least six feet at the shoulders
and was as large around as he was tall, covered in short red
hair. His hind legs were dwarfed by his massive fore legs,
which ended in claws several inches long. The beast had teeth
even longer and his glowing yellow eyes rested on either side
of his gaping mouth, where the last of Admiral Norvitz vanished
in a satisfied gulp.
The lumbering predator turned his eyes directly on Airoue
as he stood from behind his rock. He looked to his left to
see Cain asleep on the ground.
"Brooks!" the Captain said in a loud whisper.
Brooks opened his eyes and jumped awake immediately, seeing
the giant red beast switching his gaze from one man to the
Cain, apparently awakened by the noised, bellowed a scream
that startled even the creature that had joined them. The
beast roared back; a thundering roar that shook the ground
and rattled the trees, deep and guttural but at the same time
with a penetrating whistle-like sound. Cain clamped his mouth
shut with his hands and immediately bolted for the nearby
woods leading to unexplored land. Brooks shouted after him
as Captain Airoue drew his sidearm. The giant did not follow
Brooks or Cain, but instead stared intently at Airoue, who
had his gauss pistol aimed directly at the right eye.
In the still, blue lit night on the strange planet, a single
shot rang out, followed by a quaking roar that echoed for
Airoue fell back after his companions, leaving the red carnivore
reeling in pain and lashing at its missing eye with seriating
claws. Airoue caught up with Brooks and Cain as the stout
mechanic was trying to hold the smaller man still, his hand
over Cain's mouth.
Airoue barely slowed down as he passed the men and said simply
"We have to go. Now!"
Brooks let go his grip on Cain and the two men took off after
"Sir, where are we going? We'll get lost out here, sir!
"Brooks shouted from behind.
Airoue did not bother to look back as he said "Anywhere
The men continued running through the woods, the resonating
screams of the monster behind them. The Admiral was gone and
Airoue could not help but feel less burdened. A feeling that
made him hate himself.