Celebrations went on for days. There was probably a really wild party going on back on Earth. Once I got all of my business in the Durga system ironed out I summoned Harding. He had been out on the ragged edge of known space with a Eutopian survey crew in a very odd ship. A Neptune class exploration ship modified with a few extra weapons and a meta material stealth coating. She was called the Phantom. She had been picking her way through remote regions of imperial space for months now.
I met Harding aboard the Montana in my stateroom. After the usual greetings I asked. “So, do you have an answer to the toxic energy problem?”
He replied, “well, sort of. I have narrowed the location of the web way root down to five star systems. All of them are on the edge of the web way system as we know it. But there is a complication I need your help with. These stars lie past a strongpoint, a shipyard. A very big one at that, very heavily defended. If the war is over then we can just sail past it. If not, well, I don’t think the Phantom, or even the Montana can handle that many enemy ships at the same time.”
“Well, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. A big shipyard like that demands an inspection to assure that they are complying with the terms of surrender. Anything else?”
“Yes, one thing, the energy appears to be diffused around the web-way network in a seemingly random way. But I have a bad feeling that if we reach the source of the energy we might be overwhelmed. The dampener system I built may fail and anyone within range might go completely insane.”
“Well, that’s a risk we are going to have to take. Unless you want to just contact the Singers and have them wipe out the five star systems in one big sweep.”
“No, I don’t think I want to do that. For one thing we don’t know what might happen. That might make the problem worse. Something tells me that whatever this is it should be respected and disabled carefully.”
“Something? Don’t you know exactly what you are looking for?”
“No, I have an idea, but it has been tens of thousands of years since the machine existed in that form. It might be changed, modified, miniaturized, damaged, covered by millennia of dirt and plants. Who knows, perhaps the device has become sentient and evolved into a thing that is roaming space itself.”
I grimaced at the thought of such a bizarre concept and observed, “boy I hope not.”
“Neither do I, but it seems that we have to contemplate the utterly insane an awful lot in this job.”
“Well, it won’t be easy, I will see if I can scrounge up enough warships to deal with this shipyard. Everyone is going to want to head home for some r&r.”
He sighed and picked up his papers. Leaving me with what little information he had on the relevant star systems. They ran the gamut from a system with two civilized worlds and four gas giants to an odd looking binary system where the inhabitants barely clung to life. They all had the capability to support life. Or they had in the past. This device was so big that is simply couldn’t be built by humans on an uninhabitable world. I shook my hand and started making radio calls to everyone in the fleet who I figured might be up to finishing this job.
Captain Stipetic was the first one I called. He felt that he still owed me for talking Harding into practically rebuilding his ship. Admiral Dorcas politely declined, he had to take most of the Eutopian fleet back home for refit. Mitchell was up for the job, he had five new light cruisers that he wanted to scratch the paint on. One Eutopian battleship, the Athena and one Russian battleship, the Volga, agreed to join in. Finally I asked Sasha if there was anyone in her fleet who wanted to join in. She was reluctant, her captains were even more reluctant. They just wanted to go back to our solar system or head off to someplace where no one would bother them ever again. But Sasha was able to get a few ships together. Most of them had been participants in the Orizioco raid.
When we came out of the web-way it was pretty clear that the ships in the area had either not heard or accepted the surrender agreement. They started firing as soon as we exited the portal. Didn’t even bother to get a half decent shooting solution. I had the surrender terms broadcast via both the communication stone and radio but since that wasn’t working I told everyone to open up on them with everything we had. They had three battleships and five heavy cruisers. Pretty bad odds.
The Volga fell back to do it’s typical long range precision thing. While I led the Athena, Holstein and Mitchell’s cruisers straight into the fray. The cloaked Athena suddenly lit up. Somehow the imperials had managed a lucky shot, right in her bow. She peeled off, her cloak useless. Then a pair of enemy heavy cruisers came scything through our cruiser screen.
The radar officer shouted.
“Shit, we just lost the Bridger and the San Diego!”
“Bring us around, let the Holstein take care of the battleships. We have to kill those cruisers.”
One of the enemy cruisers suddenly exploded. The Volga had made a perfect shot. Once my guns were targeted we let the survivors have it. Now though there was a swarm of smaller enemy ships, fighters, corvettes and types I had never seen before mixing it up with our remaining cruisers and auxiliary ships. The targeting screen was a mess of hostile targets and friendly ships. I just left the gunners to their jobs.
“Bring us around again! We have to help the Holstein!”
She was in big trouble. Seriously outnumbered, the Volga couldn’t get a shot off because there were too many friendly ships in the way. It took a moment for the main guns to lock on but as they did I saw the Holstein do something I had never seen. She started retreating. She dove down, firing furiously at a battleship that was just about to run her over. Our shots connected, but momentum carried the enemy ship on.
The battle was a mad fur ball of ships. No tactics, no clever tricks. Just dozens of ships and thousands of lives desperately striving to kill each other. The undamaged enemy battleship suddenly dove towards the web-way portal with three heavy cruisers and vanished. That was the first time I had ever seen an imperial warship run away. I shook my head, thanked the universe for a small mercy and grimly told everyone to keep firing.
The Holstein continued shooting at the enemy battleship. It’s plasma blasts were simply ineffective against this ships shields. My guns continued to pour fire into it. Then the Holstein exploded. Not a complete explosion, but still it was a bad hit. The radio crackled to life. “Holstein to allied fleet. Crew evacuating, we are mortally wounded.”
The Holstein had a clever way of evacuating. The entire crew compartment simply shot out of the ship. But captain Stipetic remained. The Holsteins reactor started to overload. It appeared that she was going to explode and take the enemy ship with it. As the Holsteins life pod came alongside my ship the remains of the great German warship began to glow. Glowing brighter than I thought possible. Every last milliwatt of energy was poured into its bow turret. Then fired at the enemy. A thousand bending beams of energy exploded from her bow surrounding a humongous blast of plasma energy straight into the enemy ship. The beams went out in a kind of a shotgun pattern striking the nearby shipyard and whatever fighters were left around the enemy battleship.
I drove the Montana towards the remains of the Holstein. Asking, begging if anyone was still aboard. After three hails I was about to turn back to the main fight when I heard captain Stipetic over the radio sounding as weak as a kitten yet grim as death.
“Schleswig-Holstein actual to Montana actual. Still alive, finish these bastards off and come get me. I only have a few hours of oxygen left.”
Once their heavy hitters had been destroyed or run away it was a relatively simple matter of mopping up the remnants. Besides the light cruisers James Bridger and San Diego we had also lost three auxiliary fleet ships. This had been a damn ugly, nonsensical battle that never should have happened. Unfortunately it looked like we were going to have to methodically annihilate the entire enemy fleet to eliminate the threat.
At the post battle briefing I asked captain Stipetic what the heck had happened to his ship. He sighed and pointed to Harding.
“He should explain it, he knows my ship better than I did.”
Harding looked wistful for a moment, he summed up what happened.
“When The Core built the German fleet, she built in a fail safe. Something to prevent her ships from ever losing in battle and falling into enemy hands. As far as the Germans were concerned it was just a few extra lines of code and spare power conduits linking the weapons system to the reactor. To all but the most knowledgable observer it was merely a backup conduit. In reality it was intended to force every bit of energy into the weapons system as part of a controlled overload. I discovered the fail safe while I was teaching the Germans how to make more fusion reactors and I told the captain here how to access it in case of an emergency. I had hoped he never would have to use it.”
I nodded and observed, “so can the Holstein be repaired?”
Harding hung his head, “no, it is a minor miracle that it did not completely explode. A controlled overload is still an overload, I suppose I should have called it a somewhat controlled overload to be more accurate. Anyway, her power conduits are completely melted, the plasma turrets are blown and the reactor is slag. She is just a ghost ship now.”
Werner Stipetic broke down crying. He was one of the strongest men I had ever met. But the fact that his beloved ship was dead was too much for him. I went over to him and hugged him as he went to pieces. I told him, “I will have the Holstein towed back to Earth.”
His fist slammed into the table. “Nien, she is a warship and she deserves a proper funeral. I want her flown into this solar systems sun. She has already been stripped of anything useful by the ejection process. My crew will return to Earth on the Athena. There is nothing left but to say….”
He couldn’t even say the word. He stood up and left the conference room.
It was a somber but brief ceremony. The SMS Schleswig-Holstein, terror of the Drankmastarian empire was given one last push by the ESB-18 Athena into the fiery furnace of fusion that lit up this area of space. A sad, but easy task compared to cleaning up the wreckage of the USS James Bridger, San Diego and the Auxiliary Fleet ships Three Brothers, Black Cat and Ishtar. Burned and blasted corpses drifting through space on shattered hulls. War in general is a bad idea but war in space always struck me as beyond insane. This was an environment inherently hostile to any kind of carbon based life form. Oh sure the Singers could fly around out here if they felt like it. So could a Eutopian in an android body. But everything made of flesh would immediately die, painfully.
After that mess was cleaned up I decided to continue on to the next star system. The first of the suspected locations of the web-way control device. There was no Eutopian survey of the next star system. Or any captured intelligence from the imperials. But I didn’t think that there was going to be anything too nasty. This system was too far out from the central stars of the empire.
Once we came through the second portal it was clear that there was no enemy warships in the area. Just a star system that orbited a blue sun. James was optimistic, he thought that since the blue star pumped out a humongous amount of energy that it was likely that the device may harvested that energy and use it to power the web-way device.
There were three gas giant planets and three rocky planets. The furthest out of the rocky planets looked habitable. While the Volga and the cruisers Colombia and Olympia guarded the portal. Harding sent the Montana’s fighter wing and the Auxiliary Ships Ophir and Lviv down to investigate the planet.
The atmosphere of the planet was thick. Abnormally rich in oxygen. A wide variety of energies, especially electrical energy rippled around the steel blue sphere. Wild oceans covered much of the surface. The whole planet looked like a shimmering blue sapphire. The Lviv was about to reach the surface when communications cut out. I was going to tell Udet on the Ophir to investigate. Before I could send the message Udet shouted. Something in panicked German that I didn’t quite hear followed by what I assumed was a rough English translation.
“Holy mother of god! Giant, bird monster, things! Ahhh!”
He opened fire, I told Ross to go after him as I took the Montana down into the planets atmosphere to help. Ernst Udet was one of the finest pilots in the fleet and his ship had recently come back from a refit. Still he clearly had his hands full with whatever the heck these things were. They looked like giant birds, though metallic. Impossibly fast, incredibly maneuverable, oh they also breathed lightning.
As the Montana dove into the fray the El Dorado came streaking in. The monsters were in a pitched battle with my fighters and the Ophir. “Load frag rounds, maximum dispersion, clear this mess!” I ordered.
The big guns swept the sky clear of the bulk of the monsters. “Ophir, fighters, clear the planet. Break high, maximum thrust!”
They angled straight up and pushed their antigravity drives to full. They went up like champagne corks. Except for Ross’s fighter, it had been hit in the right wing and spiraled out of control. He bailed out and fell towards the ground. Without even asking, the El Dorado dove down to try to pick him up. I took the Montana down to provide cover for the rescue. But while I was focusing on this my assistant Trevor, who was manning drone control because we were a bit short handed. He stated nervously.
“Uh, the bird things are doing, something. I don’t know what it is but it doesn’t look good.”
I looked at the screen. The monsters were flying in a ring, they were going faster and faster. Suddenly the design dawned on me. They were moving like parts of a directed energy weapon. Whatever they were doing it had to be bad. I screamed,
“fire on that ring!”
Our shots connected, right as they fired. It was a pulse across every energy spectrum known to man. I felt it in my bones, for a millisecond it felt like they were evaporating. Then I was hit with the worst feeling I had ever had in my life. Felt like I was being force fed cold peanut butter, while someone set my feet on fire and my bones were being dislocated. Big Blues armor saved us from dying, but everything onboard malfunctioned all at once.
Then the falling started. I drifted into the air and shouted, “not again! I really, really hate this!”
The helmsman, belted into his chair fought heroically with the controls. The planet loomed below. It looked incredibly lush and downright inviting. “Hmm, what a lovely looking place to die” wafted through my head as we plummeted towards the ground. Then the electro-gravity drive came back online. There was no sound I had ever heard that sounded so sweet as the gentle whir of the drive. The helmsman pushed the engine up to full power and pulled back on the control yoke. I drifted back to the floor.
With a few hundred feet left to go the Montana pulled up, back into the air. Once I caught my breath I asked, “someone find the El Dorado. I want to get away from this planet yesterday!”
The El Dorado was five miles away. Climbing rapidly, they had already picked up Greg and were flying back into the relative safety of outer space. I sighed with relief but Trevor stated. “They are doing that thing again!”
“Shit! Full power to the engines, get us out of here right frigging now!”
The helmsman slammed the throttle to full. Tearing through the thick atmosphere of the planet caused the hull to heat up. The blue armor on the bow was glowing purple. But it was worth it to not get hit by that awful energy weapon again. Once we were back in space I asked everyone to check in. Udet was okay, though his ship was a bit banged up. The fighter wing was fine but they had expended every weapon they had. Everyone on the El Dorado was well, except for Ross. He had been badly injured by ejection and then hitting the surface of the planet.
I had Greg and Sasha shuttled over to the Montana. Greg’s spacesuit had been ripped to shreds by ejection. His right arm had been broken and badly cut. What was most disconcerting though was that he was deliriously talking about the planet. That it was raw power and that he had to go back. The ships doctor gave him a sedative and was setting up to do surgery when general quarters sounded. Chen announced, “the monsters have escaped the planet. They can travel in space, all hands to battle-stations.”
The bird monsters were approaching quickly. In their ring formation, the guns automatically targeted but there was no energy impact, they just held their position. For some reason Chen held fire and there was a standoff while I ran up from sick bay. By the time I got to the CIC the birds were peeling off. Back to the planets surface. I was completely baffled, why did they attack? Why did they back off? And how in the name of Zeus’s garden gnomes were they able to live in space?
There wasn’t much said at the briefing. Everyone had seen everything that had happened. The only thing on my mind was making sure that Greg came out of surgery okay. But while I was waiting for that to be over I couldn’t help but spend some time studying the planet through telescopes and sensors.
Drakous had gone back to Earth after the battle of Durga. I couldn’t hope to have his skill at using and reading sensors. Still I was able to learn a great deal about the planet. It was unimaginably rich with energy. Volcanoes were erupting constantly. An unusually powerful electromagnetic field protected the planet from the radiation of this systems star but what got through beat the planet with huge amounts of energy. The surface was rich in elements. Iron, corundum and diamond matter could be found everywhere. Water was scarce. Somehow life had emerged here and it was using the over abundance of energy here to create life that would be simply impossible elsewhere. All sorts of creatures and plant life covered the surface. Below the surface there were massive energy signatures, suggesting vast underground cities.
I was fascinated, up until now every planet I had seen had either been barren or had been based on carbon based life at least vaguely similar to what was found on Earth. This was completely different from anything. Bursting with unimaginable power. The Singers would probably love this place, if the local lifeforms were a bit more hospitable.
While I was going over the data from the planet Sasha found me. I was so engrossed in the data that I didn’t even notice her come in. Then I heard a resounding clunk of a large piece of metal on the table behind me.
It was Greg’s Raffica. I put down my slate and field stripped the gun. The finish was badly scratched but what really alarmed me was that the rifling had been badly eroded.
“This thing went cyclic, it was that ugly down there?”
“Funny you say that. It’s actually really pretty on that planet. The colors are eye popping. There is something down there, some kind of life form like nothing I have ever seen or imagined before. They look like, well, everything. Every kind of living creature you can imagine and a few you can’t. The diversity of life on that planet is indescribable. It’s madness down there, beautiful madness, utter chaos.”
The look on her face suggested wistfulness, not fear. Despite her words it sounded like she wanted to go back. I put the gun back together. I could still feel the residual energy from its desperate barking at an enemy that it was never designed to fight.
“We found him badly wounded and surrounded by those things. They had him surrounded. They didn’t act like they were scared of him. More curious than scared. He was firing at the ground between them and him. Those ragged bursts of full auto fire made him very easy to find.”
After hours of careful surgery, and a brief medically induced coma Greg was conscious. As soon as I found out he was talking I ran to the sick bay. Once I got there I asked him if he was alright, he looked over at his still healing arm and spoke oh so softly.
“Feels like you rebuilt the whole thing. Are we still near the planet?”
“Yes, we have been studying the place. The bird monsters can fly in space but they seem to only be interested in defending their planet.”
“Blue Furies, I had nightmares about them. I call them Blue Furies.”
I nodded, “okay, that seems as good a name as any. Oh, would you like your gun back?”
“Um, you hold onto it for now, oh, did you see their ship?”
“No, what ship?”
He tried to shift to an upright position. He failed, he took a deep breath, whispering in my ear.
“As I was falling I saw something that looked like a ship. I think it was about ten miles north of where I bailed out.”
I told him that I would look into it. For now I needed him to get some rest. As soon as I got back to the observatory I started looking around for this ship. I shook my head and thought, “it was probably an odd shaped hill or something. Perhaps when he bonked his head. Perhaps he thought the El Dorado was…”
Then I saw it. It wasn’t a ship, it was seven ships. The biggest one was a Drankmastarian heavy cruiser. Though very highly modified. Somehow they had taken an impossibly ugly thing that looked like a upside down giant bathtub filed with cement and made it kind of pretty. The other ships were about the size of imperial light cruisers. They were shaped like giant fighter planes with a beautiful cranked delta wing around a small fuselage with a large swept tail. All around these ships the Blue Furies and an incredible variety of other creatures busied themselves with launch preparations. Some looked like primates, others looked like some kind of spiders that had four legs and six hands. Most looked like balls of varying sizes with appendages that were used for various tasks. I called the communication room.
“Send this message via every way possible to the planet in every language we know. ‘We apologize for violating your planet. We come in peace. We wish to trade resources and share culture.”
I didn’t think it would work. Still, I wanted to have all my bases covered. Whatever these beings were they were planning to leave and I had no desire to have a new galaxy spanning enemy on our hands. Once the message was cycled through every commonly used language in the fleet we were going to go back to Ristavron 4 for repairs.
I was exhausted, on my way to bed. The message was halfway through being sent a message came from the planet via the standard Auxiliary Fleet hailing frequency. Someone speaking in a thick Texas accent asked. “This is Bo Gardener of the Lviv. If anyone is still around could you please be so kind to come down and pick us up?”
“This is Hammond on the Montana? What the heck is this?”
“This is flight officer Bo Gardener. I have been given access to my ships radio by a bunch of balls and I think they want me and the rest of the crew of the Lviv off their planet.”
“How do I know this isn’t a trap?”
“Well, Ad-mer-al Hammond, I know you hate to be called that. Get in contact with commodore Rockwell and tell her Filipe’s coffee still sucks. That should convince you that I am who I say I am. As for this being a trap, well it probably is. But I really don’t want to spend the rest of my days here admiral. Captain Syszka is dead, but I have five crew-members still alive down here.”
“Alright, can you stay close to the radio?”
“They ain’t gotten pushy with me yet. If they do I will say something. We can’t stay too long, water supplies are low and food is nonexistent.”
“Rodger, I will get, uh something together and get all of out of there.”
“Mercy tres bien, see you soon Hammond.”
I was too tired to see straight. But now I had to organize a rescue mission.
“Hammond to bridge.”
“This is Dubois.”
“So the captain has gone to sleep?”
“Aye sir. The bulk of the crew is on a sleep cycle at the moment.”
“Alright XO, don’t wake anyone up, they need their rest. Contact the El Dorado, if anyone is awake over there I want them to get ready for a rescue mission. They probably heard the message from mr Gardener. Move the Montana into geostationary orbit above the Lviv crash site. I will go down on the El Dorado with a couple of fighters as escort. Call the Volga over and if we don’t come back alive from this mission. Coordinate a massive orbital strike with them. Oh and have general Mitchell cut loose one of his cruisers for an escort.”
I did not like this plan, it was predicated on a degree of trust in a potentially hostile and completely alien form of life. But it was the best plan I could come up with in my sleep deprived state. Fortunately Sasha was waking up from a good long sleep, she and the Montana’s executive officer, Aaron Dubois were able to fill in the technical details and gaps in the plan while I took a nap. After four hours it was time to deploy. I couldn’t let Sasha and her crew go down there by herself. So against the advice of my entire second shift bridge crew I embarked on the El Dorado. Down to the planets surface.
The Blue Furies immediately started flying around the El Dorado as soon as we entered the atmosphere. They did not attack, they just circled around a few times and flew off in what looked like finger four fighter formations. When we got to the surface we found the Lviv, in fairly good shape. It was being examined by dozens of the native creatures. They were utterly bizarre, strangely beautiful. They existed in a wide variety of forms. Bipeds, quadrupeds, even balls with extending arms. Most of them had a metallic sheen to them. Since the Lviv’s crew could breathe the air we exited the ship without space suits. Our weapons were at the ready.
The planet was hot, surface temperatures averaged about 120 degrees. Atmospheric pressure was significantly higher than Earth and oxygen made up 25% of the air. A much higher concentration than Earth. I felt energized by the over abundance of oxygen, I almost forgot that I was sleep deprived. God, it really was beautiful down there. Impossibly lush and colorful. A planet truly overflowing with energy and life.
Inside the wreckage of the Lviv I could hear what sounded like a music synthesizer and laughter. I led four of Sasha’s crew carefully towards the wreckage. The creatures backed away from us as we approached. The ball things had no faces so it was impossible to get a read on their thoughts. The synthesizer sounds started to sound a little like speech. Inside the wreckage I found mr Gardener at a table. He was playing cards with one of the creatures that resembled a, well, it had a vaguely humanoid body and the face of a horse. They were playing five card stud. It was speaking in a crudely synthesized voice that we could hear from outside. Gardener looked up and bellowed, “ah, ms Hammond. Pull up a chair, relax, hope you brought some water. This guys still got some gemstones I haven’t taken from him yet and I don’t want to die of dehydration before sundown.”
The horse thing replied, “no, it is you who is going to lose all your gold. Now deal the cards you bag of slime!”
I asked in an incredulous tone, “where, uh, where is the rest of the crew?”
“Next room, trying to cool off. They all need medical help.”
I motioned for the crewmen to go recover the survivors. I sat down at the table and handed mr Gardener a large flask of water that he drained in one gulp. “Much obliged ma’am.”
I stared at both of them for a moment and asked. “Okay, now what the fuck is going on here?”
“Whelp, horse face here is one of the locals. He has been taking care of us. As well as he can, apparently our fleshy bodies are too delicate to stay here for very long. About an hour ago he started talking to me. He may sound like someone killing a cat but he is a clever one. They talk in frequencies we can’t understand. Like a dolphin or an elephant. It took them a little while to figure out how to talk to us. These creatures are really smart and they all work together. Right now their big goal is getting off this planet. It seems the imperials came by here awhile ago and got their clocks cleaned by their big birds. They have been studying the wreckage of their ship ever since, trying to figure out the best way to evacuate the planet.”
I looked at the creature, utterly baffled by all this. I asked, “why do you want to leave?”
“This planet is a nightmare you can hardly imagine. Energy pours down from the eye of Frontar, sorry, you would call it the sun, and up from the ground. It cannot be managed, disasters hit us like work clocks. Most of us live under the ground. That provides some protect us. Until lava flows, the ground shakes and that collection of us goes away. We seek the quiet, cool, peace of what lies beyond this planet. We seek to direct the energy of our sun into a coherent, useful manner. We want to experience the quiet that allows us to contemplate what we are and what we are doing. We wish to explore, we wish to live an existence beyond the frantic pace of what we have endured for as long as anyone can remember. We apologize for firing on your ships.”
He eyed Gardener and tossed away two cards. “When the enemy you came to fight attempted to land here they were hostile. After our brief war with them and the revelation of their vast colonial network. We assumed that all carbon based life was hostile. Ha ha ha ha, read them and cry boy cow! Three jacks!”
“It’s cowboy son, and I am looking at a full house. So fork over the rocks.”
The creature groaned and discarded his cards as Gardener chuckled and collected the pot. There had to be a quarter of a million dollars of gemstones and coins on the table. The rescue team was coming out with the walking wounded and two survivors on stretchers. There were also three bodies of dead crew members being carried out by ball shaped creatures. Gardener pushed his winnings into a carpetbag as I grabbed one of the stretchers. “Well horsey, it has been a pleasure but I suppose I oughta be moseying along.”
The creature stood up and stated. ” I will help you carry your things out. Sorry again for all the trouble. Thank you so much for giving us the means to leave our world.”
Gardener and I stopped for a moment, I asked. “Uh, excuse me?”
“Your gravity drives. We have studied them. In time we will create our own and that will finally allow us to escape this planet.”
Gardener shrugged his shoulders. I shook my head and wondered to myself if our operation hadn’t just released a new enemy into the Galaxy. But what the heck were we going to do about it. They shot down the Lviv and Greg’s fighter fair and square after we had violated their airspace. Afterwards they had helped us out. They had done more for us than any enemy could be expected to do. So I kept my thoughts to myself and hoisted the injured pilot out the door.
It was rather odd to see the creatures, ranging in size from something little bigger than a golf ball to something the size of a small car carrying corpses, luggage and a variety of other objects over to the El Dorado. They were behaving as politely as they could, handling our dead with reverence. Though it seemed we were welcome here as the El Dorado started lifting off the ground I felt a huge wave of relief. I could see why they wanted off that planet. All they wanted was some peace and order and they would get none of that on that madhouse.
Once we were back in space I ordered a withdrawal. All the way back to Earth. We had taken too much damage and lost too many ships and people to carry on. With the luck I was having after the battle of Oolongog the next web-way terminus was probably going to open up in a place with space dragons ten times the size of the Montana that ate black holes for lunch. Harding wanted to continue on, I told him he could, but he would have to do so alone. He knew that would probably be a suicide mission so he joined us on the trip home.