Perry Rhodan has discovered a huge space ship, an ark in space, carrying a population of humans who set out on their journey 55,000 years ago, from Earth - Lemurians, the legendary forefathers of mankind. The alien Icho Tolot, one of Perry Rhodan's closest friends, is hurled back in time into the final years of the onslaught of the Beasts - his own ancestors. He becomes a witness to the devastation brought about by the Beasts on the Lemurians and meets the scientist Levian Parron. Unwittingly he inspires Parron to create the arks - and to undo the onslaught of the Beasts ...
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#5 The Last Days of Lemuria
by Thomas Ziegler
Perry Rhodan has discovered a huge space ship, an ark in space, carrying a population of humans who set out on their journey 55,000 years ago, from Earth – Lemurians, the legendary forefathers of mankind.
The alien Icho Tolot, one of Perry Rhodan’s closest friends, is hurled back in time into the final years of the onslaught of the Beasts – his own ancestors. He becomes a witness to the devastation brought about by the Beasts on the Lemurians and meets the scientist Levian Parron. Unwittingly he inspires Parron to create the arks – and to undo the onslaught of the Beasts ...
The Last Days of Lemuria
by Thomas Ziegler
by Dwight R. Decker
With awakening came pain. Sleeping had temporarily blocked it, replacing it with bizarre, fantastic dreams, little escapes into the world of the unconscious. However, when Thore Bardon opened his eyes, the pain was there again. It gnawed at his heart and fed on his soul, and there was nothing he could do about it. He lay sweating on his couch in the commander's cabin. It was spartanly furnished and undecorated like all the quarters on the living deck of the heavy cruiser IBODAN. He stared into the darkness and listened to the gasps of his spasmodic breathing as though he was only an uninvolved observer and not a participant.
In the background rumbled the constant, muffled droning of the impulse engines in the ship's equatorial rim. The sound gave a false impression of security and stability, even though there was no more of either, only destruction, annihilation, death.
Bardon groaned aloud.
The memories surged through his mind once more. A flood of images from recent days, a random selection of snapshots from life on Gunrar II in the 34th Tamanium. The smiling faces of his wife and children, their happy eyes, untroubled, unsuspecting. The security that he had found in his family was a faint echo inside of him, overlaid by the knowledge that Gunrar II no longer existed. Everyone he had once known and loved was dead, lost forever, burned away in the Beast ships' firestorm.
He was alone.
Only the pain was still with him.
And all that was left to him was the mission.
The thought revived him. It didn't drive away the pain, but it reduced it to a dull pressure at the back of his head from which it could break out again at any time, burning and piercing and unbearable. But for as long as he worked on the Mission, as long as he pursued it with all his strength, letting nothing and no one stop him, the pain was not only suppressed but changed into something that resembled hope ... If hope could even still exist in the 97th year of the great war.
Thore Bardon swung his legs down from the hard couch and stood up. The cabin computer registered his movement and turned the light on. The bare walls seemed to move nearer in the sudden brightness, closing around him like an iron fist. He narrowed his eyes and breathed deeply, waiting until the racing beat of his heart had settled down again.
He had to stay calm. He could not show any feeling. He was the Commander and his crew depended on him. His subordinates looked up to him, expecting authority and leadership in a time when chaos reigned and death was triumphant. If their daring, even desperate mission was to succeed, he had to function with clockwork precision and without exposing any weaknesses.
His glance fell on the holodisplay on the night console, and the pain burned like fire in his heart. It showed Jercy and their three children, Abol, Dhoma, and Chemee, frozen in a happy moment with Gunrar II's main spaceport in the background.
I will do it for you, he thought grimly. I will cross space and master time, and then I will rescue you from the darkness of death. I will not allow you to stay in the grave forever.
He plodded with heavy steps into the hygiene cell, stepped under the shower, and let the thin, lukewarm stream of water wash away the sweat of the night and his tiredness. He was a tall, powerful man with velvet-brown skin, a shaved head, and a face that would have seemed youthful if it hadn't been furrowed by the all-consuming pain that never left him. The light in his eyes had gone out and his mouth was a joyless line that had long lost its capacity to smile. From his right shoulder blade to his solar plexus stretched a pink scar that was a souvenir of the battle for Lhordavan in the 44th Tamanium. It was one of the few battles that the Lemurians had won against the Beasts.
But while he had fought in orbit over Lhordavan, fearlessly and heroically as had been expected of him, another fleet of the black Beasts had attacked Gunrar II and killed everyone he loved. Gunrar had only been a thinly settled agricultural world while Lhordavan was a highly developed industrial planet whose production capacity had decisive importance for the war. Bardon could understand why the Supreme Command of the Fleet had placed a thick defensive ring around Lhordavan and left Gunrar unprotected.
Rational cost-benefit analysis.
Lhordavan had to be held at any price, and they had succeeded even though hundreds of starships had been destroyed and hundreds of thousands of men and women had died. A great victory, a bitter triumph. And meanwhile Gunrar had been incinerated along with everyone who lived there. His wife Jercy and their children, his neighbors and friends ...
Enough! Bardon thought angrily. Stop torturing yourself. Gunrar is history and it's up to you alone to change history ... if it's even possible.
He dried himself off, slipped into his uniform, and glanced at the time display on his com-wristband. It was just before midnight, ship's time. He had only slept for three hours. He briefly considered lying down again and perhaps listening to some music to find a little relaxation, but he decided against the idea. If he remained alone, only the memories would haunt him, the happiness of lost days that had turned into pain. He had to go to the control center, had to do something, in order to divert his attention and push the mission onwards.
The unchanged rumbling of the impulse engines indicated that the heavy cruiser was still in sub-light phase, but perhaps the repairs on the semispace drive had been completed by now. Perhaps they could finally continue the flight to the 87th Tamanium and carry out their mission.
Thore Bardon straightened up, smoothed his uniform jacket with an automatic motion of his hand, and stepped out into the corridor. Here the rumbling of the impulse engines was louder and sounded like the growling of prehistoric animals confined deep within the ship. The air smelled of ozone, burned plasteel, and vaporized coolant. The result of the hit that the IBODAN's starboard side had taken several days before when the small squadron of five ships had stumbled on a Beast fleet.
They had been able to save themselves from destruction only by fleeing quickly, but the blind jump into semispace had taken them far from their course and the repair work had cost more valuable time.
Bardon strode quickly through the corridor, stepped into the antigrav shaft, and let himself be carried up to the heavy cruiser's command level. He didn't meet any other crew members on the way due to both the late hour and the losses they had suffered. A quarter of the crew was dead, a further quarter were injured. The surviving crew was tired and exhausted, showing the signs of what they had endured, the terrors of the past weeks and months. But they were also filled with a righteous determination that alone gave them strength in these dark hours.
We are Lemur's last hope, Bardon thought, the only bulwark of the Great Tamanium that is not yet lying in ruins. Not just our future depends on our success or failure, but also our past.
He shuddered as the hubris of their plan suddenly struck him, the enormous, unimaginable consequences that their mission would have for the entire Apsuhol Galaxy ... But not to do it, to give up and accept the reality, would have far worse results. The Lemurian empire destroyed, millions upon millions dead, billions fleeing to Karahol, the distant twin galaxy.
And Jercy ... his three children ... Death had overtaken them in the form of the Beasts and taken them away from him, but he knew that death did not have to be the end. Time was a merciless enemy, but not invincible.
If the results of their research were correct, if the information that they had gathered painstakingly and with great difficulty was in accordance with the facts, then it was possible to change the course of history. The Great Tamanium could rise again in all its power and glory, and the deadly menace of the Beasts could be choked off at its beginning.
Jercy and his children would live.
They never would have died.
With a slight hiss, the door opened in front of him and he stepped into the control center. The heads of the officers on duty turned in his direction and nodded slightly. No one seemed surprised that the commander had returned to the control center long before he was officially due back on the bridge.
"Halaton kher lemuu onsa," murmured Palanker, his First Officer, using the traditional form of greeting. Blessed be the land of the fathers.
Palanker was a stocky, muscular man with dark, short-cropped hair. When he relaxed his self-control, the same pain that was eating away at Bardon was often reflected in his broad face. His family, too, had died in the chaos of war, his home world devastated by the Beasts.
There was hardly a crewmember on board who had not lost any relations. The few fortunate ones whose families were still alive had to resign themselves to the fact that, like so many other Lemurians who had been evacuated to Karahol over the Multi-Star Teleporter, they were unreachable.
Palanker stood up from the commander's seat and took a step back. Without a word, Bardon sat down and glanced over the status indicators. The number of red warning diodes that showed the damage to the ship's systems had been reduced by half.
Very good, Bardon thought, relieved. So there's been progress. And progress means hope.
"The repairs to the semispace engines are almost complete," Palanker said after briefly clearing his throat. "The Chief Engineer has assured me that we will be able to resume trans-light flight in one hour at most."
"Excellent," Bardon said, nodding.
He looked at the large main screen which displayed four points of light against the black, star-flecked background of space. Each represented the hyperdetector echo of the four other heavy cruisers of the small squadron.
Palanker followed his gaze. "The other ships are already trans-light capable," he added. "However, the weapons control systems of the GORGARTH and the PALPADIUM are still out of commission. Repairs will require several days."
"Then we should avoid running into any more Beast ships," Bardon muttered.
Once more he regretted that the High Tam Councilor Merlan had made only a few heavy cruisers available to them. The ships, just 230 meters in diameter, were far inferior to most of the Beasts' units. He would have felt much more secure on board a battleship of the GOLKARTHE class. The giants measuring 1600 meters in diameter were true battle machines that could destroy entire planets with their counterpole cannons.
But we can be happy that Merlan gave us a few ships at all, Bardon thought, in spite of the lack of battle worthy units and trained personnel. And for that we have only Ruun Lasoth and his excellent connections with the Fleet Command and the High Tam Councilors to thank ...
"Where is Lasoth?" he asked aloud.
Palanker gestured to a smaller door along the control center's back wall. "In the positronic room. Been there for hours."
Bardon stood up. "Take over command again," he ordered. "And inform me as soon as the semispace engines are operational."
"Of course," Palanker replied as he sat down in the command chair again.
Bardon walked across the control center and went into the positronic room. Ruun Lasoth, the Chief Scientist of the First Tamanium, sat at a terminal and studied the data that flickered across the monitor screen. He didn't look up as Bardon came in and sat down at the neighboring terminal. Lasoth was a thin old man with a grayish complexion and a wreath of thinning hair that sat on his head like a crown. The prominent hooked nose and sunken cheeks gave his face something of the appearance of a bird of prey and his eyes were cold and hard like dark ice.
"Any new discoveries?" Bardon asked when the silence had persisted for a while. "Anything that can help us further?" "I am in the process of evaluating the data that we found in the rubble of the scientific station on Zalmut," Lasoth explained without turning his eyes away from the monitor. "It confirms what we know about the activities of the Suen Project. After twenty years of theoretical work, the research into time led by Tam Councilor Markam had progressed far enough to be put into practice."
"With the time machine in the 87th Tamanium," Bardon said.
"If it exists," the scientist replied. He turned his head and fixed his cold gaze on the commander. "That is the problem. The records available to me are contradictory in regard to that point. As a result of the destruction of the city of M'adun on Suen, most of the documents have been lost. The Suen Project has been dissolved, Tam Councilor Markam is missing or dead, and the scientists involved with the time research project have either died or vanished under mysterious circumstances."
Bardon drummed his fingers impatiently on the computer terminal cover plate. "What about that Regnal-Ortan who's constantly referred to in the records?" he asked. "He must have been a close associate of Markam."
"And an influential supplier of ideas to the Suen Project's time researches," Lasoth confirmed. He shrugged. "Still, there isn't any information about him in the Great Tamanium's state archives. If he was really one of Project Time Machine's leading scientists, he must have worked in extreme secrecy—for whatever reasons."
"Or the records about him were destroyed in one of the Beasts' attacks on Lemur," Bardon suggested.
"Very possibly," Lasoth said, then sighed. "So, the way the war has progressed, it's a miracle that we've stumbled on the trail of the time research project at all. All the chaos, all the terrible destruction ... "
He broke off. Bardon looked at him and saw in his cold eyes an echo of his own pain. Lasoth, too, had lost his family, his wife, his children, his grandchildren ... But the pain had not made him give up. On the contrary, it seemed to strengthen his determination even more to bring this mission to a successful conclusion, despite the only partial information available to them.
"If this time-machine prototype really exists, we'll find it," Bardon declared in a firm voice. "Even if we have to search the entire 87th Tamanium for it—we'll find it."
"And let's hope it's functional," the scientist murmured. He raised his hands in a tired gesture. "Unfortunately, the data concerning that point is very vague. Some of Markam's personal notes seem to indicate that the prototype was successfully tested, but other records contradict that interpretation. It isn't even clear who built the time machine. Perhaps it wasn't Markam's work but the product of a long-gone civilization, and Markam and the Suen Project only stumbled on it by chance."
"That would be the worst alternative." Bardon nodded gloomily.
"We'd have to start our research all over again from scratch," Lasoth said. "And that would take time. Time we perhaps don't have ... "
Bardon suppressed a desperate smile. It was an irony of fate that an expedition that wished to change the fate of the Lemurian people with a venture into time was threatened with failure because of time. While they sat here and spoke with each other, the Beasts' fleets criss-crossed the Galaxy in an effort to extinguish the last remnants of Lemurian civilization. Perhaps at that moment the enemy's ships were heading towards the planet where the time machine was located, and destroying it. Perhaps they would arrive too late to undertake the time mission that would save everything ...
"As soon as we reach the 87th Tamanium, we'll know more," he said. He spoke these words after a moment to break the oppressive silence, to dispel the depression that had settled as soon as they stopped talking. "The Suen Project's secret research station on Torbutan lies far from all the other inhabited planets. It isn't likely that the Beasts have found and destroyed it. We'll land on Torbutan and find the answers there that we've been looking for."
Lasoth looked directly at him, and the tiredness that suddenly made the cold blackness of his eyes glaze over alarmed Bardon. The long, dangerous search for the time machine had taken its toll. They were all at the end of their strength, and the end of their path still lay far in the distance.
"We don't know if the base is still operational," Lasoth said. "And even if it is, it's questionable whether Torbutan really is where the time machine is located. Markam's records are ... "
"We'll tackle that problem when we reach Torbutan," Bardon interrupted. "One step at a time, Lasoth. That's the only way to reach our goal."
Lasoth said nothing, but his expression continued to show skepticism. A skepticism that Bardon shared but would not openly admit. As the commander it was his duty to spread optimism and confidence. Skepticism would only eat away at the determination of the men and women accompanying him on this mission.
The low humming of the computer terminal and the muffled roaring of the impulse engines were the only sounds in the claustrophobic and cramped positronic room. The two men looked at each other, filled with unease over the chances of success for their desperate mission, filled with uncertainty as to what the future would bring. At the same time though, they were driven by a wild, irrational hope. And when Bardon was about to say something encouraging to break the silence, something that would motivate both him and Lasoth, it happened.
The alarm sirens howled throughout the ship.
Deafeningly loud, in a chopped, staccato rhythm.
Everything inside of Bardon froze. What he had feared all along had now happened.
The Beasts! shot through his mind. They've found us!
The shrill howling of the sirens continued as Thore Bardon rushed into the control center.
"Report!" he exclaimed to Palanker, who had already vacated the commander's chair and taken his place at the First Officer's console.
"Seventeen objects in Sector Four-Blue-D, distance just thirty light-seconds," Palanker replied in a toneless voice while Bardon sank into the commander's chair. "Velocity one-tenth light, on an intercept course. Objects identified as Beast super-battleships. Their shields and weapons systems are activated."
Bardon choked back a groan. Super-battleships. Titans with a diameter of 1700 meters, bristling with weaponry, and virtually invincible. Just one of those ships would be enough to annihilate his small squadron. Against seventeen ships of that type they didn't have the slightest chance.
"Enemy ships accelerating," Palanker added. "They will be in combat range in three minutes."
The cacophony of the sirens died away. On the main vidscreen, the seventeen hyperdetector echoes representing the Beast ships moved inexorably towards the group of echoes showing the small Lemurian squadron. With each passing second, death came ever closer, the failure of their mission, the end of all hope.
"Activate semispace field," Bardon ordered. His mouth was dry, his heart hammered in his chest.
"Defense shield activated," Palanker confirmed. "Output one-hundred percent."
"Weapon control station," Bardon said. "Status report."
"Impulse and thermobeam cannons ready to fire," Helot, the weapons officer, announced from her console at the rear of the control center. Her voice trembled with tension that she could suppress only with difficulty. "Disintegrators on line. Energy storage cells at seventy-six percent and rising. Upper and lower counterpole cannons loaded. One-hundred megaton warheads ready to fire. Space torpedoes with heavy fusion loads armed and ready to fire."
The weapons officer's matter-of-fact report reassured Bardon a little. The IBODAN was not defenseless. The impulse, thermal, and disintegrator cannons would not help them much against the enemy. However, the space torpedoes and counterpole cannons could set up a wall of fire with fusion explosions between them and the attacking Beast ships and slow their approach.
But of course they would be not be able to stop the Beasts.
Bardon felt the desperation rising within him. Could this really be the end? With their goal so close? He thought of his wife, of the darkness of the grave that would enclose her forever if he failed.
With the press of a button he activated the hypercom transmitter on the encrypted combat frequency. "Commander to squadron," he said, his voice raw with tension. "Status report."
The status reports from the squadron's other four ships resounded from the loudspeaker. The OLATH and the HORDAMON were ready for battle. The weapons systems of the GORGARTH and the PALPADIUM though had been heavily damaged in their last encounter with the Beasts and still had not been repaired.
Three heavy cruisers, Bardon thought, against seventeen super-battleships. We're finished.
As though paralyzed he stared at the main vidscreen, at the relentlessly approaching points of light. He sensed the bridge crew looking at him from behind and knew that his officers were awaiting decisions.
But what could they do? Fighting was not an option. And fleeing ...
"Evasive maneuver M-Nine," he ordered tersely. "Maximum acceleration."
The combat-control positronic that took over and synchronized the squadron's navigation during a battle carried out his command without a moment's hesitation. The impulse engines in the ship's equatorial ring roared into life. Their muffled rumbling grew into a loud, rapid pounding that sounded like the beat of a gigantic heart filling the entire cruiser. With flaming engine exhaust ports, the small Lemurian squadron sped away from the oncoming Beast ships, but the enemy reacted within a few seconds and accelerated in turn.
And the enemy had better technology.
"Combat range in two minutes thirty," Palanker announced expressionlessly.
Bardon pressed one of the intercom buttons. A small monitor window appeared in the lower right corner of the main vidscreen. It showed the tired, gray face of Guras, the Chief Engineer, with the engine room in the background. She knew what he wanted from her.
"We aren't there yet," she said without any greeting, her voice breathless and harassed. "The hypertransformers have been repaired, but the semispace converters still have to be tested. And even if they function, the modulator banks could cause us problems." She exhaled with a hiss. "We need at least half an hour to get the semispace engines operational."
"But we don't have half an hour," Bardon replied. "We don't even have three minutes before the Beast ships reach combat range. We've got to get out of here."
Guras shrugged. Resignation made her face appear older than it was. "Going into semispace with untested converters is a terrible risk," she warned. "In the best case, we'll end up far off course. In the worst, the engines will explode and tear the ship apart."
"We don't have a choice," the commander said. "Prepare everything for semispace phase."
She sighed, looking at his stony expression. Of course she knew that he was right. The Beasts on board the enemy ships would not hesitate for a moment to open fire as soon as they were in range. They would not spare anyone and would not rest until the small squadron had been destroyed, with nothing left but a field of debris in the emptiness between the stars.
"As you command," the Chief Engineer said. "Semispace phase begins in five minutes."
"But five minutes ... " he protested.
" ... is the absolute minimum for prep time," she interrupted. "The energy storage banks still have to be charged. I'm sorry, but I can't accelerate the process."
"Understood," Bardon murmured and cut the connection to the engine room. His thoughts raced. In two and a half minutes they would be in range of the enemy's weapons. An eternity. Enough time for the Beasts to destroy the IBODAN and its sister ships with concentrated interval fire.
He swore under his breath, but his curses were lost in the roaring noise of the impulse engines. With a blow of his clenched fist he activated the hypercom transmitter again.
"Commander to all units," he said into the microphone. "Combat readiness. Weapons system synchronization via IBODAN fire control station. Initiate semispace phase. Jump into semispace in five minutes."
The confirmations came from the other ships over the encrypted battle frequency. The subcommanders' voices sounded depressed, and Bardon was not surprised. The men and women knew from painful experience what it meant to be exposed for even just two and a half minutes to the fire from these gigantic Beast ships.
The heavy cruisers' energy shields were too weak to withstand the enemy's interval cannons for very long.
We are going to die, Bardon thought with crystal clarity. This is the end. And with us will die any hope for the Imperium. Jercy, he thought again. I'm sorry. I tried to do what I could, but I am powerless against fate.
He stared at the main vidscreen.
The points of light representing the seventeen Beast ships were coming ever closer to the squadron.
Time, Bardon thought. We have to gain time.
"Combat range in one minute twenty seconds," Palanker announced. His voice still did not express any emotion. It was as though he had already resigned himself to the end.
Bardon clenched his teeth. No, he thought. We're still alive. And we won't give up without a fight.
"Fire control station," he said loudly to make himself heard above the engine noise. "Open fire from all counterpole-cannons. I want a thermonuclear curtain between us and the Beast ships."
"But we still aren't in combat range," protested Helot, the slender weapons officer. Droplets of sweat glistened on her forehead. "It's pointless. The fire won't have any effect ... "
Bardon silenced the woman with a grim look. "Fire!" he ordered sharply.
Helot obeyed. A moment later, new suns shone in the darkness of interstellar space. Fusion bombs with the explosive power of one-hundred megatons of TNT had been teleported by the counterpole cannons' Hyperdim projectors into five-dimensional reception fields, placed like a veil between the Beast fleet and the Lemurian squadron. When the bombs rematerialized, they exploded into blindingly brilliant fireballs that rapidly expanded, merged, and formed a massive wall of blazing heat and deadly radiation.
The Beast ships flew directly into the death zone. With each passing second they came closer to the thermonuclear wall of fire. Then they reached the outer edges of the radiation field. Tongues of flame licked at their black hulls, which were protected by flickering red force fields.
Bardon held his breath ...
The Beast ships' shields reacted and formed a black network of crack-like channels that absorbed the destructive energy of the fusion explosions and diverted it into hyperspace. Even so, Bardon had not expected to be able to penetrate the enemy's paratron fields with the counterpole cannons.
He waited until the raging inferno had swallowed the Beast ships, then exclaimed, "Evasive Maneuver M-Three!"
The roaring of the impulse engines immediately increased to an ear-numbing thunder as the IBODAN's combat-control positronic reacted in nanoseconds. It channeled all the energy of the ship's fusion power plant into the sublight drive's converter banks. The abrupt change in course briefly overwhelmed the G-absorbers. A gigantic fist seemed to press Bardon into his seat. The acceleration pressure forced all the air out of his lungs, and red spots danced in front of his eyes.
He blurrily saw that the rest of the ships in the squadron had joined in the course change and were speeding away from the Beast ships' vector at a right angle.
On the main vidscreen, the glaring fire of the fusion explosions was already abating. The outlines of the Beast ships—spheres with flattened tops and bottoms with the engines located centrally in the lower section—emerged from the incandescence of the wall of fire.
They were undamaged.
As expected, their paratron shields had withstood the destructive power of the fusion bombs.
However, while they were flying through the inferno, their detection systems had been blind. The Lemurian squadron's sudden course change, which the Beasts had noticed too late, had gained it valuable seconds. Seconds that could make the difference between life and death, the fate of the mission, and the fate of the Great Tamanium.
But the Beasts were already changing course and accelerating.
"Combat range in one minute and thirty seconds," Palanker said.
They had won ten seconds. That was something. It was a brief period of time, but in a space battle it could mean the difference between victory and defeat.
The Beast ships came closer. Relentlessly, inexorably. Bardon clutched his chair's armrests. His fingers bored deep into the dark plastic covering. He glanced at the status display and noted with satisfaction that most of the indicator diodes for the primary ship's systems were shining green. Despite the damage on the starboard side, the IBODAN was maneuverable and ready for battle.
"Wedge formation," he commanded. "The intact ships take the outside, the GORGARTH and the PALPADIUM the center."
The combat-control positronic immediately carried out the order. A few brief thrusts from the steering jets were enough to change the positions of the five heavy cruisers in a graceful, precisely choreographed ballet. Flashes of energy flared between the red glowing semispace fields as the individual ships' energy shields overlapped and formed a closed bubble.
Time ticked away.
Onward went the speeding chase.
The Lemurian ships' impulse engines operated at full capacity, but they were too weak to escape the technologically superior enemy.
"Combat range in thirty seconds," Bardon heard Palanker report tonelessly. "Commencing semispace phase in two minutes and fifty seconds."
Bardon pressed his lips together in a bloodless line. "Fire control station," he said hoarsely. "As soon as the enemy is in combat range, open fire with all weapons systems."
"Understood." The weapons officer nodded.
On the main vidscreen, the seventeen light points of the Beast ships slowly seemed to merge into the Lemurian squadron.
"Combat range in ten seconds!" Palanker's expressionless voice now sounded urgent. "The enemy is activating its weapons systems. Extreme energy readings—may Lahamu stand by us!"
"And Lahmu protect us," Bardon added in a murmur, as though calling on the goddess of battles and the god of war could improve their chances. He had never believed in the old gods, but now he wished that they actually existed and could give them the strength they needed to come through this ordeal.
Suddenly space seemed to light up. Multicolored flashes shot out of the impulse cannons, blazed through the darkness of space, and struck the red-glowing semispace bubble that surrounded the Lemurian squadron. Explosions of light danced along the force field. Dark rents appeared where the energy structure beneath the concentrated impulse fire had weakened and threatened to fail.
"Evasive Maneuver M-Two," Bardon ordered.
The little group of ships peeled away, and the glowing exhaust of the impulse engines mixed with the incandescence of the enemy beam fire. A glance at the status display told Bardon that the output of the shield had fallen to eighty percent. And the enemy hadn't even used its devastating interval cannons yet.
The hard, cold lump in Bardon's stomach area seemed to have changed into ice. He heard somebody cry out a quick prayer as the weapons officer opened fire from all the squadron's counterpole cannons. Again the characteristic reception fields formed in the empty space between the heavy cruisers and the Beast ships. Again the one-hundred-megaton bombs materialized and exploded like miniature supernovas. The fireballs swallowed the Beast ships, but the black channels of the paratron shields appeared in the incandescence and diverted the destructive energies into hyperspace.
Undamaged, the enormous Beast ships emerged from the death zone.
"Evasive Maneuver M-Thirteen," Bardon exclaimed, shouting to be heard over the noise of the impulse engines running at full load.
The fusion reactors and converter banks in the belly of the IBODAN roared and made the entire ship reverberate as the concentrated energy production was directed into the guidance engines. Again the Lemurian squadron made an abrupt course change that strained the ships' structure to the utmost, and again the Beasts followed with only a few seconds' hesitation.
"Semispace phase in two minutes," Palanker announced tersely when the evasive maneuver was complete and the roaring of the machines abated.
The counterpole cannons fired again. More balls of flame flared up in space and were absorbed by the enemy's flickering shields. When the Beast ships shot out of the explosion cloud, the weapons officer activated the impulse and thermal cannons and fired a salvo of space torpedoes. The torpedoes detonated and seemed to set all of space on fire, but not even that massive curtain of flame could stop the enemy.
Two of the Beast ships lurched through space with flickering paratron fields as the torpedo explosions died away, but Bardon's wild hope of doing at least a little damage vanished in the next moment. The paratron fields stabilized and the two Beast ships returned to their former intercept course.
Then the enemy opened fire from the interval cannons.
The five-dimensional impact front that raced through space was invisible until it struck the Lemurian squadron's collective semispace field. Suddenly, pale streaks ran along the red shining energy shield, grew in a fraction of a second, united and increased in strength. Bright discharges flashed like spears through space. Gaping rips appeared in the red field and rapidly spread out in a zigzag pattern.
The alarm sounded on board the IBODAN.
"Semispace field overloaded," Palanker exclaimed. "It's collapsing, Commander! The blasted field is collapsing!"
A gigantic fist seemed to slam into the IBODAN. Bardon was violently shaken in his chair and he clung to the armrests to keep from being thrown against the control console. An explosion thundered in the depths of the ship. Then a second. The status display showed rows of red warning lights. Terrified screams shrilled through the control center.
On the main vidscreen, the heavy cruiser GORGARTH was caught by the invisible, five-dimensional impact front of the interval discharge and squeezed like an empty food can. It vanished in a multicolored explosion. The expanding fireball scorched its sister ships and made them reel. Pieces of debris struck the super-hardened steel of the hull armor at high speed and vaporized in small after-explosions.
"Evasive Maneuver M-Eleven!" Bardon exclaimed.
At a steep angle, the IBODAN broke off from its former vector. It distanced itself at a high velocity from the hot, brilliantly shining cloud that just a few seconds before had been a starship with several hundred crew members on board. The OLATH and the HORDAMON followed, synchronized by the combat-control positronic. But the PALPADIUM fell behind. The Beasts' concentrated interval fire had blown away part of its equatorial-ring engines and punched deep holes into its hull. Glistening wisps of vapor were appearing from the ruptures as the air inside escaped. Tongues of flame licked from the partially destroyed ring.
Then the next interval salvo struck.
The PALPADIUM exploded.
Bardon gasped. Two ships lost! he thought. So many lives destroyed ...
From the depths of the ship sounded the howling of the storage cell bank that was pumping energy into the collapsed shield. A reddish veil formed around the IBODAN and grew stronger.
"Semispace field reactivated," Palanker called. "Output at nineteen percent and increasing."
A quick glance at the status display told Bardon that the impact of the interval blast had not damaged any of the ship's life-critical systems. Then he looked up again at the main vidscreen. The Beast ships had fallen back a little, but now they were passing through the debris cloud of the two destroyed heavy cruisers with flickering paratron shields. They resumed their pursuit of the remaining members of the squadron with increasing acceleration.
"Field output at twenty-three percent," Palanker said. His voice sounded cracked. He knew just as well as Bardon that they would not survive the next salvo.
The commander swore and pounded the intercom button with his fist. A video window instantly appeared in the lower right corner of the monitor screen and showed Gura's perspiring face with the engine room behind her. In the background, smoke billowed. Something was burning.
"Semispace phase in fifty seconds," the Chief Engineer said. "All systems stable."
The lights of the seventeen Beast ships came closer.
"Enemy reactivating weapons systems!" Palanker cried. "Increasing energy readings ... Hyperdim echoes ... They're preparing for the next interval salvo!"
"We don't have fifty seconds left," Bardon told Guras urgently. "We have to jump into semispace. Now."
The chief engineer hesitated. "The storage banks aren't completely charged yet," she warned. "You know the risk, Commander."
"The risk of dying here is greater," he shot back. "We're jumping. At once."
Guras stared at him with wide eyes. Then she nodded. "Semispace phase in five seconds."
She disappeared from camera range. All that could be seen were the engine room's bank of converters and coils of smoke that seemed to reach for Bardon with gray fingers.
"Enemy within point-blank range!" Palanker bellowed frantically. "Energy readings at maximum ... Readying interval salvo ... "
Bardon's throat was too tight to even breathe.
He thought once more of his wife, his children, of the oath he had sworn, of the promise to bring them back from the dead and back to life. Tears filled his eyes as he realized that he would not be able to keep his promise, but would follow them into death.
The five-dimensional impact front of the enemy interval fire slammed into the IBODAN's shield. The first fissures appeared in the force field's structure while the howling of the overloaded storage banks swelled into a shrill scream. Jagged lines danced along the energy bubble and were torn open into gaping holes. The weakened force field could only withstand the violence for a few seconds. After one last flicker it collapsed.
Thore Bardon closed his eyes and waited for death. At least it would come quickly and painlessly.
But death did not come.
As the shield collapsed and the screeching of the storage banks abruptly broke off, the combat-control positronic activated the three heavy cruisers' ultra-light engines and hurled them into the twilight zone of semispace.
Now there was silence, interrupted only by the humming vibration of the semispace drive.
Thore Bardon opened his eyes. Numb, he stared at the reddish, amorphous seething of the intermediate dimension that had replaced the panoramic depiction of interstellar space and the light points of seventeen Beast ships on the main vidscreen. Jubilation broke out in the control center. Voices resounded, hysterical laughter echoed. His officers hugged each other in joy.
They had done it.
They had escaped the enemy at the last second.
But Thore Bardon knew it was still a long and dangerous way to the 87th Tamanium.
To the time machine that waited for them there.
He was plummeting from an immeasurable height, in free fall into a yawning abyss, bottomless and beyond comprehension. He wanted to scream, but realized that he did not have a voice. He did not know who he was and where he was or what had put him in this terrible, threatening situation. There was only him and the fall, him and the abyss, him and the images.
The images ...
With a shock he realized that he saw the images even though he had no eyes. No eyes and no body. His flesh had been taken away from him and only his mind remained. Like a shadow, like a ghost in the night, he fell on and on, unable to stop, into the all-engulfing depths.
While the images raced past him.
Without eyes, he only perceived them—blurrily and at the same time with paradoxical sharpness—with the senses of his mind, freed from his body. He saw alien worlds move in their orbits, stars dancing in the endlessness, entire galaxies spinning in empty space. Some moved so fast that their glowing spiral arms melted into vague smears. He saw interstellar dust collect into stars that ran through their life-cycles spanning millions of years and then exploded into supernovas or shrank into white dwarfs. He saw the universe in all its inconceivable vastness reduced to a miniature display in compressed time.
But besides these cosmic panoramas there were still other images. Untouched alien landscapes under double suns. Pale moons, overgrown with blue-shimmering plants and trees that burned to ashes within seconds and were replaced by cities that grew like a cancer. Dizzyingly high buildings that grew to the sky in the time it took to take a breath and spread over vast plains with their majesty, then fell into ruin, crumbling debris that was carried away by the elements. Grotesque beings that were born, lived their lives, aged, died, and decayed into dust while others took their places. All seen in a racing time-lapse progression.
He wanted to reach out to them, but he had no hands. He wanted to call out to them that he needed help, but he had no tongue.
And so he fell onwards, unchecked and ever faster, towards an invisible destination, if he even had a destination.
Panic flared up within him and he forced it back down. Even if he didn't know his name, had lost his memory, had forgotten his entire life up to now, he still knew instinctively that panic was the most harmful of all emotions. If he wanted to have any hope of survival, he had to stay calm, collected, emotionless.
Think! he urged himself. Remember! Remember!
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