MOONJACK! Act Three – Part 2

Tommy wasn’t about to make Maroon’s mistake. He gave the Commander the full report.

“And you’re sure it’s not something I need to see myself?” queried Braun, his face looking satisfyingly tiny in the comm screen.

Tommy sighed. “No, Commander. Trust me. They’re really abominably ugly.”

“This wouldn’t be the first time the ugly ones turned out to be the good guys and the, er, pretty alien turned out to be evil.”

“True, Commander.” Tommy didn’t need reminding. Usually Braun only found out the pretty ones were evil after he’d practiced a few lip-based docking manoeuvres with them. “But I don’t know, something about this lot’s ugliness makes me think twice.” He was on the point of suggesting the Commander head down to the medical bay and subject Zanac to the snogging test when klaxxons blared and the lights dimmed to an alarming shade of emergency red.

Another thing that would change when Tommy was Commander. Emergency lighting needed to be brighter, in his opinion, since that was just when you needed a clearer idea of what was going on.

Sandy Beige hastily scanned her instrument panel. But it was Maroon who isolated the fault. “Defence screens are down!”

“Alien vessel is moving in!” warned Sandy, getting the words out just before her voice spiralled into ultrasonic.

“What? Get on to them! Remind them they said they’d give us an hour!”

Sandy stopped her scream short and got to work, trying to hail the ship. Tommy leaned over the small comm screen, where Braun’s unhappy face still lurked. “Well, I think that settles it, Commander. The ugly ones are the bad guys. They’re the ones who stand to gain from this.”

“I can’t make that assumption. I’m sending Alan on to reactivate the defence screens. I’m trusting you, Tommy, to defend the base at all costs!”

“You are?” Tommy was momentarily overwhelmed by the great responsibility thrust upon him. Finally! he thought. “I mean, you can count on me, Commander!”

“Good. I’m taking Henna back to the medical bay. We’re going to check on the pretty one.”

A brief image flashed in Tommy’s mind of the Commander necking with the glam-rock humanoid swan-being. “Good luck, Commander.”

The comm screen blanked, leaving Tommy in charge of a fast-developing crisis.

Sandy was looking up at him. “Tommy, I have the alien ship’s response. Audio only.”

“Let’s hear it.” He tensed, preparing himself for the worst. If they acknowledged their mistake, that could bring a swift end to the crisis and that was going to leave him feeling a little bit cheated. This was his moment. Evil or no, these bastard aliens had better not let him down.

The gargly gravelled voice came through on speaker. “Moonbase, we said one auer. A-U-E-R. What, you think we all use the same units of measurement? If you’re quick you might be able to find a conversion table before we commence our attack.”

“Huh,” said Tommy. It was just the kind of answer he’d wanted, giving him every cause to celebrate. But, curiously, none of the inclination.

***

Knucks settled back in the command chair on the bridge of the Goylish War Pinnace. Rear Vice War-Kahn Fremengor kept shooting him disgruntled looks, not best pleased at having his seat taken. Ostrogoyles were wider of girth than most Goylish species and enjoyed taking all that weight off their feet as often as battle plans permitted. Knucks didn’t care. He’d paid good money to hire these grunts and he figured the least they could do was throw in a front row seat as part of the deal.

“Give em a blast or two of the main guns.”

“Any particular preference?” growled the Goyle sarcastically.

“A few missiles? A couple of zaps of the particle decelerators?” Particle decelerators were great. When applied to whole objects, they could double as a tractor beam, but they produced more exciting results when focused on a selected section of a fast-moving target. “Just aim for a few outbuildings. Nothing major. We want the base mostly intact.”

Fremengor demonstrated his worthiness of the title ‘grunt’. “So why not just send in the landing party?”

Knucks shook his head at the commander. “You’re a Goyle. What the hell do you care?” Typical he would get the only group of Goyle mercenaries to want some justification for violence. He offered a shrug. “I’m a pyromaniac. Indulge me.”

“Good enough.” He turned to his rows of weapons officers and gave the order to fire.

***

KERBLAM! BOOM! BLAMBLAM! FOOM! KERRUMBLEBAMBOOM!

No Goylish gunner was going to be satisfied with a blast or two, so the poor moon was subjected to a sustained barrage of pot shots. Rashes of explosions threw up fireballs and moondust all around the edges of the base in a pyrotechnic display that, had he been in a position to watch it all, would have even sated Knucks’ pyromania. As it was, he set the ship’s hull cameras to zoom in and record the whole show for later.

***

Despite the temporary distraction of the shockwaves, Ferret continued to stare at the opening cryochambers. The bombardment, he reasoned, would certainly be Knucks’ doing and so, in theory at least, nothing that should trouble him unduly. Hence, he was far more concerned with what might emerge from the freezers and he sincerely doubted it would turn out to be a lot of ready meals and several tubs of soft-scoop raspberry ripple.

“What have you done?” he inquired of the corpse.

“Not my doing. The revival was triggered automatically.”

“What? It’s time for your annual defrost?”

“No. This room scanned you and concluded that you were human. Confirmation of an encounter with another human is a key parameter for initiating Operation Exodus.”

“But – I’m an alien.”

“The scan says differently.”

“Oh all right. Screw it. Yes, I’m human. But I’m not here as part of any kind of Exodus.”

“The system doesn’t care why you’re here. Just that you are. The crew, you see, entered cryogenic suspension.” There was that word, ‘cryogenic’. At least there were some things Ferret could rely on amid all this insanity. “One of us had to remain behind to supervise the freezing process. And to build all the puppets. But it was fully expected that I would die and frankly I didn’t know at that stage how successful my Cybermarionettes would be. So I had to build in some automatic revival that would be triggered under certain conditions. The arrival of another human, I thought, would afford the crew their best chance of being saved.”

“Well, I do hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but I think you can suspend this Operation Exodus of yours right now. There’s another operation on at the moment that takes precedence.”

“Too late. I can’t reverse the process now. You’ll have to take it up with the Commander.”

“What? That squirt, Braun?”

“No, no. I told you, my Cybermarionettes have no idea about this. To them, Operation Exodus is all about them going home. No, you’ll want to speak with Commander Schoenig. He should be stepping out of Cryochamber One any minute now.”

Ferret glanced into the other chamber, wondering how, out of that vast array of freezers, he was supposed to find Cryochamber One.

“They’re all numbered on the sides,” volunteered the corpse helpfully.

Out from under the many lifting lids, lightly frosted arms were flapping about, probing the air and striving to figure out the next vital stage in their emergence from their personal iceboxes. It was like witnessing a lot of giant frozen sausages come to life and seeking escape.

An unnerving sight, but Ferret was resolved not to be deterred. If Commander Schoening was the man to have it out with, then have it out he would. “Right. I will.”

He marched off past the corpse and along the nearest aisle, scanning the sides of the freezers and doing his best to avoid being groped by flailing arms. He was wondering why they hadn’t thought to label one of those in the front row Cryochamber One, when he found the freezer he was looking for, close to the centre. As well as the medical monitor attached to one end there appeared to be some sort of equipment locker, which prompted some curiosity as to what might be stored in there.

As if in answer, the freezer lid swung fully open and the man within levered himself into a sitting position, before hauling himself up and out. The cryogenic process had evidently resulted in some muscular atrophy and he was finding it a struggle. As he fought to stand, Ferret could see that the cold had been unkind to him in other ways too.

For some reason, he had imagined the crew all frozen fully-clothed.

“You know what,” he said, and about-turned to make his way back to the corpse. “I’ll wait till he gets dressed.”

***

Knucks paraded along the ranks of Goyles assembled on the deck of the launch bay. The ramp of the assault shuttle lay open and waiting for them. There was just one tiny detail to attend to.

Fishing in his pockets, he handed each soldier a clip-on device about the size of a cigarette pack. “Every one of you gets to wear one of these on his belt,” he instructed them. Rear Vice War-Kahn Fremengor followed behind him, his only contribution to the landing party a discontented grumble. Knucks would have put it down to indigestion, except Fremengor had already voiced his objections.

“I don’t see that these devices are really necessary,” he had growled. Enough times that, when he was done handing them out, Knucks felt that a pre-battle pep talk was in order.

Taking position in front of the squad – who made the Dirty Dozen look like cherubim and seraphim – he tucked his arm behind his back and addressed them as any biowarfare general would his assembled ranks of attack germs. “Listen up. This is going to be a doddle. Even more of a push-over than I’d anticipated, because it turns out – owing to some unexpected relativistic effect – the enemy you’re up against happen to be really diddy.” He held his hand level at about knee height. “So I don’t expect any of you to bite the beam. So the device I’ve just issued is merely a precaution. It represents the very best in personal post mortem disintegration.” That was no lie. The Crematoratron 3000, a tidy battlefield every time, the ads said. Body bags a thing of the past. They were also handy at murder scenes. “It’s of no possible danger to you as long as your fat asses are composed of living tissue, so I expect to see you wearing it at all times. Like I said, I expect zero casualties. But if any of you is stupid enough to get yourself killed, I don’t want you blocking corridors or doorways. Now, let’s mount up and ship out.”

As well as conquering the base, he was quite keen to get his other arm back.

[To Be Continued…]

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