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The Aslan - Part IV

Iilgan/Trojan Reaches [2719] C467787-8 Ag Ri 812 Cs G7 V

First O'Neill tasted the metallic flavor of blood in his mouth, then the pain in his head flooded to the forefront of his attention. He opened his eyes but everything to his front was blurry. He squeezed his eyes shut then opened them again to clear his vision. Daylight was flooding in the ruined compartment of the CDC from the flight deck. He slowly realized that the grav carrier was lying on its side at a forty-five degree angle. Slowly he reached up and felt the growing welt on the left side of his head, there was just a touch of blood on his fingers when he brought them down to look at them.

A low moaning from somewhere near the rear of the compartment brought his attention back to his surroundings. The odor of burnt plastic and flesh brought his focus back as he tried to shift on the bench he was pinned to by the padded restraining crash bar. O'Neill smacked the release button between his legs that lifted the bar and allowed him freedom of movement. Quickly surveying the starboard side of the CDC, he realized that a missile on their final approach to the landing area had brought them down.

O'Neill moved the front of the CDC to check the flight crew. The pilot was assisting the copilot undo his seatbelts; the copilot appeared to have either a broken arm or shoulder. O'Neill assisted the two men move to the rear of the compartment and into the main passenger area. Then O'Neill climbed back into the ruined cockpit to survey the damage to the craft and get his first view of the surrounding countryside. His first reaction upon looking on the vehicle's engineering status board was that the Gods of Man had blessed them by allowing their surviving the crash. The ship's status board indicated that they had lost nearly every vital system. The only green light came from the hydrogen fuel cell that appeared to be unscathed.

O'Neill's concentration was distracted by the sound of a set of helicopter rotors passing over the downed grav carrier. He quickly scanned the outside surroundings. The carrier had come down in lush tropical rain forest. The crash site appeared to be the side of a heavily vegetated hill or slope. Ruined trees and vines encased the bow of the carrier, with only glimpses of the tree canopy beyond. He could hear the returning of abundant animal noises beyond the carrier's windows. He quickly backed out of the cockpit in to the main payload area of the carrier.

"Who is the next highest in rank?" he asked the group of survivors that were huddling at the lower end of the compartment. The pilot scanned the others then indicated that he was the next senior man. O'Neill was quietly disappointed that the lieutenant in charge of the platoon riding with him had not survived the crash.

Then one of the platoon's noncommissioned officers spoke up, "Sir I'm the senior surviving member of the platoon, my name is Sergeant Cal Bearns, First Platoon, Alpha Company, Third Battalion, Fourth Regiment of the Tobian Legion, sir."

"Report sergeant," ordered O'Neill.

"We were hit on the right side of the carrier with a high yield explosive device, resulting in extensive catastrophic damage to the vehicle rear starboard side and forcing us down. We lost a lot of people and equipment from the initial explosion and more from the resulting crash. Out of thirty Legionaries I have nineteen that survived and of those only thirteen are combat effective. We are moving the wounded out of the vehicle already to a small ravine about fifteen meters from the crash. I have six troopers providing security. I came back to round up the aircrew and the lieutenant. He didn't survive the crash sir." The sergeant's report was quick and thorough.

"Very good, show me the way to the ravine," ordered O'Neill. Then as he passed the aircrew he added, "You know the drill Chief, make sure all your sensitive communications equipment and documents are destroyed then join me outside."

O'Neill thanked the Gods of Man that starships altered their internal gravity fields to meet the level of their destination during move from one system to another. Iilgan was rated at a size four planet that meant that its surface gravity was about 0.5 human norms. The atmosphere fortunately was a standard oxygen-nitrogen mix for humans so he and his men could move around without burdensome environmental suits or breathing equipment. But the smell of the local foliage and fauna always was initially overwhelming and in some cases nauseating. Coupled with the trauma of a serious crash, the intensity of being in combat, and the odors coming from the crash site itself, O'Neill was feeling light headed and was more than glad when the sergeant came to the little clearing that was serving as their initial rally point.

Laying about the center of the small clearing were the wounded from the crash. The uniform of O'Neill's staff had chosen for the Tobian Legion for this mission had been a olive drab combat environment suit. Their homeworld of Tobia was advanced technologically according to Imperial standards actually pushing the highest limit of Imperial technology. As such much of the equipment of the Legion was also pretty advanced compared to the local forces they usually fought. All of the men lying or setting around him now were equipped with Tobian manufactured combat environment suits. The suits had protected the men from the concussion of the missile hit, but not the violence of the crash or the shrapnel. O'Neill made a quick headcount of the wounded. Six of the men were seriously injured just as Sergeant Bearns had described; four of them could be moved two could not. Behind him he heard the muffled sound of the two pilots and the last of Sergeant Bearns' men coming into the clearing from the wreck.

"Sir we need to get moving, who ever shot us down had a chopper fly over us a few minutes ago, that means a ground team will be here shortly to secure the wreckage," offered the sergeant.

"Move away from the crash on a one-hundred forty degree azimuth for about two kilometers before taking up a course for the landing zone," O'Neill ordered. Sergeant Bearns snapped his fingers to bring two troopers into the center of the clearing where he and O'Neill were kneeling. He gave quick instructions to the men who in turn picked three men each off the perimeter guards and headed out in to the jungle in the direction O'Neill had ordered.

The seven men off the perimeter moved to the center of the clearing and help their wounded comrades get to their feet. Four of the men hastily made litters for the two men who could not walk out of ponchos from the survival equipment and saplings growing on the edge of the clearing. One of the troopers handed O'Neill one of the seriously wounded men's advanced combat rifles, the other he gave to the carrier's pilot. O'Neill quickly made a function check of the bullpup ACR and found it to be serviceable. He waved for the troopers lifting the wounded men to wait, then he waved to the carrier pilot. Together they stripped the load bearing harnesses off the two wounded men and exchanged them for their own. The two officers then switched their service pistol holsters to the new harnesses before moving out with the group.

The party of twenty-two Tobians moved quickly through the new Iilgan environment. Although the plants and animals were completely new to the men, they had been able to study library information on the flora and fauna of Iilgan during the long transit from their last campaign. The men knew the major dangers the jungle presented them with but it was a major change from the frozen tundra of New Moscow, and the men showed it in their movement through the vines and broad leafed plants. The noise they were making and the slow progress made O'Neill nervous. They would not get far enough away from the wreck at this rate.

Everyone froze as the sounds of an approaching helicopter became louder. Sergeant Bearns waved for his mean to go prone and conceal themselves under the plants. O'Neill scanned the sky through the network of leaves and branches from the canopy over them. Then he saw for a fleeting instant the ominous shadow of the helicopter as it streaked loudly over head. O'Neill thought he made out bright colors on the helicopter's hull but he could not be sure.

On an impulse he waved to Sergeant Bearns and signaled to move on. Slowly the sergeant stood, got his bearings then snapped his fingers. Instantly his troops looked to him and responded to the hand and arm signals he then gave. More quietly than before the Tobians picked themselves up and resumed their direction of travel.

Three hours into their ordeal, the first of the seriously wounded troopers died from his wounds. The Tobians hastily buried the man while O'Neill and Bearns recorded the map coordinates off the sergeant's tactical map of the grave's location. Eventually the Tobians came to a small river that was identified on the tactical map the soldiers had with them. O'Neill signaled for the team to stop and rest while he considered their situation. According to Sergeant Bearns' map they had not moved very far from the crash site, about five kilometers or so. The terrain was very hard to negotiate and the jungle plants hard to penetrate with the equipment and wounded they were carrying. The small river they had come upon was a minor tributary of the much, much larger Ysolde River, which was the spine of the basin they were now stranded in. There was no native sentient life on Iilgan, but there was plenty of native animal life. Fortunately it followed the basic pattern of protein based life encountered every where in Charted Space. Tobia itself was about the size of Iilgan, but with a thin, tainted atmosphere that forced the majority of the population to live inside huge habitats. Tobians by nature were urbanites, preferring the comforts of civilized living to the outdoor life of the Iilgans.

O'Neill's plan had been to set up the regimental headquarters at the starport outside the capital city of Ysolde, for what the river had been named when the planet was first colonized centuries back. That had all changed with the arrival of the Aslan, they also would surely want to secure the starport too. He had no doubt from the number of ships in the Aslan fleet they would bring more troops than he had at his disposal. Ysolde was a good one hundred to one hundred and fifty kilometers from where he thought he was located now. And his legion was no doubt scattered throughout the entire region as they prepared for the arrival of the Aslan. His standard operation procedure when his men were faced with overwhelming enemy force was to scatter, then reassemble when the tactical situation allowed. His men were to reorganize in company and then battalion sized elements moving away from the enemy. The biggest the Legion faced was their reliance on high technology. His men would require maintenance facilities and sources of energy they could tap into to use their weapons and equipment.

The combat environment suits his men now wore probably had protected them from immediate identification and location by the helicopters that had swarmed the crash site after their landing. The suits had the capability to hide the wearer from infrared detection allowing them to blend into their surroundings during their escape. But that protection would not last forever, the suit's exhaust system for bleeding off body heat was reliant on a chill pack that only had a service life of a few hours. Once that pack was exhausted the suit actually increased the wearer's infrared signature.

O'Neill leaned back against a dark wood tree and pondered over the tactical map in his hands. The map had been printed from the library data of the transport ship's computer, updated by the sensor information they had obtained from orbit. The map was extremely accurate as far as terrain contours, man-made structures, and objects that can be seen from space. He looked at the chronometer strapped to his left wrist. It was digital, programmed with the Imperial time standard and calendar. A second function gave local time based on the Imperial standard but synchronized to align with the planet's rotation based on the location of the starport as the prime meridian. His troops would all by synchronized time-wise using similar devices issued to all of them. He looked up at a patch of clouds drifting high above overhead through an opening in the foliage caused by the meandering river. He wondered what the Aslan were now doing. Would the Ysolde rebels continue to fight his men once they realized the Aslan had just arrived in system?

A question that rushed to the forefront of O'Neill's thoughts was how the Ysolde rebels had managed to bring down his grav carrier in the first place. Although the Iilgans boasted a pre-stellar technological society, they had a culture that downplayed the use of firearms. Their government was a civil service bureaucracy not a militant dictatorship or fractured balkanized government. O'Neill tried to remember the details of Major Alpheus' briefing just before their arrival. "The planetary government is a civil service bureaucracy with decision making councils. The government has become isolated from the local rural populations and the citizenry has taken up arms in revolt to government directed policies. Government informers have provided intelligence that Ysolde landowners are in fact arming country militias. Of special interest is a landowner named Gulian Olofuli; he reportedly has armed a military force of approximately 200 to 500 insurgents calling themselves the Ysolde River Act Resistance with high tech military arms. Although Ysolde officials have stated they have substantial evidence that Gulian Olofuli is the patron of the rural insurgent militia he himself denies this. Interestingly enough Mister Olofuli has not been arrested."

The pain in O'Neill's head was increasing, he had no doubt he had suffered a concussion during the crash landing. The wound on the side of his head was beginning to itch from the sweat running down from his scalp as the heat of the day continued to grow. The noises of the jungle surrounded he and his men, as they lay concealed in the underbrush near the edge of the river. The second wounded man was beginning to run a high fever indicated he had caught an infection. One of the other troopers had soaked a rag and was dabbing his forehead as the man talked in his tortured sleep.

That was the answer to their dilemma, he would have to somehow contact this Baron Gulian Olofuli and determine his stand on the arrival of the Aslan. O'Neill's men numbered over thirteen hundred and were now scattered over large portion of the Ysolde River District. Only a small portion of the Legion was on the surface when the Aslan fleet had been detected. His small reconnaissance teams had been grounded to begin searching out the YRAR strongholds and jungle bases. The bulk of the Legion had still been on the Tobian transports when the Aslan had been discovered.

Although Alpheus served the Legion as a staff officer with the rank of Major, he had retired from the Tobian Army as a general officer. Major Alpheus' plan had been to get the rest of the force grounded at the planned location of the forward support base and distributed into the surrounding country side as fast as possible. Alpheus felt that to move to the starport first would invite disaster because he was sure that the Aslan would concentrate their initial landings there causing an immediate confrontation. O'Neill had agreed and ordered the hasty evacuation of the transports to the surface. During the move O'Neill had ordered radio silence due to the threat of detection from the Aslan. The invading fleet would have technology superior to his and would be able to easily detect and track his communications on the surface.

O'Neill was startled by the sudden approach of Sergeant Bearns, "Sir there is a Ysolde riverboat coming up the river from the south," reported the seasoned infantryman.

Quickly O'Neill acknowledged Sergeant Bearns and signaled for him to show O'Neill. Together the two men moved stealthily to the edge of the river. In the distance O'Neill could make out the shape of a flat barge moving in their direction. Lying on his stomach, O'Neill used the scope on his ACR to look at the approaching boat in closer detail. As he had suspected, it was a flat-bottom barge moving back up the Ysolde River from one of the small coastal towns to the city of Ysolde itself. There wasn't much of a superstructure to the barge, a small area at the front that presumably housed the crew from the elements, but the rest of the barge was a large flat deck that cargo could be moved directly on to in crates. The thing looked like it could be operated by a three or four man crew.

"Okay, deploy the men along the river bank, tell them to stay out of sight," O'Neill told Bearns. Then he resumed his surveillance of the riverboat as it made its way slowly down the river. Once the men were in place and Bearns signaled they were ready O'Neill quickly stripped out of his uniform to his skivvies, then re-donned his load bearing harness. He removed the canteen and extra rifle magazine pouches leaving only his pistol holster and knife scabbard. Then with heavy-duty cord he tied the weapons into place to ensure they stayed in their holders until he reached the riverboat. Once he was sure the weapons were secure and would not be lost in the water he slid quietly into the brownish-green liquid. O'Neill used a breaststroke to maneuver himself to the middle of the river. The stench from the river water almost gagged him. From the shore his troops provided overwatch, ready to respond if their leader came under enemy fire.

The barge had heavy ropes draped over the square bow and sides to act as padding when maneuvering next to a pier or dock. Once in the middle of the river O'Neill treaded water allowing the riverboat to come to him. O'Neill was expecting the crew to see his head bobbing in the water and was surprised to see no one on deck challenging him or even showing any interest as the barge closed. Fortunately the barge was crawling down the river and it was very easy for the mercenary commander to catch-hold of the overhanging ropes and pull himself slowly onboard.

Once on board he found himself on the main deck beside crates and fifty-five gallon drums. He quickly untied the restraining cords from his weapons, then with pistol in hand made his way forward along the portside of the barge toward where he thought the wheelhouse was located. He slowly crept up on the forward structure and eased his head over the wooden half-door to peer inside the cabin. Sure enough the helmsman was setting in a wooden chair with his feet propped up reading a paper newsmagazine. The barge appeared to be on automatic pilot as it maneuvered down the Ysolde River tributary. Carefully O'Neill tested the latch of the wooden half-door. Satisfied that it was not locked O'Neill quickly bolted through the door to confront the lounging helmsman.

As O'Neill cleared the door-well the Iilgan boatman quickly stood, but not in time to avoid the powerful jab to the throat by O'Neill. Stumbling back with a bruised throat the boatman could not call for his fellow sailors to come to his aid, in a rage he lashed back out at O'Neill connecting with a roundhouse punch to the midsection. O'Neill reared back with his right arm and smashed his pistol handle across the top of the boatman's head. The boatman was more skilled at brawling than O'Neill anticipated blocking the attack and once again landing a powerful punch to O'Neill's ribs. Taken back a step O'Neill countered quickly with a left jab of his own to the sailor's jaw, which the riverboat man dodged easily. Quickly the Iilgan returned this another right to O'Neill's jaw connecting and forcing the mercenary back toward the wheelhouse door. The boatman stood and moved to reach for a brass bell hanging to the left of the actual ship's wheel. O'Neill leaped at the Iilgan bring his pistol butt down on the man's head with all of his strength. But the sailor saw him moving toward him and grabbed O'Neill and swung him around heavily onto the control panel of the barge.

Sensing that the boatman would overpower him physically O'Neill was forced to use his pistol. He fired once into the chest of the Iilgan mortally wounding him and sending him to the deck in a heap. Battered and hurting O'Neill quickly cut the engines of the barge and then turned to meet the other crew as they came to investigate the sudden stop. When no one immediately was seen rushing to the wheelhouse O'Neill quickly exited the cabin and made his way to the most forward set of crates. There he crouched and waited for the next crewmember to appear. O'Neill did not have to wait long; he heard their approach as they moved between the wooden crates from the rear of the barge. O'Neill let the first one walk past him then sprang on the second from behind. He hit the trailing man in the back of the skull with his pistol butt driving him to the deck. As the second man turned he was looking into the barrel of O'Neill's pistol. The riverboat man raised both hands in surrender.

"I'm taking this barge, Cooperate and you can keep your cargo. Resist and your dead where you stand," O'Neill growled across his gun barrel at the Iilgan. "Now move into the wheelhouse," O'Neill gestured with the barrel of his pistol toward the ship's wheel." When the Iilgan saw his comrade lying in a pool of blood on the deck of the wheelhouse he gave O'Neill a defiant look. But his defiance soon evaporated when he saw the rest of O'Neill's men emerging from the jungle as he steered the barge closer to the far riverbank.

The Tobian Legionnaires quickly swarmed the left side of the barge and boarded without incident. A fourth member of the Iilgan crew was captured in the engine room with no resistance. Bearns quickly had the wounded Tobian mercenary moved to the living quarters just under the wheelhouse. He then deployed his men around the barge using ropes, crates, and nets to camouflage hasty fighting positions on the main deck. O'Neill ordered the barge turned around and heading back up the tributary away from the main Ysolde River.

"You had me worried there for a while sir," confided Sergeant Bearns as he dropped O'Neill's uniform and other equipment on the deck next to him. O'Neill smiled a knowing smile and began putting his combat environment suit back on. While redressing he watched his men search the barge for further crew. The grav vehicle pilots both moved quickly into the wheelhouse to examine the salvaged navigation charts and communications equipment. O'Neill walked to the broad flat bow of the barge while readjusting his uniform and load bearing harness. He absentmindedly shifted his retrieved ACR from his right hand to his left as he cocked one foot up on the lip of the bow and looked into the putrid brown water of the river.

From a cracked window of the wheelhouse the chief pilot yelled to O'Neill that they found their exact location on the barge's navigation charts. O'Neill quickly worked his way around the wheelhouse to enter and confer with the two grav-carrier pilots. They were fifteen to twenty kilometers southeast of Ysolde City; just on the edge of where the developed agricultural area ended and the wild jungle began. They were about ten kilometers due east of the location the forward support base was to have been established. The small tributary they were on was clearly visible on both the barge's navigation chart and the tactical map generated by his staff based on computer data and orbital reconnaissance. This tributary traveled into the jungle and the western mountains, but it also provided access to two plantations on its northern banks.

"Alright, Flight Leader Alvord right?" questioned O'Neill asking before discussing a tentative plan with the two flight officers. "And you're Flight Lieutenant Alden?" Both men confirmed their names as O'Neill moved to set down in one of the four wooden chairs scattered about the wheelhouse. He then signaled for one of his mercenaries to find Sergeant Bearns for a conference. Within a few minutes the sergeant reported to the meeting.

"Alright if memory serves me right, the outlying plantation owners are the leaders of the insurgency against the planetary government. Any locals we run across in the jungle will most likely be hostile. My plan is to head up river back toward the mountains in the west. We will raid the two plantations along the way for supplies as we head deeper into the jungle."

"Sir what about the rest of the Legion?" queried a worried Sergeant Bearns.

"Once the news of the raids on the plantations goes public our men will put two and two together and realize it was us," answered O'Neill.

"Sir but so will the Aslan or the YRAR militias," challenged Flight Leader Alvord.

"Yes they will, but they will have to come and find us won't they," countered O'Neill. "Alvord there is really no alternative. By heading west we will eventually get out of the settled region of this continent and be clear of the locals. If we keep low and stay out of the way once we resupply the Aslan may leave us alone."

"Yes sir," agreed the senior pilot. "But what about our ticket and repatriation bond?"

"The Aslan are not held to honoring an Imperial repatriation bond unfortunately. As to our ticket, I think the arrival of an Aslan war fleet is reason enough to renegotiate the terms of our contract with the local government," smiled O'Neill.

O'Neill then turned his attention to Bearns, "Sergeant use the crates to build some fortifications, will most probably assault from this platform. At least for the first plantation anyway. Get the men rested and fed. Dispose of the prisoners, we can not spare the manpower to guard them." Then turning to the two former grav carrier pilots. "Gentlemen you're now my navy. Move this boat near the first plantation, if we do not meet resistance we will reconnoiter the objective on foot prior to the attack. So get us within walking distance of the plantation."

"Yes sir," responded both men, then they stood and began planning their navigation of the Ysolde tributary.

A young corporal reported to O'Neill as he leaned against the bulkhead of the wheelhouse. "Sir Sergeant Bearns wanted me to take a look at your side, he said you took a pretty good hit from the Iilgan when you took this barge sir," stated the younger man in obvious awe.

With a stern look O'Neill responded, "right." Then unfastened his load baring harness and then unzipped his combat environment suit and stripped down to the waist. The whole left side of his abdomen was discolored and beginning to swell.

"I better wrap your ribs sir," offered the corporal, who began wrapping a field dressing tightly around O'Neill's chest to place pressure on his ribs. After the corporal was finished he examined the head wound. "Sir this cut of yours was exposed to the Iilgan water in the river. I need to wash it out and dress it too." O'Neill almost bit the corporal when he powdered the swelling cut with antiseptic. The pain was intense, but necessary. Once finished the corporal policed up the remaining medical supplies and returned to his fire team to continue building up the defensive positions on the main deck.

Feeling lightheaded and drained, O'Neill checked with the pilots before he went to lie down on the cot at the side of the wheelhouse, he was asleep in less than a minute from the injuries and fatigue brought on by the ordeals he had just endured.

"Father there has been fighting near here!" Lucia Olofuli burst into her father study at their country estate near the fringe of the settled territories early in the morning.

"Yes Lucy I know, I have been listening to the news reports from Ysolde City," answered her father Baron Gulian Olofuli. The elder was setting at his spacious desk. "But there is even something of more interest coming from the starport outside the city."

"What could possibly be more exciting than fighting just outside the plantation?" the young Iilgan noblewoman asked as she came to stand next to his immense desk.

"It seems Lucy that the Galaxy has come to Iilgan," he smiled weakly at his only child and patted her lovingly on the hand. "The Port Authority has issued an emergency warning. Their planetary surveillance network has detected the arrival of a very large Aslan fleet that is moving to assume orbit over Iilgan within the next few hours."

"The Aslan?" whispered Lucy more to her self than to her father.

"Apparently the arrival of the government hired Tobian mercenaries and the arrival of the Aslan has coincided," Baron Gulian chuckled to himself before continuing. "I find that ironic don't you?"

"Father?" a confused young woman had become even more so by her father's apparent reaction to the horrible news.

"The Council had warned that if the landholders did not give up their claims that they were going to bring in Tobian mercenaries. Well they are here but so are the Aslan. I think our disagreements about the ownership of the land has become a mute point don't you think?" Baron Gulian smiled sarcastically at his thirty-year old daughter.

They both stopped talking as a new special report flashed across the living room information display screen dominating their eastern wall. The large wall sized screen provided high definition images of deep space. Time appeared to be frozen with the motionless positioning of the stars. Then the commentator brought the viewers' attention to the lower right hand quadrant of the screen. Like miniature super-novas exploding, a wave of pinpoint flashes suddenly appeared then faded back to black. The commentator went on to explain that what was being seen was the transitioning of hundreds of starships from Jump Space to Normal Space through the deep space observation telescope orbiting above the planet. The most shocking news from the commentator was that the images being seen were real-time, and that the Aslan had been arriving for most of the day.

"Most of the day?" echoed Gulian, "most of the day?" Gulian picked up the computer interface device lying on the table. He quickly punched in the address of his rival and sometime nemesis in the regional government.

"Advocate Bayarra's office how may I direct you?"

"This is Baron Gulian Olofuli, would you please let Advocate Bayarra know that I am calling."

The voice of Advocate Lady Zona Bayarra replaced that of the young receptionist, "Baron my time is valuable today, what is it I can do for you?"

"Advocate my daughter tells me that there has been fighting around our plantation today, now I am watching the planetary information network news broadcast and I learn that there is an Aslan armada now closing with Iilgan. Have the Aslan invaded our sovereign space?"

"Baron your daughter's sense for what is going on is impeccable, Earlier this morning just at sunrise for the starport, word was filtered out that the Tobian Foreign Legion had arrived in orbit and would be initially supporting their operations from space. Then the Starport Authority began receiving reports that large numbers of unidentified spacecraft were arriving in system in record-breaking numbers. As you now know, they are Aslan ships, apparently invading our space just as you guessed," explained Lady Zona.

"Our differences aside Advocate Bayarra, I would like to offer you my expertise in your negotiations with the Aslan leadership," stated Gulian in as neutral a voice as he could muster.

"Negotiations?" echoed Lady Zona.

"Lady Zona surely you realize that the Aslan will probably establish a colony here on Iilgan even if it is not the primary objective of their fleet." Gulian paused to allow the government spokeswoman consider his assessment of the developing situation.

"You think this is an invasion?" she whispered almost to herself.

"Lady Zona, look at the number of ships the starport is detecting, what else could it be?" Gulian offered.

Gulian was distracted from the conversation with Advocate Bayarra by the sudden knocking on his study door. He pushed the access control that swung the large wooden door open just as he had for his daughter just a few minutes earlier. One of his security supervisors rushed in franticly with an update on the military situation evolving around the plantation.

"My lordship, there are Tobian grav vehicles entering our airspace from the northeast," reported the excited lieutenant.

Turning the his communications speaker Gulian quickly challenged Lady Zona, "Madame would you please call off your mercenaries."

"I am sorry Baron, but to my knowledge we have had no communications with the Tobians since this morning," replied Lady Zona.

"Lady Zona, if you do not call off your mercenaries many of my people will probably be injured and killed for no reason, the dynamics of our political situation have just changed. You and I are no longer adversaries, we are now allies," his voice rising to emphasize the need for quick action on her part.

The Iilgan advocate looked confused by the situation. "Gulian I am truly sorry," was all that she offered as she cut the communications line.

Muffled sounds of weapons fire now seeped into the room from the outside. Then a rumble of nearby explosions could be heard. "Lieutenant go find out exactly what is happening out there," ordered Gulian as he crossed the room to his desk to draw his personal handgun from the desk drawer. It was a magnum revolver that had been in his family for generations. Family lore told that Gulian's ancestor who first settled Iilgan long ago had carried the revolver. Gulian checked the cylinder to ensure the weapon was fully loaded before sliding it into his waistband.

Gulian took his daughter's hand and led her from the room into the great hall in the center of their estate's family residence. There he met with the lieutenant he had just sent to learn the tactical situation. As Gulian approached the lieutenant ordered the two main entrance guards to resume their posts near the entrance. The security troops were moderately armed with automatic rifles and light body armor. Standard issue for private security guards on a rural estate. Gulian had approximately twenty-five guards here at his private residence. He had others patrolling the plantation's fields and commercial facilities. Of the twenty-five only ten were on duty and ready to react to intruders. The other fifteen were off-duty or pulling maintenance on vehicles and equipment.

Suddenly the large wooden doors at the front entrance were peppered with small arms fire from outside. Glass shattered and exploded into to building, one of the great doors cracked nearly falling off its hinges. The pelting continued as bullets struck the doors and building front. The lieutenant fell suddenly as Gulian and his daughter moved to the opposite side of the hall to find better cover from the hail of indiscriminate bullets. As Gulian threw his back against the far wall he looked toward the building front in time to see one of his guards fall from enemy rifle fire. With his daughter in tow Gulian moved toward the rear of the building nearer the southern entrance. Slipping and sliding on broken glass and other debris, the two made their way to the end of the hall away from the main doorwell. Quickly moving into the formal dining room Gulian slammed the door behind them and locked it. Releasing his daughter's hand he rushed to the windows to scan the southern lawn for the invaders.

The shadow of a passing grav vehicle on the lawn caught his attention drawing it to the western treeline on the back property. Passing just above the trees was an armored Tobian grav vehicle. "DROP!" he screamed to his daughter as it passed along behind the building about 200 meters out. Just as they both hit the floor the windows exploded from weapons fire from the passing vehicle as it flew by slowly strafing the back of his home with its six barrel 9mm gattling gun. Gulian low crawled to his daughter who was screaming hysterically as she sprawled on the glass-covered floor.

"Its ok honey," he yelled above the din to calm his daughter who climbed her way into his arms as the knelt together in the shambles of their dining room. He felt her trembling as the house shook from an explosion probably at the front entrance. Then there was silence.

An eternity passed until Gulian heard hobnailed boots on the tiled surface of the front hall. There were then muffled commands given to soldiers as they moved through the house to search for him and his daughter. Gulian released his daughter to pull the revolver from his waist and toss it to the side on the floor. He listened to the sobs of his daughter and the voices on the other side of the large wooden doors of the dining room as the enemy soldiers placed explosives on the lock to blow it from the door. The he felt his daughter jump and scream when the lock was blown and the large doors swung open to allow a squad of Tobian commandos to rush into the room and surround them. They quickly wrestled his daughter from him and laid him out prone of the floor his face cut by slivers of glass laying there. A gloved hand pinned his head to the floor so he could not see his daughter but he could hear her screams as they manhandled her also he prayed to the floor. He prayed a silent prayer that they did not take her from the room.

Suddenly Tobians standing on either side of him yanked him to his feet to face a senior ranking officer just striding into the room. The officer walked arrogantly to stand in front of him. His head was uncovered showing his short cropped gray hair. He had a short-range communicator hung from his right ear with a tubular mike boom riding the side of his cheek. He wore the same combat uniform as his men, except he was only armed with a sidearm, no rifle. "Baron Gulian Olofuli I presume," smiled the Tobian mercenary, "I am Major Alpheus of the Tobian Legion and you are under arrest."

"Under whose authority have you invaded my house and attacked my people?" whispered Gulian as he tried to stay standing while his knees shook.

Alpheus suddenly backhanded Gulian smashing his teeth into his cheek and drawing blood. Gulian's strength gave way and he slumped to his knees while stars sparkled before his eyes from the impact. "My own," was his answer as he turned to give orders to his assembling combat leaders that were filtering into the dining room.

Gulian slowly dropped completely prone between the two Tobian soldiers. His mind was reeling from the reality of what was happening. He could not accept that his home had been assaulted and that he was now at the mercy of Tobian mercenaries while his planet was being invaded by Aslan. It was too absurd too surreal. He began to push his way back to his elbows when suddenly one of the Tobian soldiers stomped his head with the heel of his boot sending Gulian into oblivion.

Ardasii/Trojan Reaches [2815] B650684-9 Ni De Po 110 Im F7 D

With handgun at the ready Val Salvis stepped back from the controls for the airlock and watched as the two Aslan males stepped forward. The Aslan flexed their muscles as they stood to their full height, towering over the two humans whom they now faced. The four of them watched each other intently waiting for a sign to act. Finally Salvis took the initiative, "I am Captain Val Salvis, master of this ship, the Glory."

"Where is the mistress?" the taller Aslan roared in brutish Anglic.

"She is safe and well cared for," answered Angelica quickly, drawing their attention from Salvis.

The smaller of the two Aslan turned to Angelica with a question, "What of her injuries?"

"Make no mistake, she is badly injured that is for sure. But she is recovering in our medical bay," answered Angelica.

"I wish to see her," stated the smaller Aslan.

"Wait, before we do that hear this," interrupted Salvis, "this is a merchant vessel and I am its master. We have no quarrel with the Aslan. In fact we are heading toward Aslan space to make a delivery. We can take you with us if you will cooperate."

"We killed your crew member on our ship in the passageway," stated the taller of the two.

"That is true," returned Salvis, "but I also understand that your ship was under attack and you thought we were the attacker."

"What have you to gain from helping us?" challenged the other Aslan.

Angelica interjected, "We are going toward Aslan space, having Aslan passengers onboard may get us past patrols and port authority checkpoints."

"Where are you bound for?" questioned the short one.

"We are bound for Pandora," offered Salvis.

"Why did you help us?" queried the short one again.

Salvis looked at Angelica before answering, "Because its Imperial law to aid and assist a ship in distress."

"Imperial law, the ships that attacked us were Imperial ships," growled the taller Aslan.

Salvis smiled as he answered, "So it would seem. Makes it a little more interesting don't you think?"

The two Aslan looked at each other and exchanged a few words in their language before agreeing not to attack if they could see their mistress. Salvis and Angelica agreed and escorted them to the stateroom that was seconding as a makeshift medical bay. The female Aslan lay on the bed; her labored breathing was heard over the mechanical noises of the automated life-support sustaining her. The four of them squeezed into the stateroom taking up positions around the female's probable deathbed.

In Aslan, Aheihail the court assassin quickly said, "She will not survive."

"Our mission is in jeopardy, the human female is a reader of minds," returned the younger and smaller Yahkee, "She is probably reading our thoughts as we speak now."

On impulse Aheihail extended his right hand's dewclaw while stretching across the female Aslan's legs to the foot of the bed where Angelica stood. With a lightning move Aheihail sliced the throat of Angelica before she could react, her human blood spraying the white sheet laid over the wounded Aslan noblewoman. Angelica dropped where she stood, never realizing what had just happened before sliding away in death.

"NO!" screamed Salvis in complete surprise and shock. His first impulse was to go to her aid and try somehow to stop the pulsing of blood now covering the deck plating. An instant later his awareness that he was in a small room with two murderous Aslan took over. He raised his heavy automatic pistol to fire directly at the larger Aslan who was still extended over the foot of the bed watching Angelica on lying on the floor. Then a piece of heavy medical equipment that had been ripped off the table beside the bed smashed against his chest thrown by the second Aslan. His chest felt as if it had been crushed as heavy piece of equipment drove him back against the bulkhead hard, he fired the pistol once wildly in reaction to the stunning impact. As he struggled to regain his feet white pinheads of light invaded his darkening vision causing him to hesitate as pushed himself up off the bulkhead. Pain in his chest from the impact was severe causing him to wince as he tried to straighten his back. He was vaguely award of the large ominous shape approaching him from around the bed before he was struck hard across the face.

Over the warning alerts erupting from the medical equipment, Yahkee shouted, "Do not kill him, we need him to fly this ship!" The larger Aslan, Aheihail growled in acknowledgement as he stood over the downed human. He reached down to take the pistol from Salvis' hand to toss it away before he continued the beating.

In a fleeting moment of clarity Salvis raised the pistol from his setting position, quickly placing it squarely against the Aslan's midsection that towered over him and fired. The report of the pistol was deafening in the small stateroom. The old cP003 pistol was an antique by any standard from the dawn of the Imperium, but if packed a punch hard to match. The power of the weapon drove the bullet right through the monstrous Aslan snapping his spine as the round exited his back smashing against the far bulkhead with a cracking sound. Aheihail flailed at Salvis in surprise as he tumbled forward on to him then fell to the side dying in a slow numbing way. Salvis was aware of the other Aslan that was moving around the foot of the bed to also engage him. Salvis brought the large heavy pistol up and aimed pointedly at the new attacker's head while still in a seated position leaning hard against the wall. For an instant both were frozen in time looking deeply into each other's eyes, both knew that this was the instant that life was ending for one of them. With his right arm fully extended supported by his left Salvis squeezed the trigger ending the travels of Yahkee the Wanderer.

Salvis instantly dropped the pistol into his lap and sat stunned for a few seconds listening with detachment to the noisy alarms screaming from the medical equipment set up around the bed. Slowly almost as if they were linked together, clarity of thought came back to him as the wailing of the alarms ceased. He slowly fought his way back up onto his feet and stood leaning heavily against the wall of the stateroom. The scene was horrendous; Aslan and human blood covered the room. Angelica lay with her back to him, her face concealed partly by the bed her blood has stopped spreading on the carpeted deck. The smaller Aslan's upper body was also concealed from his sight by the foot of the bed, its head missing. Beside him the larger Aslan had also passed as he laid in a fetal position clutching his ruined stomach. And on the bed lay the Aslan noblewoman. What had her name been he wondered to himself as he slowly, painfully stepped toward the bed to stand at her side? He fell to his knees, his elbows resting on the bed of the dead woman as if in prayer as a child would do. With a primeval scream he unleashed his pain coupled with the realization of abandonment and utter isolation. Tears flooded from him as he buried his face in the sheets from Gnarra's deathbed now stained with Angelica's blood. And he wept; he wept long and hard until he was finally drained of emotion.

Somehow he made his way across the ship to the bridge of the far trader. He was not aware of how long he had sat in the pilot's chair before he made the call to the port authority to report the violent battle. Nor was he aware of how long it had taken for the emergency response team to arrive at the Glory. He responded to the men dressed in Imperial black who invaded his bridge with their weapons drawn. They asked him some basic questions as they manhandled him to the floor and restrained him. After they had taken him into the hellish heat of Ardasii his senses began to return to him. He began to hyperventilate due to the thin but breathable atmosphere that was entirely void of humidity. Someone slapped an oxygen mask over his face as he was hustled into an ambulance joined by two uniformed troopers sporting submachine guns. His clarity of thought was coming into focus as the medical technician injected him with a sedative forcing him into oblivion.

He was in a hospital, he could tell by the universal odor of disinfectant that was prevalent throughout the Imperium. He slowly opened his eyes to a brightly-lit pastel color room. Intense pain shot across his chest as he attempted to set up. He vaguely remembered nearly having his chest caved in by a piece of flying equipment in the fight - the fight…it all came flooding back to him in perfect clarity. He turned his head and searched for a call-button for assistance. The door opened signaling to him that he was being watched from outside the room. An uniformed officer who was speaking followed a medical technician into a communicator. The technician checked various readings on the bed while muttering niceties to him in a distracted way.

"Your Captain Salvis?" questioned the enforcer.

"Yeah," responded a depressed survivor.

"What happened on your ship captain?" the enforcer was using his communications device as either a recorder or was giving someone else access to their conversation.

"It's all in the log, we rescued an Aslan crew from a derelict we found during our approach to Ardasii, they tried to hijack us and we fought back. Look is this necessary right now?" questioned Salvis.

"He's fine sir, just some broken ribs," interjected the technician when the enforcer glanced at him.

"Look Salvis, the quicker I clean your mess up the quicker you can get back to your ship. I got four bodies on a ship that normally takes that many to fly. Where is the rest of your crew? There was only a human woman on the ship, where are the others?"

Taking a deep breath a troubled captain began with the rescue in space, "I had a crew of three, myself as the pilot, the woman was named Angelica Shimmer, she worked the computer and sensors for us. My engineer and copilot was an ex-scout named Zack Prax. Your records will show that my crew and I have worked this subsector for almost a decade. My ship is a Pandoran registry. The former owner had taken her coreward into Deneb Sector about twenty years ago. He had died and left it to me and I brought it back here, to home space."

"Where is the scout then?"

"Zack had died on the Aslan derelict in a decompression accident while we were trying to make contact with the survivors."

"The three Aslan bodies on your ship, the female died from internal injuries according to the autopsy," the Ardasii policeman provided.

"Yeah," answered Salvis. "We got them back on our ship and then came here to refuel. Once on the surface we thought we could make an agreement with them, obviously we were wrong."

"Agreement? What kind of agreement?" asked the enforcer.

"If you check my manifest you will see I am carrying lithium back to a world near Pandora. We were aware of the increased Aslan activity in that part of the sector a thought that having Aslan passengers might help make the trip safer."

"Safer?" snorted the enforcer. "You were expecting to be boarded by Aslan when you left the Tobian subsector?"

"The rumors on Hradus were that the Aslan were moving and that Pandora was in their sights."

"Rumors?" questioned the enforcer.

"The word from the Rads was that the Aslan were massing warships to close their borders with the Imperium over some sovereignty issues or some-such. Anyway my broker had found a shipper that was looking to send a cargo across the subsector to Pandoran space. We thought it was an opportunity to move to a new area for business. What with the rift growing between Tobia and Hradus business was getting slow and the Rads were beginning to treat humans like second class citizens on their world. It was time to move."

"Tell me about the fight," directed the enforcer.

Salvis looked at the policeman for a long time before beginning. The pain from the memories was obvious on his face. "After we landed Angelica and I had gone back to check on the Aslan we had rescued from the derelict. The female had been placed in one of the passenger staterooms with a portable medical unit. We brought the two males to the stateroom. The two Aslan had crossed to the opposite of the bed where the female was lying. Angelica had stood at the foot of the bed. The two must have been planning something during the landing because they only exchanged a couple of words in their language when the taller of the two attacked Angelica. It was all over in a mater of seconds, less than a minute. The large one sliced Angelica's throat," Salvis paused to regain control of his emotions before continuing. "After the large one attacked Angelica I raised my handgun to fire, that is when the second one threw a monitoring device hitting me in the chest."

"Causing your broken ribs," added the enforcer.

"Yeah," finished Salvis.

The enforcement officer then turned away from the bed and moved to stand beside the room's outdoor window. He spoke quietly into the communications handset for a few moments before returning to Salvis' bedside.

"Alright Captain Salvis, your explanation satisfies my chief inspector. There will be an official inquiry but all the evidence supports your version of what happened on your ship. With no crew you won't be leaving Ardasii for a while, check with us before you file your flight plan to leave."

"Sure," Salvis sat straight faced as the law enforcement officer and medical technicians took their leave and left him alone, truly alone.

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