Emb dropped Eric on the artifact’s landing platform. Lieutenant Baker accompanied him on the ride. Five of the remaining eight soldiers were waiting. Jenson had taken charge while the others trained their weapons on the open portal the led inside of the artifact.
“The Curtani bastards are held up inside the artifact, lieutenant,” Jenson spat. “We haven’t had a chance to get a read on their position.”
“Very well, Jenson, good work, regardless.” Lieutenant Baker.
“How did they get it open?” Eric asked.
Jenson shrugged. “The contraption opened on its own.”
Eric whistled and gazed over the rhythmic flashes of indecipherable runes along the ceiling pillars of the platform. He touched a pillars with his hand. A strange vibration pulsed with the wave of light.
“Even with the wave of violence. It’s a dream come true.”
“Well, we will have to spill more blood to make the dream a reality,” Baker said.
He motioned to his men and then pointed at the entrance. “I want even groups on each side. Move in quickly, together, and firing.”
The soldiers saluted and moved toward the door.
Baker handed Eric his sidearm. “You’re not getting out of this without a weapon, doc.”
Eric’s shaking hands took the pistol. Sweat glistened on his palms. He was trained in its use, but it had been so long since Basic. He thought maybe he would shoot himself or an ally.
Baker, Eric, and Emb moved to the door. Eric nodded and his team moved through the door. Fire power ripped through the passage as the soldiers tried to fire back. The two leading soldiers were dropped almost instantly.
The next two soldiers dropped to the ground, spraying the area with gravity-powered projectiles.
“There’s no cover here! We need cover fire to advance!”
Baker nodded and Jenson moved in with Emb beside him. They opened fire across the gulf between the two warring parties. The leading soldiers got back to their feet and moved forward, firing wildly.
Baker moved in, “Let’s go, doc!”
Eric nodded and ran in with his head down. He fired into the gulf, but his heart was racing. This was not where he was meant to be. He was supposed to be an explorer, learning about secret artifacts that simply appeared on unexplored worlds. This part was a nightmare. .
One of the Curtani fell to Jenson’s insane firepower, but there were still three more firing back. A lead soldier took a hit in the thigh. He tripped and fell off of the bridge to his death. They were only halfway across the bridge.
Emb lifted off from the bridge and took to the air. He kept firing into the central platform, dividing up the Curtani’s response. It gave Eric’s team some relief.
Jenson took the lead, but three well-placed shots ripped through his abdomen. He crumbled to the ground. He crawled forward along the bridge with his left hand. He stared out at the Curtani before him. His eyes widened, his cheeks were flushed from the blood underneath. In his last act of defiance Jenson laid on the bridge and just fired at his foes, but every shot fired harmlessly around the central pillar. These were the shots of a dying man. Baker moved forward and took Jenson’s heavy weapon and continued the advance with the heavy rifle.
Eric dropped to Jenson’s side. “Jenson! You can lick this!”
Jenson chuckled, blood gurgled from his mouth. “Son of a bitch got me!”
Yellow light flashed from the central pillar. It poured through the room. It was followed by a series of multi-colored beams that scanned over each individual.
The fighting ended. The silence was deafening to Eric.
The beams stopped and a voice poured through the pillar. “Not worthy.” It repeated the phrase in three languages, Terran, Curtani, and Metamorph.
The lights faded, the pulsing runes along the walls stopped, and only a gray, eerie light emanated from the outside.
“What was that?” Baker asked.
The central pillar swayed and the entire room lurched. The top of the central pillar fell backward, striking the far wall of the artifact. The bridge started to sway uncontrollably.
Eric looked up and saw the diamond roof began to buckle and crack. He turned to Jenson and tried to drag his friend. Jenson swatted Eric away with his massive hands.
“Run, idiot, don’t worry about me!”
Eric stood up, but stared down at his friend.
Baker ran passed Eric, grabbing the doctor. Eric moved his legs quickly enough so he wasn’t dragged. Emb dove for the door as well. The Curtani were hot Eric’s tail.
Baker and Eric ran out of the door and saw pillars on the platform buckling and collapsing on each other. A trio of blasts came from behind them. They struck Emb squarely in the wings dropping the Metamorph to the ground. He was on the ground, but his wings were mutilated. He could not help Baker and Eric escape.
The Curtani exited the passage; the leader carried the last Terran soldier by the neck, but his head swung carelessly and the soldier’s eyes were dead.
The Curtani’s voice was heavy with a guttural accent. “We will all die here together.”
Baker raised Jenson’s weapon, “You first.”
The Curtani and his troops were quicker and Baker fell before he pulled the trigger.
Eric was not ready to die here. All he could do was drop to Emb and check on the Metamorph’s condition. Being a medic, that was his only source of comfort.
A Curtani dropship appeared on the edge of the platform. It was precariously close to the rocking artifact.
“On second thought,” the Curtani leader continued, “you took the artifact from me. I will take you as a prize.”
Eric was picked up and dragged toward the dropship, flailing his legs in the air. The Curtani leader stayed behind just long enough to shoot Emb three times in the head.
Eric cried out gibberish through his tears. What more could he do?
The Curtani leader rushed toward the dropship and all of them escaped on the vessel as the artifact was self-dismantled in mid-air and collapsed to the ground. Just more wreckage, more destruction on a barely explored world.
The dropship exited the atmosphere, the Curtani dreadnought was coming into view. Several flashes appeared behind the dreadnought and two Terran cruisers appeared above the Curtani vessel.
The Curtani leader, murderer, was stunned. A voice came over the dropship in Curtani and the leader moved to respond over the link. He looked at Eric with a smile and communicated over the link. One of the Terran vessels dropped from above the Dreadnought and dropped in between the dropship and the Dreadnought.
Yelling shot out of the commlink. The Curtani leader’s smile faded. He looked back at Eric. His lips curled up from his powerful canines. A voice repeated the same phrase three times, the Curtani leader ignored it. At the fourth desperate call, the Curtani responded with a grunt. He moved toward Eric and growled in his face.
“So you humans wish to take everything from me, even my own gratification.”
“I don’t understand.” Eric stammered.
“Your superiors want you back or they will destroy my people in the dreadnought. You get to go free. We will be docking with the Terran vessel in a moment.”
The Curtani turned away and watched the approach.
Eric stared at the floor. He was no closer to having an idea about what just happened today. The artifact had obviously been alien. But why did it just collapse? It said “not worthy.” Not worthy for what? With all who died needlessly, Eric had a few ideas.
© 2016 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.