Djikiden, Russell and I had kitted ourselves out in full body armour. The Pak'ma'ra had found several back packs into which we shoved more PPGs and rifles. Russell grabbed handfuls of caps and shoved them into the pockets of the packs. Nar'Bon found armour that fitted whilst we loaded several PPG handguns and rifles. I tossed him a rifle and a back pack. He commented "Good armour, isn't it?"
It was indeed very good armour. It fitted well and allowed a full range of movement without dragging at my limbs. If I put the helmet on, tactical displays came up. It carried its own air and power supplies. Armour such as this would surely help my people throw off the chains of slavery.
Nar'Bon grinned at me and turned to his robots. "Do you recognise these beings?" He indicated to us.
The lead bot replied "Yes, I do, but some of the others will not recognise you with the helmets on."
Great - the leader seemed to be an AI, but some of his companions were artificial but not intelligent. We all flipped the helmets back.
"You are to clear this level of the Dilgar."
One of the bots moved to the door and began banging on it with a huge fist. It chanted something as it tried to batter the door down.
Nar'Bon restated the order. "On my command. Wait a moment." The bot stopped its attack on the door.
We took up positions to either side of the entrance. Nar'Bon palmed the lock, then ducked back as a barrage of PPG fire burst in.
Two of the bots struggled to push past each other and get out the door, taking what would have been lethal punishment for a living being. They finally managed to both get out the door and disappeared from view. From the cries of fear, they were intimidating their opponents, and from the cries of pain, happily ripping them apart. The other robots looked at each other and started out the door. "I'm not missing out on this!"
Nar'Bon stopped the leader bot. "Do you have contact with the other robots?"
"Then stay here. We may need to withdraw quickly and I need to be able to recall them."
The big bot stepped outside and surveyed the carnage. "What is our mission?"
"We're leaving this place and retreating to the flight deck."
The screams and sounds of destruction faded somewhat. The leader bot commented that resistance was being met, but the other robots were dealing with it. There were few of the other beings left, and they were fleeing into the bowels of the base. Nar'Bon ordered the recall.
Two of the robots were reluctant to return - the two that had fought to be first out the door. The leader bot told us that they tended to be disobedient in their enthusiasm for the kill. We needed those bots back.
I had a thought - I get them sometimes. I turned to the big bot. "Tell them that there are many more beings to kill at the place where we are going next. If they don't come back, they will miss out."
It seemed that whilst the bots would not take orders from anyone bar Nar'Bon, the leader would take suggestions. Within seconds we heard the steady chanting of one bot, and as we headed for the elevator, the other one ran up. We sent those two up in the lift to the flight deck. They seemed very eager to eliminate all who stood before them. It was surprising that the lift was still functional and just as surprising that the two bots actually fitted inside. We recalled the lift and sent the next three up. The leader reported that the lift was now non-functional but its cargo had reached the flight deck.
We found a stairwell and started climbing. Nar'Bon followed the big bot, which had the name Hammerstein, Russell and Djikiden came after them, and I covered our backs. I melted the door lock with a couple of PPG bursts, just to inhibit anyone with the idea of sneaking up from behind.
It was a fair way between floors and I felt uncomfortable without the helmet of my armour on. I asked Hammerstein if it still recognised me with the helm on. The last thing I wanted to have happen was die at its, umm, well, it didn't really have hands, appendages because it mistook me for the Enemy. The big bot, however, was smarter than some of its companions and could still tell who I was. Good enough for me - we were vulnerable here and I wanted all the protection I could get. I flipped the helmet back on.
Just after Hammerstein had passed the door leading to the next level, it burst open and two Dilgar flung themselves in. One immediately fired at Nar'Bon whilst the other turned and froze, looking up at Hammerstein.
Nar'Bon was hit in the chest at almost point blank range. The armour flared and he staggered down a couple of steps but did not fall.
If they thought they could kill one of my selves, they would have to think again. The Pak'ma'ra dumped his pack and brought his weapon to bear, but I doubted that he had a clear shot. I was a landing lower than Nar'Bon. I aimed carefully around the corner and waited for a clear shot. Nar'Bon shifted and I fired. Nar'Bon's rifle spat and the Dilgar fell.
The other Dilgar raised its rifle over its head as Hammerstein struck at it with a mighty fist. Unbelievably, the rifle managed to deflect much of the blow, but the Dilgar was still damaged. Hammerstein crushed it. Nar'Bon examined the Dilgar which had shot him, then pulled its helmet off and dispatched it.
I knew the door lock should have been disabled before we passed. Nar'Bon would not have a burn to his armour if it had been disabled. It would have at least held the Dilgar up.
Hammerstein detected another couple of Dilgar in the corridor outside and removed them with alacrity. Then we ensured that the door would not open with any ease and continued up the stairs.
A scene of absolute carnage met our eyes when we reached the flight deck. The other bots appeared to be running riot. I quickly removed my helmet.
"What is our goal?"
"We are to reach the ship...," Nar'Bon scanned the flight deck, "The blue ship in the far corner. We don't want that ship damaged. Any other ships are fair game. Tell the others."
I could see four bots apart from Hammerstein. As I watched, the last bot appeared, clambering over the top of a fighter. It dropped on top of an unsuspecting Dilgar and dispatched it with some sort of blade.
"I suggest that we proceed to our goal," said Hammerstein. "I can provide covering fire."
We ran around the cavern wall, cutting across one corner where two bots were engaged in a fire fight with some Dilgar. A few random shots came our way but noone was hit. Nar'Bon and I sprayed some wildfire around just to ensure that we weren't followed too closely. Hammerstein moved easily with us, picking off Dilgar with bursts of his slug thrower.
As we ran up to the ship, we called for the other robots. Two met us at the ship whilst the others were still disengaging.. The ship's AI recognised me.
"I didn't think that I would see you again! You escaped the Dilgar?"
"Bob, just let us in! No time to chat!"
"You know I can't do that Na'Tiel. You know that I need the password. Without it, you can't come in."
"I have the bedamned password. Activate the security system - we haven't much time!"
"No need to be rude. You should have said so."
I blurted out the password, and the lock cycled open.
"You do too! Guess you can come in then."
There was enough room for my crew in the lift, but not enough for any of the bots as well.
"Recall those robots now, Hammerstein. We're leaving and I want them with us!" Nar'Bon sometimes can produce a lovely ringing note of command in his voice and this was one of those times.
"Bob, we're bringing those bots with us. Let them in. Can you start cycling the ship up for lift-off?"
Bob's voice came from everywhere around us. "I need a pilot and a navigator and an engineer and a weapons-systems specialist."
"You got 'em! Now where is the bridge?"
We pounded up the corridor following a wall strip that lit up. The bridge was much larger than that of my little freighter. "Nar'Bon - you have weapons, Djikiden navigation, Russell engineering. Bob, can you recalibrate the instrumentation in Earther?"
"I can do better than that," and the panels in front of me settled into the regular configurations of Narnish.
As we strapped ourselves in, Hammerstein reported that all the bots were on board. "Request permission for shut-down and self-repair."
"Permission granted. Find somewhere out of the way."
The engines were cycled up and ready to go. I looked at my crew. They all nodded back at me. "OK," I said, "let's get out of here! Nar'Bon, see what you can do about those warships on the way out."
I touched the control and the outside blurred. Bob's voice cut in. "Whoops! Had to cut in there and stop us going through the roof!" Indeed, we were now hovering well above the flight deck. I had had no indication of momentum apart from the blurring of my vision. Bob continued. "Maybe I should reconfigure the controls to something a little less sensitive."
Bob was going to be annoying, I could see, with his cheery voice and bright observations. Unfortunately he would be necessary until I learned to fly this ship. I hadn't even realised that the ship could move so fast. In less than a second we had lifted to the top of the cavern with no sense of inertia or gravity changes.
"Na'Tiel, what would you prefer? Narn freighter, fighter, battleship - what class?" Bob may have his uses after all. I chose the ship dearest, and most painful, to me.
"Medium weight fighter." I turned to Nar'Bon. "How about trying out the weapons on those ships?"
It rapidly became obvious that I wasn't the only one in need of practice. Nar'Bon missed a couple of times, leaving great scars in the cavern floor, but we could wait no longer.
"How about opening the roof for us?" I suggested.
The ship tilted and the beam weapons swept out a pattern of fire in the roof ahead. The metal dropped and we fled through the hole. Nar'Bon looked at me and shrugged. He hadn't even touched the weapons console. Nor had I touched my controls. Bob only wanted a crew so that we could feel useful.
The ship climbed steadily upwards, reaching in the edge of the atmosphere in a few seconds. Despite our rapid ascent, there was no sense of increased gravity. "I can easily counter 20 Gees of acceleration," Bob volunteered as we exclaimed.
We were free! We had escaped the Dilgar! We were leaving Markab at last! We would have to come back at some stage, but that would not be for a while. Free! A great sense of exhilaration swept over me. Free, and with such a ship!
I set a course for out-system simply to allow me the brief luxury of flying this ship. It handled nimbly for all its size and for the first time in years I found myself enjoying piloting something. "This is an amazing ship, Bob - the Narn government would pay well to understand the drives and gravitics." What Narn government?
"I cannot allow any of my secrets to be given to other governments, Na'Tiel. If any should try, including you, I will self-destruct."
Maybe this AI was not such a good idea after all. What if we needed to repair the ship?
"Captain - where are we going?" Trust Djikiden to think of that.
I hadn't put much thought into that. We should jump and jump fast before we were followed. My first impulse was to jump to Babylon 5, but caution warned me away from that idea. I did so want to go there to see my daughter and lover, but it would be unwise. I did not know if Ja'Hut still lived. It would also appear suspicious for a Narn to appear flying a ship of unknown configuration and interesting output. I could contact So'Kath and let him know that I was alive, and that would have to do for the time being.
"Let's go to Russell's base. From there we can figure out what to do next. Bob, we want to jump to these coordinates. Can you put us on the right beacon?"
A jump point opened before us and we entered hyperspace.
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