They all wanted a turn asking me questions and pouring their hearts out for me, and I hungrily welcomed it. But there just wasn’t enough time. When Tlalo rushed past me, busy unloading wing packs and laser pistols, I asked “Aren’t you going to say anything to them?”
He focused intently on the levitating rack of wing packs until it came to rest securely on the cavern floor, then turned his attention to me. “What for? You took care of that for me, didn’t you. Really knocked it out of the bark too, if I may say so.”
I raised an eyebrow at the last part and inquired whether he meant ‘park’. He looked briefly caught off guard. “I guess? I always assumed it was a reference to beating insects out of tree bark so you could eat them, or something like that. But enough idle talk, help me unload the rest of these.”
Of all the frivolous things to think about as zero hour arrived, I was preoccupied with how I could possibly go about explaining the context for that phrase to Tlalo. What a ball park is, the entire sport of baseball and why humans enjoy it enough to create such large, carefully cultivated parks in which to play it.
Just another of those constant subtle reminders that he’s not human. That none of them are human. Yet in a different sense they were the most deeply, authentically human of anybody I have ever known.
Trumpets sounded. So faintly at first that I was unsure whether that’s really what I was hearing. It paralyzed me with dread that it signalled the enemy’s discovery of our location. Instead, it was the cavalry charge. More and more distant trumpets joined the echoing din, then one of the soldiers at the cavern opening produced his own trumpet and joined in as well.
Tlalo ran for our saucer and shouted after me to follow, so I did. All around us, the others were either piling into the other saucer, or strapping on and powering up their wing packs. The latter were the first to depart, swarming out of the cavern and into the Earth’s interior like a mass of angry hornets.
Just before the hatch closed I could see anti-aircraft weapons of some unfamiliar type firing what looked like bolts of golden thunder at saucers which had begun to emerge from various other passages like this one.
I planted my staff into the saucer’s central socket, threw myself into the captain’s seat and strapped myself in with a five point harness that seemed to materialize from the chair just because it was needed.
The other saucer surged forth outside the windows, soaring overhead, then plunging itself into the fray. With nowhere else to go and nothing else to do, I followed it.
What happened next was a terrifying, incomprehensible jumble of sights and sounds. Saucers streaked through the sky on every side, loud reports from the lightning cannons threatening to deafen me. That is if the sudden, painfully bright flashes did not blind me first.
I deployed all of the guns. The saucer, sensing my intent, somehow made the hull of the craft itself transparent to me in whichever direction I looked so that I could visually track targets through it. The force engaging with us in the air was only partly comprised of enemy saucers.
As I watched in horror, each of them released about a dozen drones each. At least I assumed that’s what they were, gleaming golden tetrahedrons with one of the points stretched out disproportionately to the rest, like a three dimensional isosceles triangle.
They flew longest point first, as if that were the nose of the craft or where its sensors are concentrated. Spinning as they flew like terrible shining drills, they came at us. Not even shooting, just plowing through our saucers as soon as they could get close enough.
Even when destroyed, they just fragmented into smaller craft, each of which was one of the separated triangular faces of the original drone. The rest, too damaged to fight, plunged towards the inner Earth’s surface below us in a tumbling, smoldering shower of wreckage.
I unloaded everything I had. The guns were autonomous when I did not focus on them but directed by my desires when I did. I was then able to guide and manage six guns in total where, without the AI oversight, the task would’ve overwhelmed me.
A brilliant flash of light, then a boiling orange fireball as my guns found their mark. Tlalo whooped and shrieked, what I interpreted as a Vril-ya battle cry. I joined in, imitating him as completely as I could.
“That was one of their saucers! Not a drone! Did you see, all the drones it released just dropped out of the sky when you destroyed it! I’ll notify the rest of the fleet to ignore the drones and target the saucers.”
He clasped my shoulder and shook it heartily, then rushed to the communications console on the other side of the saucer cabin. Meanwhile something bizarre had begun to unfold outside. The winged soldiers were now swirling in a huge, wide, sloppy vortex. Something like the initial stages of a hurricane.
Faster and faster they spun, the vortex tightening as they did so. It powerfully confused the drones as it created the illusion of predictable movement they could use to lead their targets. Instead, individual winged soldiers comprising the swarm were deliberately making small, random changes to their trajectory as they flew.
Never so severe as to compromise the overall structure of the storm, if it could be called that. A furious tornado of technological angels, confounding those horrid pointed metal things with its chaotic helical motion.
“YES!” Tlalo shouted. “Yes!! The old ritual! Show them we haven’t forgotten!” I could recall nothing of whatever ritual he meant, but there did seem to be an almost feverishly merry quality to it. Whenever this vortex engulfed a group of drones, they were dispatched just a few moments later with shocking ease.
By the time the pilots of the enemy saucers accepted what was happening and changed course to avoid the vortex, it had already consumed and destroyed a good three quarters of the drones. My heart sang, in perfect resonant harmony with the staff and saucer under my command. We’d really done it. We had them on the ropes now.
Or it seemed that way. Their numbers dwindled rapidly, as did ours, until out of the hundreds of saucers which originally rose to meet us, less than twenty remained. The landscape below was now littered with the flaming wreckage of the rest, both theirs and ours.
The black sun grew larger and larger as we approached, deftly evading shots fired by the enemy saucers. Too easily, in retrospect. “Something’s wrong” Tlalo called to me. “The anti-aircraft guns are still firing. If those haven’t been shut down by now, then…”
I put it together for myself just as he did. “TURN BACK!!” he shouted. I couldn’t make myself do it. Everything was aligned for this perfect moment. We were positioned exactly as we needed to be in order to deal the finishing blow.
Only, that blow was dealt to us…from the black sun itself. The saucer’s visual filters blocked out enough of the blinding golden light that I could see evenly spaced guns mounted to the outer surface of the black sun housing, all of which were now coming to bear on us.
The saucer next to me erupted, all at once, into a tangled conflagration which then spiraled helplessly down towards the land mass underneath us. “YOU HAVE TO TURN BACK!!” Tlalo once again shouted, now out of his seat and shaking me. “YOU HAVE TO T-”
The saucer violently lurched as it absorbed the impact as best it could, then began to spin wildly around me. It was as if the world had been ripped out from under my seat, leaving me in a free fall through a slow motion shower of molten metal droplets and twisted scrap.
It all came back to me. Neil’s saucer. The mangled wreckage. His even more severely mangled body. When next I awoke, it was to flickering red emergency lights diluted by sunlight streaming in through a giant, smoking tear in the hull. The only sensation stronger than the deja vu was the pounding pain in my head.
Stay Tuned for Part 30!