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by David Scholes

“We think it was a prison ship,” said the computer analyst. “We are not sure for how many. Maybe just a few.”

“Tell us something we don’t know,” was the impatient response.

“We’ve had some success in translating the computer records and among them was a list of what has to be criminal charges,” was the reply.

“Go on,” insisted the Navy Seals officer.

“It’s a pretty horrific list,” continued the computer analyst.

* * *

The physicists and the engineers had been among the first on board the crashed starship. They had reported it badly damaged but not, apparently, from external attack or from its rapid uncontrolled descent into Earth’s atmosphere. Rather the damage had been administered internally.

Whoever or whatever beings had been held here, their restraint had only been achieved by the most formidable of internal prisons. Heavily reinforced internal walls and bulkheads, heavy-duty manacles and other forms of constraint and evidence of machineries that might have powered stasis fields.

A number of such prisons were located about the ship. None of them close together. “Looks like they were all in solitary confinement,” concluded one of the engineers. The military agreed, though they realized not all of the prisons might have had inmates. Also, some prisons looked as though they would have been much more formidable than others.

The contorted, twisted, at times even shredded starship metal was clear evidence that some of the prisons had ultimately proven inadequate. Later, the chemists detected evidence of very hard drugs. There was a variety of damaged instrumentation aboard. Some of it appeared to be disabled weaponry and there was speculation that some of it may have been instruments of casual and not so casual torture.

Even to the most hardened of Earth military that saw it, the inside of this star ship had been a grim and grisly place indeed.

* * *

“Why go to such trouble?” pondered the Navy Seal. “If those aboard had been as evil as indicated in the list of crimes, why not just kill them? Why go to the trouble of transporting them from lord knows where to lord only knows where, across the depths of interstellar space?”

The Seals officer knew that things probably hadn’t been looking too good for the alien visitors anyway. Yet now, that sickening list of criminal charges all but guaranteed how Earth authorities were going to react to those who survived the crash. Especially since those who were in all probability their jailers were very, very dead.

* * *

“The locals didn’t make any attempt to communicate with us,” telepathed Rull to his two companions. “They just started shooting at us first from those slow-moving aerial drone things and then from everything else they could throw at us. From the air and from the ground.”

“At least there was nothing from under the ground,” shuddered Yurrle, oldest of the three recent prisoners, remembering when they had crashed on the more militarily competent world of Rraldron 5, what seemed like a very long time ago. One way or another we’ve been prisoners for a long time, he thought.

“Have you ever known it to be any different?” replied the biggest of the three aliens. “Anywhere that we have been? When it comes to unexpected alien visitors, people shoot first and ask questions later. And if the aliens are shown to be criminals, then they don’t even ask the questions later.”

“They didn’t hang around for long once you started shooting back though,” chuckled Rull. “Happy to dish it out, not so happy to receive it. I’m guessing they’ve never come up against anyone like you hereabouts.”

Trath didn’t respond to the intended compliment.

“It was kind of fun to watch them run, though,” chuckled Rull, persisting. “I guess right about now it’s dawning on them that they are not as tough as they thought they were. Not that tough at all.”

“They’ll be back,” said Trath somewhat resignedly, “with everything they can possibly dig up to use against us.”

“If they’ve got any sense they won’t,” replied Yurrle. “We smashed up a lot of their crude equipment and we stunned a lot of their soldiers senseless. But despite the provocation we didn’t actually kill anyone. If they stop to think about that for even just a moment, then it should tell them something.”

“It won’t make any difference,” responded Rull confidently. Then he fell silent, all too conscious that he was the smallest, slowest and the weakest of the three of them. Slower than Yurrle, much slower than Trath. These two could only move at his relatively pedestrian pace.

Of course it was all relative. When Trath let him at a small group of the ground soldiers that had attacked them, Rull had made short work of them. The locals seemed slow, soft, sort of flabby, and their crude personal protections and transportation devices next to useless. Yet their translators had picked up a reference to elite soldiery. If that was their best, then the Universe help them.

Still, Rull knew he could not outrun or otherwise evade unaided the crude aerial weaponry or the fastest of the ground transport that had already been brought to bear against them. He knew, though, that the mighty Trath would not leave him in this place. Neither would the ageing Yurrle.

Trath was resourceful and Rull knew he would soon repair the light body armor they had acquired from their former custodians. Then, utilizing the armor’s exoskeleton implants and other technology, they could move swiftly, silently, and hopefully undetectably far away from this place.

* * *

Rull’s spirits were up as he looked across at Trath. They were making good speed across the harsh desert environment. The little alien smiled. Trath had gotten the light body armor operational. As fast as they were moving, though, he suspected that Trath wasn’t even using the exoskeleton implants in his light armor. The big fellah was just enjoying stretching out a little bit.

It felt good, thought Rull. Like old times, when the three of them had been startroopers together, before their world was destroyed. Yet even this moment of joy, this brief period of exhilaration, proved all too short.

* * *

The locals targeted them again with all manner of air- and land-launched missiles and smaller explosive projectiles of all shapes and sizes. With the light armour operational, the weapons should have troubled them not at all. Except that Rull had been slow to activate his light armour’s quasi-shields and a few of the units among the huge numbers of missiles and smaller projectiles launched against them were armed with fissionable materials.

The use of the extraordinarily crude fission weapons, what the locals described as “theatre” or “tactical” “nukes” was an unexpected development.

What manner of race would use such devices on the surface of their own world? Yurrle would later ask himself. And when their own ground troops are in the general vicinity.

Even Trath, with his capability to sense danger in advance, had not anticipated this form of attack. The big alien reasoned that the long period of imprisonment with only the periodic temporary escapes had surely dulled this capability.

The vaporization of Rull by an unthinkably crude near-direct hit atomic attack would be a watershed in the relationship between the alien criminals and the world onto which they had crash landed. After that. Trath’s gloves were definitely off. In fact the big alien went out of his way to take out anything in the air or moving along the surface within the range of the over-the-horizon capabilities of his Tolden light energy rifle.

When the superlative unit ran low, he finished the job with his own hands. Pieces of burning wreckage thrown with the strength, speed, and unbelievable accuracy of Trath’s hands proved utterly deadly to anything in their way. Even high altitude was no escape.

At the moment of his death, Rull’s thoughts had been of Trath. Would it have made any difference if the local savages knew Trath was innocent? Innocent of all charges manufactured against him? Probably not. The current situation was probably a dilemma of a type this world had never faced before. How to deal with marooned convicted alien felons. There were protocols, of sorts, among more advanced worlds. Though judging from their recent actions it seemed unlikely the locals had heard of them.

Trath and Yurrle finally left the area. By then there was nothing moving along the ground or flying hereabouts.

The two aliens surveyed the enormous destruction. They had picked up radio transmissions and their light armour’s translators had interpreted some of it. There had been various references to Apaches, Raptors, JSF joint strike fighters, A10 Thunderbolts, Marines and Special Forces soldiers, Abrams tanks, Bradley AFV’s, MRLS systems and heavy artillery.

There had also been the heavy-duty lasers. Trath and Yurrle had given these priority.

With one last look around, then with suits in stealth mode, quasi-shields at full strength and with even the mighty Trath using his light armour’s exoskeleton implants, the two former prisoners departed the area of the battle at blinding speed. Neither of them looked back.

* * *

Trath and Yurrle ran deep into the night, putting ever more distance behind them. Not from the field of battle but rather from the crashed starship. Or perhaps from both. The darkness and altering terrain were no impediment at all to the technologies of their light armor.

Yurrle realized their attackers had been lucky, catching Rull with his quasi-shields down. Trath was another matter: had they really expected to take out the best startrooper he had ever known, with that assortment of antiques and garbage? Catching the essence of Yurrle’s thoughts, his companion just shrugged.

Yurrle’s main concern now would be for the two of them to keep well away from the locals. It seemed inconceivable to him that the savages would attack a third time. At least any time soon. Even if they could locate their quarry.

Trath thought dark thoughts. A very justified bitterness at all of the evil and at times just plain bad luck that had befallen him over time.

Yurrle knew the two of them only needed to keep out of the way until the recovery prison ship arrived and, distasteful as that was, it was their only way off this world.

Quellers would be sent with the recovery ship in order to subdue Trath and, if they didn’t send enough, there was always the chance the two of them could take over the ship.

Either way there was no doubting the recovery prison ship would come. Trath was far too important to be left here.

As they came finally to a halt, both knew their run had been nearly transcontinental, taking them to the other side of the comparatively largish continental mass. Trath was much calmer. The long run had helped. They would rest now, one asleep and the other on watch for a while. During this time they had an unexpected visitor that was in some distress.

* * *

Soon after daylight the three women on the remote farm watched the men approach from a distance, realizing, as they approached closer, that they weren’t men at all. In fact the women knew exactly who the aliens were. There had been more than enough coverage in the media.

One of the aliens, the big one, was carrying their family dog that they had presumed dead, nursing it gently.

“The animal will be all right,” he said without ceremony. “I had to use a part of my life force to heal it, but it will be well.”

As the women went to query this, Trath responded: “Do not regard this as any great thing. That part which I gave of my life force will renew quickly. A characteristic of all of my race.”

“Dearest God,” said the eldest of the three women as the aliens departed, “I think we’ve made a very serious mistake. Your Dad and his colleagues, the President, everyone.”

“We are going to regret it, aren’t we, Mum?” asked her daughter. “If we don’t leave them alone, especially the big one, we are really going to regret it. We are all going to regret it, I can just tell.”

Trath neither knew nor cared that happenstance had brought him to the home of his enemy, in a manner of speaking: the eldest of the three females was the wife of the greatest military commander on this World, the chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Trath had other worries. Even this short period of freedom had revitalized his ability to sense danger in advance, and it wasn’t the locals. They were still in the process of licking their wounds.

He turned to his ageing yet venerable companion. “They are nearly here, I can feel them.”

He didn’t need to say more. Yurrle shivered at the thought of the recovery ship and the Quellers.

Copyright © 2012 by David Scholes

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