Stranded! **Part 6**

A Tale from the History of Bethdish

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, or click here to read Part 4, or click here to read Part 5.

Planet of Bethdish, Kingdom of Intile

Star League Year 2762 -- Local Date: Year 4921

"We must go the pavilion, quickly!" said the Reever. "My staff will be able to communicate with him."

Him who? I wondered. Who is inside of that thing? We followed the Reever at a dead run- Baron Sachmon on my heels despite his armor. When we dashed into the tent, the Reever was already giving orders to whatever computer brain that was housed in his staff of office.

"Establish a link- I want a secure line to Havoc."

"Havoc is the pilot of that machine?" I asked.

"Havoc is the machine. Quiet now. Unit AHVC, Havoc, good to see you old son. I thought you were dead. Glad to see that you survived."

"Barely survived, Commander Reever," came a basso voice from the staff's speaker. "You called for backup?"

"Yes, old friend. Thank you for your help. We haven't much time before these Raiders re- group and lay into you with their surviving armor."

"Request permission to file a VSR."

"Do so, now."

"Unit AHVC is at 21.0255% power. Main batteries at 0.05% efficiency. Anti-personnel, anti-missile, and secondary systems at 3.0067%. Auto-repair circuits cannot provide more. This unit is in sore need of depot maintenance. Extrapolation of enemy forces, however, indicates sufficient reserves on hand to match them. Unit AHVC can function effectively against this force. Your orders, Battle Commander?"

I raised a eyebrow at the Reever's apparent status. I knew that he was a real power among the natives, but I'd been thinking of him as being more of a Territorial Marshal, or a Circuit Court Judge than as a military officer. Battle Commander- Whew!

"Engage at will- but keep the casualties down. I want them driven off, not exterminated. Cripple their armor and mobile guns, and watch out for those Battle Suits- their in good repair and could give you heavy damage. If they retreat, follow them no more than an hours travel time. Return as you are able. As for maintenance, I think the the High Council will be able to provide everything that you'll ever need."

"Thank you, Battle Commander. I suggest that your forces bombard the enemy flanks as soon as I begin my assualt upon their center. Keep up the bombardment as long as they remain within your range. Unit AHVC will drive them from the field."

Baron Sachmon had started issuing orders to his runners as soon as he'd heard Havoc's request. Within moments, confirmation of orders received came flooding in from our armor and cannon. At the Reever's signal, our troops and the huge machine began hitting the Raiders with massive firepower- all carefully directed so as to herd the Raiders northward, and far away from the Castle. I saw the machine launch a flight of missiles that smashed the Raider's mobile armor and heavy guns. Mighty doors opened in the machine's sides and the rockets came flaming out. As those doors snapped shut again, more opened and smaller guns were revealed. I could see puffs of dust as the projectiles from those weapons traversed the field of battle. To a man, the Raiders fled- the mounted knights riding down their own infantry, standing in their way. I saw one of those giant, robotic Battle Suits simply dissolve in the massed fury of the machine's onslaught. The smoke and dust swirled about the Raiders as they fled.

"I wish I were down there, lance in hand, helping to drive those heathens off," said the Baron. "But our new ally scarce needs my puny arm to assist him. Friend Reever, what reward can my poor Barony offer this mighty warrior? Machinery like himself, we have none. I cannot offer him repair or refreshment. And methinks that a comely wench and the offer of a seat at my table would be worse than useless to him. Fine mead it is that I serve, but I feel that he will want for stronger drink."

"He will indeed," said the Reever. "But such as he requires will be provided in full by my people. If you wish to do him honor, have your blacksmiths cast a medallion to be placed beside his other battle honors. He would carry it with pride in remembrance of this day. But he would prize anything you offered, for within that metal shell beats the heart of a warrior like yourself."

"It'd have to be the size of a dinner plate," I said. "If he were to be able to notice it at all."

The rout of the Raiders continued.

My battle circuitry ablaze with re-directed power, I retract my primary beamers as I file my orders within my main memory. I open anti-missile ports and launch a full assualt against the enemy armament. As soon a the missiles are underway I close those ports and extend my infinite repeaters. This action takes 2.00235 seconds, but such sluggishness is only to be expected in my weakened state. Systems check reports that my magazines for the mass drivers that make up my batteries of infinite repeaters are replete with ferrous ores gathered from the very rock that entombed me on the ocean floor. The pelletized ore streaks through the magnetic fields of my infinite repeaters, aimed at the near edge of the enemy position. Blasting the ground before me, I observe the enemy begin a retreat. They are very unorganized. Opposition ceased with the destruction of the enemy's heavy guns. They no longer possess the equipment to oppose me. I pursue the enemy as they run from my guns. I must be careful to follow my Commander's orders- actual casualties are to be kept at a minimum. Strange limits, but my Commander's orders are paramount in the absence of contact with High Command.

I initiate sub-routines to probe the gaps in my memory, as strictly a low-priority function. Those sealed files pertaining to my biological components are worrying to my introspection circuits. I must know what is in those files. My AI circuitry is designed to interact with my biological components for greatest efficiency. Now that my biologicals have terminated... I am incomplete.

"Look at him go!" I gasped. "He's herding them like a sheepdog does a flock of sheep!"

"What?" said the Baron. "Oh... herdbeasts from your own world, T'narthra, I would venture. Yes, that flock is in dire need of a herdsman- and much culling, if I'm not mistaken."

"Culling they have gotten, this day," said the Reever. "The Black Snake will not soon be able to field such a force again."

"You mentioned this 'Black Snake' before," I said. "Who is that?"

"My greatest enemy," sighed the Reever. "And one of my fellow Immortals. Ages ago she fell under the spell of the Evil One. Great harm she has done in his accursed name over the ages. I owe her for the death of my wife- just as I owe the evil God she serves, Valleor, for the death of my sons and my father. It has been foretold that I will face her- in the last days of this world, and bring her to justice for her manifold crimes against life on Bethdish." The Reever fell silent, with a brooding look on his face.

"The Black Snake is she who is to blame for all this suffering and bloodshed," added the Baron. "Only the fear of her and her wrath could drive these Raiders to the acts they've committed. But they entered into the compact with her eagerly enough, I trow. Any of their rulers that survive will be long fearful of her vengeance for their failures. I'll ask my priests to pray to Antuth for the eternal rest of their souls, may the Great God have mercy upon them. For we owe them none."

"Amen," I said. As I looked at the wounded and dying, and the medics attending them on the battlefield I repeated myself: "Amen."

Our guns fell silent as the machine called Havoc drove the Raiders out of range.

My battle computers had pre-set a course to drive the enemy away from the field of battle. Allowing it to run in the background, I was able to divert power to the search for the password to unlock the files in the sealed areas of my memory core. These areas were not sealed before this unit was buried in the seabed, therefore either an enemy has had access to my data banks or my biologicals had left me a message before their termination. I had not yet allowed myself the luxury of diverting power to my introspection circuitry, I calculated that doing so would be something I could better occupy myself with during the depot servicing that the Reever had offered. It would be something to use to while away the long nanoseconds of forced inactivity during repair.

Nevertheless, I needed to know who had sealed those files and what they contained. I set anti-virus subroutines to test each area of the memory core for hidden traps a putative enemy would doubtless leave behind to counter my search. I long for the input of my long-gone biologicals- their organic insights had often been the cause of a successful mission. They would be particularly good at solving this puzzle.

Or at setting it.

The battle has turned into a rout for the raiding forces. They flee before me, I calculate that the Reever's allies would be safe from predation for an acceptable duration. I begin to slow my pace, to allow them to draw ahead. When they can run no further, I will stop- well behind them and guarding the way back -and hold position until they are able to retreat again. After such time I will re- run a threat assessment and determine the needed response. Projecting future needs, I initiate the activation of a sensory drone. In my weakened condition I will need such aids to observe the enemy's movements at long distance.

One section of the sealed files has been decrypted. It shares structural similarities with an encryption key program, but it is obviously only a single element of a more complex key. I set new search parameters for similar files in the memory core. The search continues.

The battle computers signal for my attention: the enemy have retreated far enough so that I can come to rest while I gather further information. I query the subsystem that is preparing the sensor drone. I initiate a "launch upon readiness" order with the probe subsystem. Telemetry from the drone will record automatically.

My search queries have gathered fruit. Three more decryption key-like code segments have been found. Unfortunately, I compute that decryption of these possible key segments will take approximately three quarters of the next millennium, therefore I need help from faster computers. I query the instrumentality of my Battle Commander, the Reever, for timeshare with it's systems.

The drone is ready for launch. I adjust it's programming for the latest location of the enemy's position- and launch. Data will be available as soon at it reaches position. I adjust covering file to even lower rates to allow the enemy the false sense of increasing safety with increasing distance from myself. I allow the battle computers to run another computation with the newest data and switch to an automatic random-bombardment subroutine, while slowing to a stop my drive systems. I recognize an answer to the Immortal's computer systems to my query about timeshare and the beginning of the download from the drone. Both inputs are channeled to the proper directory. I await results with a curious intensity.

To be continued...

Go directly to part 7.

Copyright 1998 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.