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Dreamfire

by  thefourthalien

Posted: Saturday, April 05, 2003
Word Count: 2949
Summary: This excerpt is Chapter One from the completed science fiction adventure novel DREAMFIRE, set in another universe and time. The concept and names have been registered with the Writers Guild of America.




C H A P T E R O N E
The Dreamsuit

The tiny spacecraft, Pindara, was being pursued.
Tighe-Armand Rayne bit his lower lip anxiously. His wife and tiny son were unaware of their problem, and he dreaded having to tell Pen about this now. They'd fought hard, and come a long way. Not even the deceptively comforting expanse of the Athaian Galaxy - bright, elliptical, exploding with life - would hide them at this desperate time.
Pendryl Rayne looked up from the air regulator she was adjusting to her husband, who silently monitored the control console, forward. There wasn't a great amount of space in this vessel - it was only simple interplanetary traverser after all - and the lighting was sparse. She liked the way the different colored lights from the console created an accentuating halo about the contours of his face - that same, caring face that had first attracted her to him those five Years Standard ago. She moved from the narrow main instrumentation corridor and into the living quarters that occupied most of the portside section of the spacecraft. This, too, was tiny, but was more than adequate for the simple needs of Pendryl and Tighe-Armand Rayne, and their small son, who would soon awaken, chattering incessantly and demanding every moment of his parents" attention.
She smiled a mother's smile as she looked down into the cot where her child lay sleeping. They had named him "Dathan" - pronouncing it DAY-thun - after Pendryl's favorite and all-too-suddenly starlost uncle, Captain Dathan Endrol, of the renowned exploration vessel, Moonraiser - one of the old "Jumpships" left over from the Galaxy's Second Epoch. She regarded her son, reflecting on how he looked right now. He was caressed in the gentle starlight coming from the large, angled window just above and behind. Three years old, yet it seemed as though he had always been with her.
Lying on the bed she allowed herself to ponder where her life had led her. Ten years ago, just out of her teens, she had been taken in by the cult that opposed and hated the Athaians. The reward for her loyalty was a fulfilling career in biophysics -- the cult's kind of biophysics, which would go to the betterment of the cult and its highly mysterious leader. It was in the colony on planet Prion that she had met Tighe, who had joined mainly because his lifelong friend, Pallo, had joined. Together, she and Tighe developed what could only have been called "the Dreamsuit". Looking not unlike an extravehicular suit, the Dreamsuit allowed the human wearer to mimic the Athaian creative mind-powers. From empty air, using only mind, a vase or a twig or gold could be created. The Athaians could do this naturally. But the Athaians were more advanced, more evolved, than any other intelligent race in the Galaxy. Pendryl knew that they used their special abilities for the good of others and that truly they had earned the title of "guardian race of the galaxy". She knew she had to convince Tighe of this before he fell totally under the spell of the cult leaders, as so many of their colleagues - friends - already had. Stealing a small BRATTship, they defected to a world in a neighboring stellar system whereupon they entreated the Athaian tribune there, Ochran, to aid in the rescue and rehabilitation of the proselytized colonists back on Prion. But, both Tighe and Pendryl Rayne knew that their first priority was to get the Dreamsuit out of the hands of those who had commissioned it...
This is what they had both just accomplished. Having successfully stolen back the suit, both were bringing it to the planet Athaia where its fate would be decided.
"Pen?"
She turned to her husband, who had softly entered the living quarters. The starlight from the window was illuminating Pen's mandarin-orange hair, creating a kind of golden halo. She had it tied back in a long, loose ponytail, flyaway strands floating away from her head and catching the glow.
"The ship instrumentation makes such a soothing background sound," she said. "It lulled him off to sleep so well. I wish it had been that easy back on Prion." Then she noticed the grim look upon her husband's face. "You look worried. What's wrong?"
"You'd better come look at the monitor."
She went with him to the piloting console. One glance was all she needed.
"They're gaining," he told her sullenly. He gritted his teeth. "I knew it. I knew this would happen."
Pendryl sat down in the piloting chair next to him and stared into the sensory tracking monitor on the slightly sloping console. She looked out the view port window into star-filled space, although she knew the scope indicated that the vessel on the intercept course was above and behind the Pindara. She clenched one hand into a fist. Panic would do neither of them much good right now.
Tighe was studious, judicious. "The sensors are having a tough time of analyzing the vessel make. It can't be from Prion, then."
"Someone that needs our help, perhaps?" ventured Pen hopefully.
"No. They're at two-thousand kilometers - well within distress-call range."
"Shut off main power. Go to backup. Let whoever it is think we're dead in space."
Before Tighe could execute the plan, a violent force rocked the ship.
"Seizure beam?" Pen conjectured.
"More like a debilitating attack on the hull." His eyes locked on hers, a deadly seriousness now in his voice. "Pen, get yourself and Dathan into your environment suits."
"Tighe, no, I'm -"
"Pen, please - just go to the lower deck."
Her eyebrows twitched. "The lifeboat? Tighe, we're all going."
He nodded hurriedly. "Yes, yes of course, but you have to go now."
Reluctantly she got up and fetched their son.
Another energy blast struck the hull.
After quickly donning his own environment suit, Tighe brought to hand a particular key-card and entered it into its requisite slot on a metallic floor panel. The panel came free, and he reached down and took out a silver case.
Wasting no time, he replaced the panel and put the case into a secret compartment in the seat of his piloting chair. He took a deep breath, exhaled it sharply. The Dreamsuit was still safely stashed, but if protecting his family meant giving it over then he could quickly (albeit reluctantly) do so.
Pressure helmet in hand, he eyed the scope again only to find that the last energy blast had knocked it out. Now he had absolutely no idea how close their assailants were.
He soon found out.
Without warning, the massive star vessel that had maneuvered shark-like over the tiny Pindara clamped onto the weaker hull with its lateral lifting claws. The Pindara bled internally, electrical sparks and acrid fumes spewing everywhere. This was followed by an unnerving lull.
It was not to last. From the forward section ceiling there came a hideous wrenching noise. The noise became louder.
Tighe fell to the floor as the monstrosity punched through the weakened ceiling and landed heavily on the deck below, ruined metal pieces raining down with it. The robot behemoth swiveled its metal head down towards Tighe, glowing red scanner grill focusing intently.
Unable to speak, Tighe could only stare. He'd heard plenty about the insane but effective tactics of Gunthorian Marauder vessels, but could never have been fully prepared for an actual assault such as this. The insect-like plod (as was the preferred slang for robots) stood no less than two-and-a-half meters tall on three legs, was mostly silver, and had a barrel chest that only emphasized its undoubted strength. Arms and legs began as massive and then became spindly from elbow or knee joints onwards, terminating in the long-fingered claw-like hands and clamp-like feet. The squat head was utterly faceless, vacant and cold, with only its protruding spectral scanner grid pulsing its red stare.
It was quicker than expected. In an eye blink it had Tighe by the neck and flung him to the opposite wall. He rolled ungracefully to the deck, shattered wall components bouncing off with him. The erethronium-bonded environment suit had saved him but his head was still exposed and the warm sensation on his lips and tongue told him that his face had been badly cut. Looking up, he saw the giant plod raise one of its plate-like claw feet and crush his pressure helmet as though it were some fragile ornament.
With a roaring whirr the robot took one huge step forward, upper torso bending forward. In a heartbeat its hand had exploded forward and seized Tighe around the throat.
Its head whirled.
Standing at the far end of the corridor by the open floor hatch to the lower level was Pendryl Rayne, a mean-looking proton firer leveled at the plod's bloated chest.
"Let go of him."
When the robot didn't comply within the three seconds she had allotted it, she fired. Off came the iron arm in a shower of sparks; Tighe fell to his knees.
It was a fleeting victory. From the top of the robot's head rose a tiny laser gun, which fired immediately. The green screech of light smashed the weapon from Pen's hands, shattering most of her fingers in the process. She staggered back in a silent scream.
"Pen!"
Tighe fell back, throat still fighting for air. Eyes refocused. He found himself lying next to a massive pair of leather-and-fur swathed feet. Looking up, he saw that his worst fears had been confirmed.
The Gunthorian Marauder grinned maliciously down at him. The man was tall and of muscular bulk, beyond middle age but as fit as a steel trap. The most striking thing about him was his hair. A shock -- more like a paroxysm -- of tangled brown and gray sprouted upwards and outwards and down his back like smoke raining down from a detonation. This was one of the infamous "Tattered Men", a pack of fearless raiders and plunderers from the Nendamid system, a clan that swore allegiance to the Gunthorian regime. He, like his Brothers, wore the shredded remains of the clothes torn from his victims.
Almost carelessly, the Marauder produced an enormous space gun from within his tattered sleeveless robe, which hung open on his frame like swaths of loosening plumage. He cradled it like a favorite child.
"Good evening," he toyed in his gravely voice. "Or is it good day? It's so difficult to tell in space. You've met Giigra; you may call me Jenula Ghan. Perhaps you've recognized my ship, the Spearmaid, by now? I've had several business dealings on planet Prion of late..."
Tighe gritted his teeth. "Not satisfied with the Gunthorians ordering you around the Galaxy, now you're going on holy missions for cultist fanatics to keep you in work."
"Something like that, yes," replied Ghan with irritating smugness.
Please, thought Tighe, entreating an unseen presence, please keep Dathan from his notice.
The robot, Giigra (that Tighe now recognized as a Guidaput, a labor plod usually employed for ore mining), which had remained quiescent since the appearance of its master, now suddenly swiveled its head 'round to fix its gaze on Pendryl who, still in shock, staggered her way up the corridor using the starboard-side instrumentation bank as support. Her hands were ruined.
With nary a thought, the Tattered Man walked over to Pendryl and grabbed her by the hair. He then proceeded to smash her head repeatedly against a computer panel. Tighe screamed for him to stop, struggling to get up.
Jenula whirled and kicked him down again. He groaned, and through bloodstained eyes caught sight of his horribly injured wife.
Tighe glared at Jenula. "Blood-hungry bastard!"
"The Dreamsuit, as you call it," said Ghan. "Give it to me."
Their mission, the Athaians who awaited the Dreamsuit's safe delivery, the risks they had taken to get the damn thing back -- none of it mattered now. He would give the Dreamsuit to Jenula Ghan.
With obscene graciousness the robot, Giigra, assisted Tighe to his feet with its remaining hand. Limping, Tighe made it over to the pilot's chair and recovered the silver Dreamsuit case. It occurred to Tighe that Ghan might not even have known just what exactly the Dreamsuit was. He was certain that those on Prion who had sent him would not have told him its secrets -- anything about it at all -- lest he covet it for his own use and purposes. Jenula probably thought that the reward he was being promised far outweighed the gratification of owning the suit itself. Tighe would just have to bank on this.
Then he remembered the destruct button.
It was worth a shot.
One hand on the underside of the case for support, he depressed the hidden detonation pad there. He eyed the injured metal giant, which continued to await further orders from its master. The Guidaput is standing just where I want him, he thought. Now, if everything goes to plan ...
It had to. Any miscalculation - and they'd all die.
He held out the case at arm's length, and Jenula stepped forward to take it from him.
Summoning all remaining energy, Tighe turned and hit the console control for the main ingress/egress hatch, immediately whirling around to throw the case out the door that was opening into yawning space. The case blew from his hands; he grabbed the chair to anchor himself.
The deafening roar of air thundering out into exposed cosmos was abruptly snuffed as the blundering plod bore the full brunt of the force and flew towards the hatch. It wedged solid into the frame, head dented in, limbs flailing outwards. But the aperture was not completely sealed and air continued to flee from the ship, whistling through the little gaps between the robot and the hull.
Outside, the Dreamsuit detonated.
The Pindara shook. Jenula Ghan hung on to the panel, rage building. Tighe pulled himself across the deck to where his wife lay dying.
The Tattered Man roared. Wrenching a long, pointed piece of metal support structure from the ceiling where Giigra had punched through, he raised it back over his head and then plunged it through Tighe's neck, pinning him to the floor. The erethronium-bonded suit had protected his body, but not what was left exposed. Jenula smiled as he noticed that Pendryl had succumbed only seconds after witnessing the death of her husband.
With a grunt of dissatisfaction, the Gunthorian Marauder left the Pindara.
At the far end of the instrumentation corridor stood one small child. Dathan Rayne had followed his mother back to the upper deck only half a minute after she had instructed him to stay in the lifeboat pod. He had witnessed the whole grisly incident from the shadows, unnoticed.
Through the polythermaglass face plate of his spacesuit helmet it was clear enough: the boy was in a sort of paralyzed shock. Green eyes were wide, unblinking, a statue's stare. Mouth hung slightly open. He had not been able to scream.
A wrenching noise caused the boy to look away from the scene at last. The Guidaput robot was slowly but surely being tugged through the doorway by insistent vacuum...
The building pressure had been too much. The hapless plod exploded out into space, a train of metallic bits going with him. From every cranny of the Pindara rushed once-breathed air, out the airlock and into the void. Anything that wasn't bolted down flew out too. Dathan caught a brief glimpse of his mother's rag doll form being whisked away as he, too, felt the force. His three-and-a-half-year-old body rode the curving airstream down the short corridor and out through the ruined airlock door. He was still alive, still breathing, thanks to his spacesuit that his mother had checked and triple-checked. His inertia carried him steadily away, his backward movement allowing him to see the coupled starships that were now disengaging. The dragon-like Spearmaid, landing claws released, was moving slowly up and away. He watched as the wayward Giigra was snared by a scintillating green seizure beam and then steadily hauled back into Jenula Ghan's craft.
What Dathan hadn't noticed was into what he had drifted. A purple-and-orange space mist - twice as big as the Spearmaid craft and expanding, newly formed. The mist reacted visibly to its contact with the little spacesuited body, creating static charges like miniature lightning forks. But Dathan took little notice; he couldn't see properly through the haze of tears that were happening at last. Tears, coupled with anger. The first real anger this small human had ever known.
Dathan squeezed his eyes shut. Droplets rolled free down his cheeks. He could see clearer now, much clearer. Still he ignored the mist that the exploded Dreamsuit had created, the mist that enveloped and explored him, penetrating the erethronium of his suit, dancing with his aura, his thought.
Green eyes fixed on the Spearmaid. Dathan knew his parents' murderer was in there; he had seen the killer plod being drawn safely back into its confines. Why this stranger had done it he did not know, but he'd done it. He hated him for it - him, his plod, his ship. Hated their very existence...
And they existed no more. What Dathan Rayne had been feeling right then had been like nothing he had ever felt before. Within a microsecond, pure, emotive energy had been channeled line-of-sight. The destruction of the Spearmaid was bright and glorious. The blast reached Dathan quickly, propelling him out of the Dreamsuit cloud…
And into deepest space.