Beyond the Sky: Chapter 35

Crisis Point

  The wall display blinked on under Carter’s control, showing an equirectangular projection of Lemuria. A red box highlighted the thick isthmus connecting the landmasses hosting Mespreth and the Amalgamation—the Forsaken Lands.  
It zoomed in, then highlighted and zoomed again, to a ruined city with an island off the coast. Boats, new docks, and fresh vehicle tracks were visible. Blue-canvas tents stood in rows.
“The Amalgamation is building something here,” he said. “A missile site, likely.”
Takji swore.
“There is more. A fleet of Mespreth hydroskimmers, approaching from the north.” The display swept up to show them, a flotilla centered on a stub-winged, lifting-body craft big enough for a flight deck on its back. “They will arrive in under three hours.”
“Shit.” Benson stood. “Selva, prepare the scoutship!” He punched a button on the table. “Flight, get a shuttle ready! Velli, go with her.”
Takji asked, “And us?”
“I’m sending you back down. Steve will take you, try to find someplace near Mespreth where you can land unobserved, and get back to your father.” He went over and grabbed her arm. “If the worst should happen, no matter what, you must not let him launch his missiles.”
What?” She recoiled.
Benson continued, “If only one nation launches, we may be able to stop it before the warheads hit. But if both do, there’ll be no hope at all.”
“Glint Sparkhands,” Carter said, before he went to follow them. “I request your help.”
Velli gripped the harness straps of her seat, more out of emotion than reason, as the scoutship detached from Challenger’s topside. Abdul accelerated hard with its ghostly engines—gravitational impellers—flipping round to slow in its orbit. The craft dropped into the atmosphere.
Fire gave way to clouds, then terrain. The Forsaken Lands. Out the windows zoomed forests and grassland, punctuated by ruined buildings thoroughly overgrown. A few times she glimpsed rectangular plots of tilled land—illegal settlers, or people who never left. Abdul hugged the ground, avoiding radars, and approached a coast. He slowed and descended further still, lower than some trees. To left and right, ruins.
They landed with a thump the internal repulsors didn’t counteract. Selva wasted no time, donning a helmet for the black armored suit she wore. A visor lit up blue.
“Area is clear.” She checked outside the hatch. “Ship’s sensors are detecting a neutron source.”
Velli followed her down the stairs. This was a street, overgrown like the Pit, flanked by skeletal buildings. A whole city, in fact, a nameless coastal town abandoned after decades of militarized torment.
“The Amalgamation’s been here.” Velli pointed to words, fresh, spray-painted on exposed brick. “Be alert.” She clutched her rifle and alien stunner.
“I am to get in there?” Glint eyed the alien craft. Carter the Thinking Machine had brought him here, to a cavernous hangar at the ship’s stern. The shuttle with Princess Takji and her spy had just left and the great door now stood closed, leaving a diamond-shaped craft which insinuated stealth.
“An aeromarine survey drone,” a floating machine like a disk with arms holding a beveled metal box said. “It is designed for this.”
On its underside, a hatch revealed an internal bay, padded. Glint let out a low growl, and blended with the thing’s black color when he heard humans behind.
“I would control it remotely, but bandwidth underwater is too low for the computation I require. I am installing my core aboard.” Glint watched as the floating disk lowered the box into a smaller hatch which opened on top, not really sure what it all meant. “I will share the risk.”
He climbed aboard.
The streets grew narrower, and in a few places Velli saw carvings on the walls, or colored patterns made from old fabrics, that might indicate Shadowstalker lairs. They’d not be out in daylight.
Behind a chain-link fence stood a warehouse, much of the roof intact. A blade extended from Selva’s wrist, she slashed an opening. “Careful. There may be guards.”
Debris strew the concrete outside, alongside a shell-crater filled with water. Selva opened a door with a rusted wail. Scattered crates and barrels were inside, lit by light through holes overhead.
Selva lifted her right hand, using some sort of detector built into its glove. “Over here.”
Velli stepped across sheets of tin roofing, reaching a rectangular crate. Running her armored fingers under the sides, Selva broke off the lid and slid it aside. A cylindrical object, rounded at one end, lay within.
Abdul whistled. “Is that what I think it is?”

Cover image: by Arek Socha


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