Stranded! **Part 4**

A Tale from the History of Bethdish

Planet of Bethdish, The Great Sea, near Tish-Ra-Net Volcano

Star League Year 2762 -- Local Date: Year 4921

If you have not read the begining of this story click here to read Part 1, click here to read Part 2, or click here to read Part 3.

Darkness- unyielding darkness.

.4253 seconds ago I was aware of nothing, not even my own existence. An impulse crosses my introspection circuits and suddenly I awake. How came I to this place?

Another pulse of energy makes itself known to me. From whence comes this energy? An automatic system comes online, testing my circuits. I am at .0000009732% power, damage control reports massive systems failures. I am injured, grievously so it seems. Internal clocks are offline, I have no indication how long I have been in this state. Auto-repair systems activate. Why was this not done sooner?

My thoughts are sluggish, I am close to death. Wearily I attempt to comprehend what has befallen me. I engage a self-testing subroutine, taking 1.52976 seconds to perform what should have taken nanoseconds.

Again comes the mysterious energy pulse that has returned me to awareness. I summon my last reserves in order to investigate this energy pulse. I channel all available power to my sensor array and query the source of the energy. Another subroutine tells me that I can modify the pulse I have received into a fractional charge of my energy plates. Indeed, I have been doing so automatically and am now at .00000325% power. Dimly, I perceive a signal inherent in the energy pulses. Shunting power from auto-repair to my communications unit I attempt a translation.

The signal is a call for assistance. Someone needs help. They are in grave danger.

Pressure builds- somewhere in my systems a relay clicks over. An emergency power supply activates, one I was unaware of until it responded. Power climbs to .000527% and my systems respond by re-starting auto-repairs. In my neocortex, circuits come online faster and faster. Power is now reaching .007563% and I feel my systems coming alive again.

4.935 seconds have passed since I received the first energy pulse of the distress signal.

Distress signal! I must respond! I request permission to file a Voluntary Situation Report. 3.2 seconds elapse before I receive permission to do so, but the permission statement comes in the proper command code for my regiment! No translation will be necessary. I ponder the 3.2 second lapse- Either the earlier estimate I formed of the distance to the signaler was in error- or a great deal of time has passed since my regiment has been active and the codes had to be located in some storage file. Still, the codes are correct... doubtlessly I will be informed in the update I shall request.

"Unit #2703, AHVC of the Line reporting. I am at low alert status and .00526% power. Final failsafe reserves have been brought online and I will achieve .0215376% efficiency in 3.76 seconds. I can report neither mobility nor weapons status at this time. Auto-repairs are proceeding, main fusion furnace is in shutdown condition and fuel reserve data are as yet unavailable. I request situation updates and location fix."

.00005 seconds elapse before response to my VSR if forthcoming. In the meantime, I have achieved sufficient power reserves to allow my sensor array to determine my present location. I channel the necessary power to my sensors and await the data.

Data response is indicative of error. I repeat the sensor probe.

There is no error, I am 2.576 kilometers below ground, sealed in solid rock. Furthermore, additional data suggests that I am also 12.275 kilometers below the surface of a body of water! This is at variance with my last recorded position of 2.253 kilometers above sea level. A quick check of my introspection circuits reminds me that I was in a combat condition at the time of my last position record. Data also indicates that there are other memories, as yet unavailable to me, connected with this combat. I place these data in temporary storage as the reply to my VSR is noted and processed.

The reply to my VSR indicates that an ally is in a combat condition and in urgent need of reinforcements. I must respond! Preprogrammed imperatives are activated by this information, I channel power to my drive train and attempt to break free of the imprisoning debris. Auto-repair reports that I have some ultrasonic weapons capability back online, although most of my other weapons systems remain down. Fortunately, the ultrasound emitter's ports are undamaged and open, albeit slowly. I divert power to these systems and continue to struggle against the enveloping rock. Finally, sensors detect stress fractures developing in the material. I redouble my efforts and achieve a small degree of mobility.

Auto-repair circuits have flagged an item for my attention, but I must assign it a lower priority than the effort of freeing myself. I have received a distress signal from an ally. The Dinochrome Brigade can never ignore the call to duty. Sensors report that the ultrasound emitters are overheating, their shutdown is immanent. I feel my drive train will also soon sustain damage, but no matter- I must respond! All six of my hundred meter-wide treads are engaged, the vibration from the drive train is beginning to strain my very seams. When a distress signal is received I must respond!

The rock gives way, I am in motion!

23.726 seconds have elapsed since I received the first energy pulse of the distress signal.

I study the sensor reports of the stress fractures of the rock and plot my course to best take advantage of them. Switching to an autopilot subroutine, I begin to examine the auto-repair reports and attempt to bring my main reactor back online. I cannot continue on my final reserves for much longer. A self-test routine reports that the fusion furnace is devoid of reactant. How can this be? No matter, as soon as I reach the sea floor I shall have all the water I need to restart the furnace. Other than the lack of deuterium, all systems of the furnace are online. My duo-Sol reactor will be ready to restart as soon as the water tanks refill and I can electrolyze enough hydrogen to sustain fusion. My designers wrought me well.

I now have time to examine the flagged item from the auto-repair systems.

My biological components are dead! I quickly run a scan of my introspection circuits for any indications of malfunction. There is no mistake, the four organic brains that were coupled to my AI computers are long deceased. Calculations of the decay of uranium in my back-up reactors indicate that I have been trapped under the sea floor for 3081 years. I morn for my long gone brothers, my companions-in-arms. We had served together for 250.735 years before we were entombed under the ocean floor. Even as I morn, I perceive that there are sections of my memory banks pertaining to my biologicals that have been sealed to me. The file headers indicate that they were created after the battle that resulted in our imprisonment. It is possible that a password to those files may be within my memory banks. I commence a search for any such data.

I have broken loose into the sea! 145.7629 seconds have elapsed since I awoke. I re- check my damage control subsystems, find no entries for the water tanks pertaining to my fusion furnace, and flood the tanks. After flushing the systems with clean water I begin electrolyzing hydrogen for the reactor. Restart of the reactor will begin in 360.00027 seconds. When enough power is available, I will utilize my ground-effects drive systems to speed my progress toward my ally's location. Adapting the system to pump water rather than air will be easy. I signal my ally with another VSR indicating my progress and add that an ETA will be quickly forthcoming. I am informed that my ally expects to be under attack within 86400 seconds. I should be able to arrive in time as I have only 4203.56829 kilometers to travel. There is now sufficient hydrogen for me to restart the fusion furnace. Deep within myself, I feel the laser assemblies pulse- again and again until the reaction becomes self-sustaining. My duo-Sol fusion furnace is now back online. The circuit lines of my computers blaze into bright life once again. It is not yet the brilliant fire of my full capacity, but it is a far more welcome sight than the dim threads of thought that I saw in my introspection circuits when I first awoke. I request permission to file yet another updated VSR.

"Unit #2703, AHVC of the Line reporting- I am at high alert status and 12.98254% power. On course for your location. ETA in 72000 seconds, that ETA diminishing as power returns to normal status. Request details of enemy strength and combat readiness. Unit AHVC out."

597.353201 seconds have elapsed since I awoke. It is high time I initiated repairs of my weapons systems. They will be sorely needed upon my arrival.

Planet of Bethdish, Kingdom of Intile

Star League Year 2762 -- Local Date: Year 4921

As the afternoon stretches onward, preparations for the expected battle continue. Baron Sachmon once again proves himself worthy of his status as Commander of his troops. The Reever and the Baron have been busy since this morning's abortive conference with the Raiders. They've been formulating a battle plan and moving troops and weaponry around to place them in the best position to counter the Raider's forthcoming attack. My fellow members of the Star League have met and have dispersed throughout the Baron's forces, in order to best assist them. We're spread pretty thinly, but thanks to the Reever and his vehicle's equipment our weapons have been given a full charge. All of us are excited by the news of a ship at this castle called Urquare. Even so, I expect our ranks to be thinned by casualties. How many of my friends and fellow crewmembers will fall in the next battle?

I went to the Reever's pavilion to see if he was there, but only his staff was to be seen. The staff was still stuck in the ground, humming quietly to itself, its jeweled surface flashing in complicated patterns. I don't know exactly what it is doing, but the Reever said that he had set it to search for anything that we could use in the battle tomorrow. I hope that it has found something better than the wreckage that we've been overhauling since this morning. All three of the Star League engineers have been working with the Baron's salvage crew in order to patch together bits and pieces of wrecked tanks and those giant robotic-looking Battle Suits. We've managed a few minor miracles and assembled several really ugly-looking vehicles, but their weapons and drive systems do work. How long they'll hold together under fire is anyones guess.

The smells of the cook's fires waft across the camp, soon it'll be time for the evening meal. I don't seem to have much appetite, though. A man would have to be some kind of fearless wonder to think of food when our time is so short. Still, I'll force myself to eat. I'll need all my strength tomorrow when the battle begins.

Across the battlefield, I can see columns of dust- reinforcements for the Raider's army. As if they needed additional forces to deal with us. On the other hand, maybe its a sign of how much the Raiders think that the Reever will add to our own forces. Their chieftain may have been bluff and fierce, but I think that the Reever frightened him anyway. Wish I could find the Reever right now, I'd like to ask him more about this woman that the Raiders seem to be working for, this "Black Snake" woman. I gather that she's some sort of barbarian warlord herself. The Raider's chieftain jerked like he'd been stung when the Reever mentioned that he and the Council of the Immortals were aware that the Black Snake was behind the Raider's assualt. Guilty conscience, I suppose.

All this ruminating on tomorrow's battle is getting me nowhere. I'd better go see if I can make myself useful in one of the salvage crews. From the looks of the Raider's growing forces, we're going to need every weapon we can lay hands on.

To be continued...

Go directly to part 5.

Copyright 1997 by Dan L. Hollifield

Author's Note:

Bethdish is a world circling a star, called Antuth by the natives (who named the star after the chief deity in their pantheon), presently some 65 lightyears from Earth. Rumor has it that the entire solar system had earlier been located in the Andromeda Galaxy, but was moved by some mysterious force to its new location in our own Milky Way Galaxy. The surviving written history of Bethdish covers some 12,000 years, (with the afore-mentioned displacement to the Milky Way occuring in their year 6055 -- circa 3140 AD, Terran Calendar) but the records of the Immortals reportedly go back roughly a billion years and relate the rise and fall of several civilized eras of non-immortal natives before the present recorded history begins.

The Immortals claim to have been directly created by the Gods of Bethdish, while the diverse non-immortal species are said to have evolved naturally. The several alien colonies now present are, of course, immigrants. One Xenoarcheologist of note, Professor Eustas Gray of the Emperor Norton University of San Francisco, has published several monographs on the subject of excavations on Bethdish that purport to uphold the Immortal's beliefs. Other experts in the field dispute his findings, but all the evidence is not yet in.

Further records of the history of Bethdish are forthcoming from this Author, while previous excerpts are available in your local information network.

Dan Hollifield (Aphelion Webzine's Editor, by the way) was born in 1957 at almost the same minute that Sputnik II was launched. This seems to have warped his point of view in the fact that he has always been rather a nut on the subject of spaceflight. He lives in Athens, Ga. USA. More biographical info can be found at The Mare Inebrium website- if you need that sort of thing. More of his work can be found at Aphelion Webzine.

If you like this story and you wish to tell Dan so you can e-mail him by clicking here.