tagSci-Fi & FantasyThree Square Meals Ch. 091

Three Square Meals Ch. 091

byTefler©

The darkness of the tunnel was banished by the bright pulses of laser fire, while the shrill screams of dying Kirrix rang in John's ears. There was a momentary lull in the carnage as Irillith followed the ramp up and around the corner, her sister hovering protectively at her side. The insectoid troops lurking around the corner in ambush rushed forward, but Tashana's twin Quantum pistols barked out their deadly song and they were blown to pieces in a hail of railgun slugs.

Irillith levelled the underslung Pulse Cannon at the rest of the screeching troops and blazing azure bolts scythed through their ranks, cutting the Kirrix down. The twins continued upwards along the tunnel, leaving dismembered limbs twitching on the floor, the severed joints glowing where they'd been sheared from each soldier's thorax.

As John reached the turn in the tunnel, he looked down at the brunette he was carrying in his arms. "How are you doing, honey?"

Rachel glanced at the trauma bandage she'd applied to the wound on her thigh. "You can put me down now if you want," she said with a brave smile. "The initial pain from the neutron bolt injury was only temporary, so I should be able to keep up."

"The twins have got this," John replied, watching the Maliri sisters ruthlessly carving their way through the Kirrix forces. "Besides, you're light as a feather."

She let out a happy sigh and snuggled into his chest. "Okay then, if you insist."

Dana was walking alongside them and she laughed, shaking her head in amusement. "She's making me wish I'd got shot instead, just so you could carry me out of here. How fucked up is that?"

"No more getting shot please," John replied, giving her a stern frown.

*Actually, unless Dana's planning on melting any more tunnels, we can use the last of her psychic energy to patch Rachel up,* Alyssa informed the three of them, the weariness in her voice obvious to all.

Dana nodded eagerly as she replied, "Sure, give her whatever she needs!"

Rachel's body was flooded with a sudden burst of energy and her grey eyes began to glow with an inner light as she placed her hand on her injured thigh. The misty aura rolled down her arm then spread out to shroud her leg. She let out a gentle sigh when she felt that soft tickling sensation, as the nasty gunshot wound closed and healed.

*That's it, we're all completely tapped out,* Alyssa warned John.

The redhead yawned and went to cover her mouth with her hand, accidentally bumping her armoured fingers into the clear faceplate of her Paragon helmet. "Fuck me, I feel whacked..." she murmured, before turning to look at her lover. "Feeling better, Babes?"

"Much, thank you!" Rachel replied, giving Dana a grateful grin. Shining her bright smile on John next, she brushed her fingers against his faceplate and let out a sigh of regret. "I'd let you carry me all the way to the ship, but I'm fully recovered now. You should probably put me down, so Dana and I can go and help the twins."

He did as she asked and Dana handed Rachel back the Quantum rifle she'd been carrying. They shared a quick hug before jogging ahead to see if the Maliri sisters needed any assistance. John turned around and glanced back at Sub-Warden Dhormun who was talking quietly with Chancellor Niskera as they followed in his wake. They were both watching him intently and their pupil-less amber eyes seemed to be studying his every move.

"Is everyone okay?" he asked, glancing behind at the group of diplomats and the dozen Trankaran Legionnaires that were shoving dead Kirrix out of their path.

Dhormun gave him a slow, deeply respectful nod and his rumbling voice had an odd catch to it as he replied, "Yes. Thanks to you, we are all uninjured, Gr-"

"Vice Admiral Blake..." Niskera quickly blurted out, cutting Dhormun off. "May I speak with you a moment please?"

John glanced back up the slope and saw that the girls had their evacuation well in hand. Dana and Rachel had taken point, allowing the twins a few moments to recharge their shields and for Tashana to reload her brace of pistols. "Sure, but we can talk at length when we return to my ship."

The Chancellor turned and patted Dhormun on the shoulder, giving him a brief smile of apology for interrupting him. She hurried forward and matched John's stride as she fell into step beside him, walking carefully around chitinous corpses. Niskera opened her mouth to speak, hesitated and closed it again, suddenly appearing intimidated by his presence. She turned to look at him out of the corner of her eye and John saw that same look of reverence shining in those amber orbs once again.

John gave her an encouraging smile and prompted her gently, "What did you want to talk about, Niskera?"

She bit her lip then asked in a hushed voice, "Is it really true? Have you returned to us after thousands of years?"

Looking at her sharply, John asked, "What do you mean?"

"You are the Great Maker aren't you?" Niskera whispered, a look of wonder on her face. "I've seen the scriptures, heard all the stories from the years of darkness... The time when the gods themselves fought in the heavens!"

John was stunned and he gaped at her in surprise.

"You've returned to my people in our time of greatest need!" she continued, the light of a true believer in her eyes. "I was blind not to see when we first met... You swept in and effortlessly ended the rebellion with barely any loss of life, reuniting our people and averting civil war!"

Niskera suddenly looked horrified and before John could reply, she blurted out, "But it was a test, wasn't it?! We failed you and left ourselves vulnerable to the Kirrix! I begged the Senate to overcome their differences, but they were unable to decide on anything! I'm so sorry, Great Maker! Please don't abandon us again!"

John shook off his shock and the Chancellor gasped when he reached out to place a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "You have nothing to apologise for, Niskera. I wasn't testing you, and I'm not going to abandon you, but I'm also not Mael'nerak. That's the name of the Progenitor your people knew of as your Great Maker."

Her face ran through a gamut of emotions. When Niskera heard that he wasn't upset with her, she looked immensely relieved at first, but that relief quickly turned to confusion at his firm declaration that he wasn't the Great Maker. Eventually her face lit up with understanding. "But you are another 'Progenitor'? A fellow god, just like our Great Maker was!"

He opened his mouth to reply, when Tashana called back to him from further up the tunnel, "John! We've reached the surface! Sakura's here..."

John turned to face the Trankaran Chancellor. "We'll talk later, Niskera, I promise."

She bowed to him reverently and he hesitated, torn whether or not to stop and clarify things with her now.

*We'll sort everything out with her later,* Alyssa prompted him. *We need your help dealing with the Kirrix on the surface.*

*OK, I'm on my way,* John replied, striding purposefully up the last of the tunnel, stepping over and around steaming Kirrix corpses.

The four girls had fanned out at the tunnel entrance to cover possible avenues of attack. Over to their left, about fifty metres away was the segmented ochre hull of a Kirrix hive ship, the huge vessel dark and lifeless. A large chunk had been ripped out of the underbelly and Trankaran civilians were climbing out of the hole in the hull. Directly ahead of them was the Valkyrie, it's weapons trained on the hive ship.

John grimaced when he saw the damage the mech had taken. It had been hit by heavy neutron bolts in dozens of locations, and the once gleaming white armour plating was now gouged and blackened. As he continued his inspection of the mech, he spotted the ugly crater on its shoulder where one of the Pulse Cannon turrets had been destroyed in an explosion. Finally, the Valkyrie's feet and lower legs were dripping in sticky green blood, as was its massive sword.

He activated the comm in his HUD, picking up the mech. When Sakura's beautiful face appeared as an image inside the helmet, he asked in a shocked voice, "What the hell happened?! I thought you were supposed to stay out of trouble? Are you alright?"

Sakura's face was fraught with worry. "Forget the Valkyrie! You guys look like you were torn to bits! Are all of you okay?!"

John paused and glanced down at his own body armour and then that of the girls. He knew they'd taken a lot of hits in that nightmarish slog through the Kirrix forces, but he hadn't realised how bad it had been. They'd all been struck by scores of neutron bolts, their white armour a tattered shadow of its once pristine glory. Rachel aside, he was amazed that the armour had been able to take that much abuse and that more of them hadn't been injured.

Looking back up at the mech's cockpit, the head was tilted down towards him and he spotted the Asian girl through the clear-crystal canopy. "It looks a lot worse than it is. Only Rachel got injured, but she healed herself."

Sakura nodded, then looked a bit guilty. "I'm sorry to ask, but I could really use your help. I took down all the Kirrix hive ships to stop them from abducting the Trankaran civilians. I've also killed all the Hivelords to stop them infesting any more Trankarans, but there's still Kirrix troops inside keeping their prisoners captive."

"You need our help with a sweep and clear?" John asked apprehensively. "I don't think we're in much shape to handle multiple boarding actions."

"We just need to free the civilians!" Sakura replied in a rush. "You don't need to scour the ships of all the Kirrix troops."

*Before you do anything, come and get some fresh armour,* Alyssa insisted. *Faye will bring the Raptor around for you once you're ready to hit the hive ships. Heads up, we're incoming to your position.*

John glanced up and smiled when he saw the Invictus looming overhead, the battlecruiser dropping down through the cloudbanks with retro-thrusters flaring to slow their descent. His smile faded when he saw the state of the armour, with ugly furrows from a multitude of beam weapon hits crisscrossing the hull.

"Holy fuck!" he swore under his breath.

Alyssa sighed. *Don't worry, I'll fix it...*

*I don't give a shit who fixes it!* John swore, his worry for Alyssa and Calara making him sharp with her. *You weren't supposed to be slugging it out with their capital ships! Are you both okay?*

*I'm exhausted, John...* Alyssa replied patiently. *Can we discuss it later please?*

His eyes narrowed as he gazed up at the descending ship. *Fine, but we need to have a talk, young lady.*

Turning to make eye contact with Sakura in the Valkyrie cockpit, John gave her a thumbs up, then looked back at the tunnel entrance. The Trankaran soldiers had fanned out to form a firing line between each of the girls, while the diplomats huddled together just outside the tunnel entrance.

He pointed upwards at the Invictus and forced a warm smile onto his face as he looked at the assorted alien dignitaries. "My ship will be landing in a moment. If you'd like to follow me, you'll be safe once you're inside."

Niskera walked over to him, her face a mask of concern. "The citizens of Mulbharum... I can't just abandon them to the Kirrix!"

"We're not going to," John said, meeting her anxious gaze. "Trust me."

***

Faye banked the Raptor around in a tight turn, flying to intercept the remnants of the Kirrix reinforcements, who were pouring out of a tunnel to the south of the city.

"Sakura, we've got Kirrix troops emerging from two tunnels," she informed the Valkyrie pilot. "I'll take the one to the south, the one closest to you is three-hundred-and-nine metres from your position, on a bearing of seventy-two degrees."

"Got it! Heading there now," Sakura replied, pivoting the Valkyrie and setting off with long loping strides.

The purple sprite was high above the city, with half of her avatars performing scans of Mulbharum and checking the city for any signs of Kirrix forces. The other half were back in the Invictus, either manning the Pulse Cannons to provide cover for the thousands of Trankaran civilians boarding the battlecruiser, or coordinating her boys who were assisting with the rescue mission.

At least fifty Kirrix troopers had emerged from the tunnel ahead of her, looking like angry ants pouring out of a disturbed nest. They were reinforcements from the closest hive ship; hundreds of soldiers that had nearly made it to the underground cavern, before Dana had collapsed the pillar-lined gallery. With no way ahead of them, they had simply turned around and backed up the sloping tunnel, intent on returning to their hive ship.

Faye Primary brought the Raptor in low, weaving through the monolithic Trankaran skyscrapers. She marvelled at how much more exhilarating flying was when she was able to make course corrections almost instantaneously, rather than having to allow for a couple of seconds of signal delay. Executing a lazy roll, just for the sheer thrill of it, she opened fire with her Photon Lasers, blasting an emerging Kirrix Juggernaut in the torso and vaporising everything above its bulbous abdomen.

The Pulse Cannons blazed away, hosing down the fleeing Kirrix troopers with streams of azure laser bolts. Each of the six turrets tracked from port to starboard, her avatars calculating the most efficient path to sweep the hail of fire through the insectoid forces. As the Raptor neared the tunnel entrance, she reduced power to the engines to bring the ship to a halt, then activated retro-thrusters to upend the gunship, so that the nose was pointing directly into the broad tunnel entrance. Just as she had with the last two entrances, she opened up with the Photon Laser beams, slashing them back and forth, and melting large trenches through the walls. With a rumbling crash the tunnel caved in, throwing dense plumes of dust skyward as the rubble settled, entombing hundreds more.

"Very nice, honey," John said, nodding his approval. He pointed over to the section of ragged hull where Sakura had previously carved her way into the belly of the hive ship. "Put us down over there, same drill as before."

Faye beamed at his praise. "Okay, John!" she readily agreed. "I'll start an active scan immediately and update your HUD with the results!"

He winked at her, then left the cockpit, unshouldering his rifle as he stepped into the grav-tube. Faye brought the gunship down at the point John had requested, while keeping a vigilant eye on the sensors to look for any more Kirrix sightings. She watched John, Dana, and Calara jog towards the jagged tear in the hull, their new sets of pristine white armour gleaming in the moonlight. Faye Tertiary noted that the Active Scan was complete and she began to upload the sensor results to their Paragon HUDs. There were still a couple of hundred Trankarans inside that vessel, closely guarded by a dozen Kirrix soldiers.

Faye Primary didn't have time to worry about John and his two young companions, because Alyssa contacted her a second later. "We're ready for a pickup, Faye," the blonde said, giving her a tired smile.

"On my way!" the sprite replied, ramping up power to the Raptor's retro-thrusters and launching the gunship skyward.

As she pivoted towards the eighth Kirrix hive ship -- where she had dropped Alyssa and the Maliri twins ten minutes earlier -- a bright holo-projection filled the sky above the city. It had been replayed every ten minutes for the last two hours, with Faye broadcasting Chancellor Niskera's kind face as a huge, hundred-metre-high image across the clouds.

"Citizens of Mulbharum! Please assemble at the central plaza! We are evacuating those in most need from the city; the injured, infected, or mothers with young children. Any citizens fit and able to fight, please report to Sub-Warden Dhormun who is rallying a militia until large-scale relief arrives. Republic forces will return and protect you from the Kirrix, you have my word as your Chancellor!"

The image winked out and Faye glanced down at the Invictus as she raced overhead. Orderly queues of Trankaran citizens were being loaded into the battlecruiser's Primary Hangar, where her maintenance bots were helping to sort the civilians into their various categories. Faye Octonary was in charge of finding the most critically injured and bringing them to Rachel's attention, while the bots controlled by Nonary through to Duodenary were helping bring those Trankarans infested with Kirrix eggs for treatment.

Faye Primary marvelled at the calm, orderly manner with which the Trankarans behaved; so unlike the chaotic groups of Terrans she'd helped rescue on numerous occasions. Not that she disliked Terrans of course! Aside from a certain Progenitor who she liked very much indeed, Terrans were her favourite species. Thinking of Dana activated her special 'best friend' subprogram and she felt giddy as she began to think about times they'd spent together in the Grand Engineering Overlord's Workshop.

A new 'guilt' procedure kicked in when she spotted her wonderful Creator by the hull of the hive ship. Faye flushed, realising she should really have considered Maliri to be her favourites. Irillith was standing beside her sister by the tear in the flank of the grounded Kirrix vessel, gunning down any insectoid soldiers still attempting to pursue their fleeing prisoners. Alyssa was busy outside the Kirrix hive ship, directing the Trankaran civilians they'd just liberated from captivity. A number of healthy Trankarans were helping to carry their infested rock-brethren to the loading point, those dazed civilians bloated with Kirrix eggs were too weak to stand themselves. All the rest who were unharmed, were running towards the rallying point in the centre of the city.

Faye brought the gunship down to a clear space on the nearby road, rotating the gunship so that the injured and infested could be loaded into the big compartment at the rear of the Raptor. As soon as she touched down, she activated the rear-loading ramp, then waited patiently for Alyssa's confirmation that they could evacuate those in urgent need of care to the Invictus.

***

"This will feel a little odd, but you won't be harmed by the procedure," Rachel said, giving the burly Trankaran a kind smile.

Chancellor Niskera clasped his hand and squeezed it tightly. "You've been so brave, but this nightmare is nearly at an end, you have my word."

He looked up at her and slowly nodded, shame, fear, and revulsion warring for dominance on his blunt features. The Trankaran was lying on a platform underneath a cargo loading arm, the grasping claw removed and replaced by a Sonic Cannon that was pointed at his bloated abdomen.

Rachel clicked the button on her console and the specially modified Sonic Cannon opened fire, sending pulses of sound into the rockman's belly. He groaned and shifted slightly on the raised plinth he was lying on.

"Any pain?" the brunette asked, her finger hovering over the button to shut down the sonic weapon.

He shook his head and rumbled, "No Doctor... as you say, it feels very... odd."

Rachel patted him on the shoulder. "Nearly done, Theldroc. The vibrations from the Sonic Cannon are liquefying the eggs. You'll be clear of all infection in a matter of minutes."

Five seconds later she glanced at the body scan results and nodded with satisfaction. She pressed the button to cease fire with the Cannon, then beckoned over a couple of Trankaran Legionnaires who had volunteered to act as orderlies.

"I thought you said a few minutes?" Theldroc asked, looking up at the Sonic Cannon in surprise.

Rachel smiled at him, then gestured to the Legionnaires. "These men will help you to the bathroom. It's over Theldroc, you're safe now."

His amber eyes welled up and he clasped her hand in his massive paw. "Thank you so much, Doctor."

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byTefler© 81 comments/ 27147 views/ 58 favorites

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