"Yes, what is it?" acknowledged Kibbeth. The officer took a deep breath.
"Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but another one of our convoys has been hit."
"Damn it!" exclaimed Bahar.
"They were hit just outside Kutal and there were no survivors. Both transport vehicles were blown up, so it will be hard to tell what they took," the officer explained.
"This is getting out of hand. Tell the men to distribute more flyers and increase the reward. I want those Shifters caught."
"Yes, Madam. There's one more thing."
"What?" Bahar asked flatly.
"That convoy was carrying the new remote extraction portals. There's no way to determine if they were destroyed or taken in the raid."
"The technology is so new that even if the Shifters took one, they wouldn't know what it is. I don't think it's something to worry about."
"Begging your pardon, Madam, but if they do figure it out, they'd have immediate access to a dozen attack ships."
"Perhaps you're right. Add extra guards. We don't need Shifters flying around in attack ships."
"Thanks for pointing that out. You've done well. One more thing."
"Burn a few farms and kill a few people. I want those bastards to know I mean business."
"Yes, Madam." The officer immediately left the room.
"Those damn Shifters are a pain in my ass. I need to do another press release. Making them look bad in the eyes of the people does nothing but help us."
"I like you more and more everyday," said Kibbeth, grinning at Bahar.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"You're ruthless, commanding and domineering. I like that. Are you like that in bed?"
"My dear Kibbeth, you do realize I was your sister in law?"
"Was, being the key word."
"You're my ex-husband's twin brother."
"But I'm nothing like him in bed." Bahar raised her left eyebrow.
Shane explained how the remote extraction portal worked. The only problem was, we had to take it with us. Once we're gone, there's no way back except by mind travel. Since I had mind traveled with so many people we were leaving behind, mind traveling them to the ship or mind traveling back would be no problem.
"OK, Shane, so all we do is push this button and hold it down for three seconds?" asked Jevic.
"Right. That's all there is to it. Ginny already programmed it to take you to the ship that best suits our needs. Once you're there and everything's cool, just let us know and we'll mind travel to you."
"Sounds like the right plan," I said.
"OK, Cameron. What do we need to do first?" asked Jevic.
"Let me make a parallel physical connection, then you make us invisible and then we'll press the button. Ready?" He nodded. And we both turned to everybody in the room. "Well, here we go. With luck, we'll have an attack ship at our disposal in just a few minutes."
"Be careful you two," said Paulik.
"You do realize that by stealing this ship, we'll be drawing the line in the sand," I said.
"I know. It's a line Bahar will eventually cross, but knowing her, we won't have to wait long," said Paulik.
"OK, here we go," I said. Brandon and Scott gave us the thumbs up. It's now or never. I grabbed Jevic's hand and held him tight. I closed my eyes and slipped in the darkness. Jevic's aura was right next to me and making the connection was easy. It was a wonderful feeling to have him so close again.
"OK, Jevic, we're connected. Go ahead and make us invisible," I said to him telepathically. I immediately felt a strange tingle all over my body.
"OK, it's done. Are you ready?"
"Ready as I'll ever be. Hit the button!" My tingling came up to a respectable level as soon as I said that. I wanted to be ready for whatever we ran into. My inner sight, which is usually surrounded by darkness, started to get light, very quickly. The brightness increased in intensity and ended suddenly in a giant flash! It was so bright that it temporarily blinded me, kinda the way a camera flash does.
"We made it, Cameron," Jevic told me telepathically. I quickly scanned the interior of the ship.
"I don't see anyone, do you?"
"No, I think we can return to visibility. This is really making me tired."
"Release it now, Jevic. Save your strength." The slight tingle around my body quickly dissipated. I turned and saw Jevic at my side. "Are you OK?" I asked.
"I'm fine. It just not easy for me to do," he whispered.
"Let's have a look around," I suggested. We had arrived in what appeared to be the area of the ship that is used to transport troops. There was just enough light to barely see what we were doing. The room we were in consisted of two rows of double seats, much like an airliner. From my quick count, it looked like it could transport about twenty people. Jevic and I carefully and quietly made our way toward the front of the ship.
"That looks like the bridge access," Jevic said pointing toward a heavy doorway.
"OK, let's go." We eased over to the door. Jevic pushed the open command on the control panel adjacent to the door, but nothing happened. "Try it again," I said. Jevic pushed the button a second time. Slowly, the door started to slide open.
"Stand back," Jevic said telepathically. I nodded at him and charged up my tingling. Sunlight came streaming through the opening. We both peeked around the edge. It was the bridge and no one appeared to be there. We quietly slipped inside.
"No one's here," I said out loud.
"Hey, Cameron, look out the front view port." I looked and saw a half dozen ships lined up across from us. The side view ports revealed more ships on either side of us. Guards were walking the pad around the ships.
"OK, Jevic, we need to contact the guys and get 'em here fast. I don't like this. I feel like I'm behind enemy lines."
"We are, Cameron. We're rabbits in the fox's lair."
"Quick, make contact with Paulik and tell 'em to come now." Jevic closed his eyes for a moment to send the message. I surveyed the bridge. It was very similar to the 'Deliverance' but much more compact. Plus, there were some extra stations. What they were for, I had no idea.
"I just talked with dad. They'll be coming any minute," Jevic said as he opened his eyes.
"Great. I hope Shane can figure all this out. There's lots of extra stuff here."
Paulik suddenly appeared with Shane. Joel appeared next with Scott and Brandon. Docta came next with Malik. Shane quickly surveyed the bridge of the Attack ship.
"Wow!" he said. "This ship can kick some serious butt."
"What do we have, Shane?" asked Joel. Shane paused a moment.
"I've never actually seen this, but I've seen the specs for this ship. Dad showed them to me a couple of months ago. I had no idea they would already be built." He paused another moment and then walked over to the left side of the bridge. He stopped at the far left console and patted the chair.
"OK, here is the defense console. The grid can be recalibrated for different type weapons and power can be redirected to any grid area that's been hit." Brandon walked over during Shane's explanation and sat down at the console.
"There's stealth mode capability too, Shane," Brandon added.
"That will come in handy," said Joel. Shane nodded and walked to the next console.
"This is communications and navigation. Every frequency we use, and even some we don't are included here. There's also the capability of homing in on a signal to get a bearing. The Nav Computer is state-of-the-art, complete with light jump capability." Shane moved to the next console while Docta took his seat at the comm/nav station. "You'll also find controls for the rear and side view screens too," Shane added as an afterthought. Docta nodded and started studying the console.
"Next is the helm. Then there are two weapons stations. One is for the forward facing weapons and the other is for the rear." Scott looked at Malik.
"You like front or back?"
"I'm versatile," Malik said with a grin.
"Cool, I'll take front for now and we can switch later," said Scott with a wink.
"OK, " said Malik with an uncontrollable grin creeping across his face. They sat down at the dual weapons consoles.
"Next is the surveillance station, complete with short and long range scanners. There's a tactical mode too. It enables the operator to observe a tactical situation from a distance in a three dimensional display. It's quite state-of-the-art." Jevic took his seat at the console. Shane moved back toward the helm while Joel sat in the commander's chair. Paulik took the executive officer's seat. Joel patted on the captain's seat just in front of him and nodded at me. Sinking back into the comfortable chair, I had a clear view of the entire bridge. In just a matter of moments, each boy turned at looked at Joel with a smile.
"Joel, I can get us in the air quickly, but it will take about a minute to bring the Graviton drives on line."
"Did you say drives, as in plural?"
"Yep, this sucker will really move."
"OK, everybody else set?" asked Joel. There were nods all around the bridge. "All right Shane. Get us outta here and do it quick. Brandon, be ready to engage the defense grid. As soon as we start powering up, they're gonna be on us like white on rice." Brandon nodded. "OK, Shane. Let's do it!" directed Joel. Shane entered the commands. Lights came up, consoles powered up, and a small vibration could be felt as the twin Gravaton Drives started powering up.
"We've got company," said Jevic as he looked up from his console.
"Defense grid now on line," announced Brandon. The Attack ship was immediately surrounded by guards. Joel watched out the front view port as other officers quickly made their way toward other ships.
"Hurry up, Shane. This isn't looking too good," urged Joel.
"Just another few seconds," said Shane. "I suggest we all buckle up. This ride could get a little bumpy." Everybody quickly strapped in. A Gravaton Tank suddenly appeared coming around the corner of the building. Soldiers stood in the Quantum Pulsar Turret mounted on the vehicle. "Drives on line," announced Shane.
"Get us outta here!" yelled Joel. Shane engaged the twin Gravaton drive and the Attack ship slowly lifted into the air. A bright flash came from the Gravaton Tank as it released a torpedo.
"Incoming!" yelled Jevic. I was just about to intercept the torpedo with my tingling when Scott fired a rapid burst of shots from one of the front mounted Quantum Turbo Laser Turrets. The torpedo exploded in midair sending a huge shockwave toward the men on the ground. Shane expertly swung us around to the left and maxed out the power on the twin Graviton Drives. The Attack ship streaked off the pad into a high arch. The force of the sudden acceleration pushed me back deep into my chair. It was like taking off in a jet, only a lot faster. We were miles from the base seconds.
"Wow! That was close. Good shootin', Tex," Brandon said to Scott.
"We're not outta this yet," announced Jevic. "I'm tracking three, no, wait, five ships in pursuit."
"The core's not on line yet, Joel. We can't make a light jump," said Shane. "What do you want to do?"
"It's been a half hour. Do you think something bad's happened?" asked Ginny.
"I don't know, but we're not waiting around to find out," answered Aaron. "Come on, let's go." Aaron's group got up and headed for the door. "Wait a minute," he said as he stopped suddenly. "Ginny, check with your sources and see if anybody knows where Radlouf is."
"OK, hold on a minute." Ginny made a few calls. Finally hanging up on her last call, she looked back up at Aaron. "I'll know something in just a minute," she reported.
"Good. Let's wait and see what we can find out. If we know where he is, maybe we can get to him before Bahar does. I don't know what happened to Cameron and his group, but we just can't sit here and wait. They could be dead for all we know. We have to keep going and hope they're all right." Ginny's communicator beeped. She quickly answered, talked for a brief moment, and then hung up.
"He's at a retreat just outside Kutal. It's where the Council Members meet for conclaves," she reported.
"I know exactly where that is," said Jayme. "In fact, I've got detailed drawings of the entire complex. I put together a plan to blow up the whole place up a few months ago."
"Excellent. Let's go," said Aaron.
"I'd call this a target rich environment," Malik said to Scott as he starting charging up his weapons.
"I've recalibrated the defense grid for maximum effectiveness. They'll have to hit us a lot to take it out," said Brandon.
"They're getting closer," reported Jevic. "They'll be in firing range in less then ten seconds."
"They must have the same dual Graviton Drive systems," said Shane.
"Looks like we won't be able to out run them," said Joel.
"I'm powered up and ready," said Scott.
"Me too," retorted Malik.
"So it looks like we'll just have to out gun them," said Shane.
"OK, Shane, enough of this cat and mouse shit. Let's kick ass!" I said. Shane banked sharply right and then quickly banked back left, then pulled the attack ship into a vertical climb. The five ships quickly followed assuming a delta attack formation. Shane rolled the ship into an upside down loop, bringing us in toward the five ships from above. Scott cut loose with a volley of Quantum Pulsar blasts from the twin forward turrets. The center ship spun out of control and headed for the ground. Two ships veered off to the right, while the other two veered off to the left. Shane took us right down the middle, exactly where the center ship was just moments ago. Malik fired two Quantum torpedoes from the aft launcher while Shane banked hard left. One of the torpedoes found its mark, blowing one of the right attack ships out of the sky with a myriad of colorful explosions. Shane powered the ship into steep dive as we chased after the two left side ships.
"The third ship is coming around behind us," said Jevic.
"Malik, he's your target. Nail him!" said Cameron.
"I'm on him," said Malik. There was barely enough time to think, let alone make the maneuvers Shane was performing. He banked, veered, turned and dove in every direction possible trying to shake the ship off our tail. Malik fired repeatedly, but the ship was too quick.
"Incoming," yelled Jevic. The torpedo hit square in the rear.
"Rear Defense Grid down to seventy percent," yelled Brandon. Malik unleashed a viscous assault with both aft turrets. Scott continued to fire at the two ships in front of us. Another torpedo hit us in the rear.
"Damn, rear grid down to thirty percent! We can't take another one like that guys," said Brandon and he worked quickly to redirect power to the rear grid. A bright blast of Quantum Laser shots pelted us from the ships we followed. Suddenly the ships in front split, one going right and the other going left. Scott quickly fired off two Quantum torpedoes from the forward launchers just before Shane banked hard right and then put us into a power dive. Looking out the front view port, I could see the ground coming up at us fast ... really fast.
"Shane!" yelled Docta. "That last hit damaged the port Graviton Drive. It's only at seventy-eight percent power!"
"Hold on," Shane yelled as he banked left and started to pull us out of the dive. Our ship grew closer and closer to the ground. Shane strained as he pulled back on the controls. The ship slowly started to roll left. "This is gonna be close!" We had to be going at least two thousand miles an hour as we bottomed out, just brushing the treetops. Malik fired a rapid burst from the aft turrets just as Shane kicked the twin Quantum Drives hard and rocketed us upward. I'd seen dog fights on TV and at the movies, but being in one is entirely different.
"Look out!" called out Jevic. "He's gonna hit the ground." Docta activated the rear viewer just in time for us to see the ship that was following us smash into the ground sending up a huge fireball.
"Incoming!" called out Jevic. The ship shook violently and arched over to the left.
"The starboard grid took a direct hit. It's down fifty percent!" called out Brandon. Shane swooped us around to the right directly into the path of, not one, but the last two remaining attack ships.
"Let's play chicken," Shane said sternly.
"Let's not and say we did," said Docta.
"Scott, concentrate your fire on the ship to the right," I said. Scott unleashed a rapid fire burst from the twin Quantum Turrets. At the same time, he fired two Quantum torpedoes. The red streaks rocketed from the front of the ship. The oncoming ship on the left hooked out quickly, while the other ship received the brunt of Scott's weapons, exploding in midair.
"There's only one ship left and he's buggin' out," called out Jevic. We all cheered!
"Way to go, Shane!" yelled Malik.
"Way to go, Scott!" yelled Brandon.
"Wow!" yelled Joel. "That was incredible!"
"Scott, how did you do that?" I asked. Scott turned at looked at me grinning.
"Do what, Cameron?"
"How did you move that fast? I was going to use my tingling when that tank fired at us, but you fired back so fast I didn't have a chance to even think about it."
"I don't know, Cameron. I guess instincts just took over."
"To be truthful," started Docta. "Being around life forms that utilize almost all of their brain's potential has affected both Scott and Brandon. In my not so expert opinion, I'd say these humans have expanded their thought processes."
"No shit?" asked Brandon.
"No shit," said Docta.
"Cool," said Brandon. We all laughed as Shane turned the ship toward downtown Kutal and the Shifter safe house.
"I'm going to contact Aaron and see where we can land safely," said Paulik. He closed his eyes and relaxed in his chair.
"OK, Jayme, where do we go from here?" asked Aaron.
"There's a path around to the right that leads to the base of the main patio. The only access to the patio is from inside, so it won't be guarded. When we get to the patio, we'll have to scale the wall, but it's only about fifteen feet. Should be a piece of cake. Once on the patio, we'll have complete access to the complex.
"Perfect," said Aaron. The small squad quietly made their way through the thick underbrush surrounding the narrow path. Looking up, Aaron could make our several guards patrolling the outside edge of the complex. The group moved as quickly and as quietly as they could toward the patio wall.
"Aaron," came the telepathic message. Aaron held up his hand, indicating he wanted the squad to stop for a moment.
"Paulik, we were getting worried. Is everybody OK?" he answered telepathically.
"We had a little run in with some attack ships, but we're fine. We're on our way back toward the safe house."
"We've left there, Paulik. We're at the Council Retreat. Ginny got information that Radlouf is here. We're headed in to see if we can find him. Come to the north side of town. You'll see a grove of trees next to a small pond. There's a clearing in the middle of the grove. Set down there. And be sure you're in stealth mode."
"Contact me again when you're in the clearing."
"OK, Aaron. We should be there shortly." Aaron motioned for everyone to gather around.
"I just talked with Paulik. They're all OK and they're on the way to the grove. Let's see if we can get inside and find Radlouf," directed Aaron. His group continued along the path toward the patio wall.
"Aaron says we should head north. They're at the Council Retreat and have information that Radlouf is there. Let's move Shane," said Paulik. Shane powered up the twin Graviton Drives and we rocketed toward the north side of town. "And Brandon, switch us to stealth mode." Brandon engaged the mode and we disappeared from view, even from the view of the sophisticated military tracking devices.
"I know exactly where he's talking about," said Docta. "I used to play in that grove and swim in that pond when I was growing up."
"You like to swim?" I asked.
"Yeah, I do."
"Scott and I used to swim together when we were real young. I lived on a farm just outside of town and we had a pond on the back of our property."
"Yeah, we really had some good times there, Cameron," said Scott. Brandon looked up with a raised eyebrow. "We were little kids, Brandon. Gimme a break."
"I was just wondering," said Brandon, all the while smiling widely.
"There's the clearing," said Docta. Shane swung us around and set the attack ship down easily in the clearing. The only thing that would let anyone close by even know we were there were the indentations in the grass from the landing gear.
"I'm going to contact Aaron," said Paulik.
Aaron's squad arrived safely at the foot of the wall. The setting sun cast shadows in all the right places, helping to conceal the squad. Fifteen feet above was the open patio area. Just inside the building from the patio were several meeting rooms. On the second floor were complete accommodations for each Council Member.
"OK, Garla. Take your rifle and scale the wall. Don't shoot unless you have to. Try to let our presence remain secret as long as possible," said Aaron.
"Stealth is my middle name," she said as she started to climb the wall. Aaron and the rest of the squad watched as Garla quickly and quietly made her way to the top of the wall. She paused at the very top. She slowly raised her head and looked over the edge. The patio was deserted. She shimmied quickly over the top and crouched down. Then Garla motioned for everyone to come up. Aaron, Ginny and Jayme quickly climbed up and joined Garla at the edge of the patio.
"There's the door over there," pointed out Jayme. They moved quietly toward the entrance to the complex. Suddenly the door opened. The squad quickly disappeared into the bushes not more than ten feet from the door. Two guards walked out, laughing quietly to themselves.
"They should be here any minute," one guard said.
"I wonder what's so important that Madam Bahar is sending a ship out to pick up Councilman Radlouf?"
"Ya got me. You know how these dignitaries can be," the guard chuckled. "I guess we better light up the place." The two guards went back into the door. Seconds later, the patio was flooded with light. Aaron closed his eyes to communicate with Paulik.
"Paulik, it's Aaron."
"I'm here, Aaron. What's up?"
"Bahar is sending a ship to pick up Radlouf. It's going to be here any minute!"
"OK, Aaron. We're on our way."
"They'll be landing on the patio."
"OK, we'll be right there."
"I just got a message from Aaron. Bahar has sent a ship to pick up Radlouf. It's supposed to land any minute. Let's get over there and take it out before it lands." Shane powered up the Gravaton Drives and slowly lifted the ship off the ground. Scott and Malik powered up the weapons. Brandon had completed repairs to the defense grid and it was once again operating at one hundred percent. Jevic switched to short range scanners and looked for the ship.
"There's nothing in the air for miles and miles. I'm just not detecting anything," said Jevic.
"Maybe they're operating in stealth mode like we are," I suggested.
"You're probably right, Cameron," said Docta. "If this ship is really coming to get Radlouf, Bahar wouldn't want anyone to know about it."
"Shane, head for the complex. We'll hover near the patio. When the ship does land, then we'll blast it," directed Joel.
"Sounds good, let's go, Shane," I said. Shane engaged the twin drives and in seconds we were hovering over the complex.
"Jevic, scan the complex for life forms," said Joel. Jevic peered into his monitor and then looked up.
"I've detected twenty-three life forms in the complex," he reported.
"Good, now look for someone isolated from everyone else. If Radlouf is there, he'd be by himself." Jevic nodded and turned back to his monitor.
"Kelmarian Attack Ship appearing on the patio," announced Docta.
"Wait a minute, Scott. Wait just a minute," directed Joel. "Jevic, did you find anything?"
"It looks like one person is in a room alone, but there appears to be two more people standing just outside the door," said Jevic.
"Guards," said Paulik.
"Where is he?" asked Joel.
"On the second floor in a room on the far side of the patio."
"Great! Paulik, tell Aaron where Radlouf is and have him get off the patio as fast as possible." Paulik nodded, closed his eyes for a moment, and delivered the message.
Watching out the front view port, we saw soldiers getting off the ship. Suddenly we saw Quantum Rifle fire. As we watched, even more soldiers started to show up. Aaron's small squad of four people was pinned down by all the fire.
"Scott, take out some of those soldiers," directed Joel.
"We have to drop out of stealth mode before he can fire," warned Shane.
"It's disengaged," said Brandon. Scott switched to micro targeting mode and fired using the forward Quantum turrets. The soldiers were taken completely by surprise. Looking up in the sky and suddenly seeing an attack ship appear and start shooting was enough to send them scattering. As we watched, Aaron and his squad entered the building.
"Now, Scott, blast that ship!" directed Joel. Scott fired two Quantum Torpedoes from the forward launchers. Both found their mark and ship exploded into millions of pieces.
"Joel, I'm detecting ten people moving quickly down the corridor toward Radlouf's room," Jevic called out.
"Shit! Paulik, quick, contact Aaron and see where he is," said Joel. Paulik contacted Aaron and then reported what he found out.
"The soldiers have them pinned down at the bottom of the staircase."
"Damn!" cried out an exasperated Joel. I knew what had to be done and I slowly stood up.
"I'm going to get him," I said.
"What?" exclaimed Jevic.
"I'm going to mind travel to Radlouf and bring him back here. Give me one of those remote portal extraction devices. All I have to do is make it to him. Then I can use the portal to get back."
"I don't like this idea, Cameron," said Paulik.
"I'm not real fond of it either, Paulik, but I see no other choice," I said.
"Get in and get out, Cameron. Don't waste any time!" directed Paulik. I nodded and looked over at Jevic.
"It'll be OK, babe. I'll be right back." Malik handed me the remote portal extraction unit. I took one last look at the corner of the building where Radlouf was being held and then closed my eyes. I concentrated on the building and the location I wanted to go. I had never mind traveled to a location. I had always traveled to a person, but Elvin told me this could be done. And now it was time to find out. The cloak of darkness welcomed me. I immediately heard weapons fire off to my left, but remained focused on the location of the room. The weightless feeling came. When I opened my eyes, I was standing in the middle of a room. There was only one chair. It was the only piece of furniture in the whole room, and it faced the other way.
"Come on, Radlouf, we gotta get out of here," I said as I walked around to the chair. But Radlouf was not who I found sitting in the chair.
"Cameron, so nice of you to come and visit," said Bahar with an evil grin. I suddenly felt someone grab me from behind. Then there was a sharp pain in my neck. "Kibbeth has just given you something to help you sleep. Now take a little nap while I wrap things up here. When you wake up, we'll have a little chat." I couldn't help it, but I started feeling very sleepy ... then everything went black.
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