Chatenni looked down on the cold Ritachan landscape through his PADD. It looked colder than all of space and twice as unfriendly. And yet, down there lay the ruins of a technological civilization, one that had ruled the atom and with it managed its own destruction. He couldn't get that ache out of his heart, not since hearing the words of Captain Tella Razziress, the last Ritan, as she dictated her description of the world after war and then took her own life. The report of the gunshot on the recording sounded preternaturally loud to him. Others who had heard it agreed with that assessment.
"Looks like a week-dead corpse. Grey and cold."
"Never seen a corpse," Chatenni replied to Yuma's rather gruesome image.
"Neither have I," the Vulpin admitted. "Just makes a nice analogy. All that death and rot."
"It's too cold for anything to have rotted down there."
"We don't know what it was like or how long it took for winter to settle over the southern hemisphere like that. Could be ugly."
"Charming," Japhet commented. "Wonder when Zender's going to let us go down?"
"As soon as he agrees that it's safe for us to go down." Helena closed the door behind herself. "Good. We are assembled. And we'll be going down in the next ten hours. Chatenni, Nix, and Japhet will go down with the initial structures. We'll be establishing two temporary bases right here in the middle of Copper Square, this quadrangle near the center of campus. The school was the University of Besnial at Coar. The building here, to the north, is the library. These are classrooms. Here is the statue found at the original landing, and here, under this classroom to the west, was the doorway that led down to the Forcassa facility. The intent is to make the library livable by the end of the week. Two Pendorian vessels are already on their way here. The first will be here in a matter of weeks, the other two months. We have that long to get ready."
Deep in a mountain fortress a drum of oil stood. Around it a battery of computers and machinery ticked over, waiting, waiting. The unit received its power from solar cells that had been built to last forever and so far had succeeded. Sensors attached to the computer registered the presence of small electrical charges inside the drum of oil, charges that came in patterns unseen since a thousand years had passed. Patterns that indicated activity once again came from the surface of Ritacha. The single, quiet source it had been following forever had changed months ago, then quieted away completely. But now loud, steady, moving signals were coming from there, signs of life.
Signs it couldn't allow.
Morrail collapsed into bed, grateful for the opportunity to just rest and relax. His mind whirled with the opportunities surrounding him. Even now Yuma and Nive worked to clean up books to feed to the translation units aboard the Torr Minorr, and yet he couldn't just rest and let them have all the fun. He wanted to work with the decontamination team.
"You look bushed," Helena said as she walked into the door. "Work too hard?"
"Not yet," Morrail commented with a wry chuckle. "I should sleep, Helena. I am exhausted. But I have no desire to sleep."
"I know that feeling all too well," she said, lying down beside him. "But we have been going for twenty hours straight, Morrail. Both of us. For the tenth day in a row. It's time for bed."
"I know," he sighed. He lifted his legs to bring his boots within reach. He untied them and tossed them over the side of the bed. "Ahh... much better."
She chuckled, leaned over and kissed her longtime mate. "You're wonderful."
"So are you," he replied, touching her chest with his fingertips.
"You've been doing more heavy lifting than the doc said you should, Morrail. Why don't you take the rest of those clothes off and let me rub your back?"
He readily agreed. After he had stripped off the rest of his clothes and lain down on his stomach, Helena straddled his hips and began stroking his back in slow, gliding touches. He murred softly at the delicacy of her touch. She found the knots and worked them out. "Your whole back is a mess, Morrail."
"Guess I'm getting old."
"You are not. I checked with the doc and according to it your back is in as good a shape as when you were twenty. You just worked too hard today."
"Had to get the-- umph-- tents up."
"Not and kill yourself at the same time." She moved down to his legs. Solid bands of strained muscle ran down from inside his groin to his knees. "Fah, Mori, even your tail is tense."
"Is not," he grumped.
"Is." The muscles around his tail had tightened so much from lifting and bending that she didn't think she was ever going to get them worked out. But after five minutes of intense rubbing and pounding they did eventually become a little looser. "You're stressed."
"It's hard to sit still when there's a whole world waiting for me."
"Well, just put those desires on hold for a few minutes and desire me instead."
"That's easy," he said, turning over slowly and gathering her into his arms. "Are you glad we made this trip?"
"Ask me in a couple of weeks when I've figured out what we are doing here." He felt her warm body against his chest, the soft curves of her thighs pressed up against his. He was already rampant from her attentions and her body thrust against his, asking for his attentions in return. He gave them willingly, nuzzling her cheek with his muzzle, pressing his erection against her groin, feeling her opening up to let him.
They rolled in bed until he rested on top of her, his hardness pressing inward. A few gentle strokes spread her fluids over his erection until he buried himself completely in her. The surprised gasp of "Oh!" told him that he'd reached the right depth.
Helena surrendered herself to Morrail's tender thrusting. Neither wanted anything more than the reaffirming lovemaking they had come to appreciate from one another. Morrail's body rested on top of hers and she loved the sensation of his weight atop her. Nothing felt more real to her than the mass of her lover, the reality of him on top of her body, holding her down as she wished it.
Morrail's thrusting into her soft cunny grew only slightly more impatient as his climax approached. He could be violent when they wanted but tonight neither of them wanted that kind of love. Helena's hands caressed his back as she let him have what he wanted from her and she got from him what she loved of him. His cock felt sweet sliding back and forth within her body; she wanted it to go on for a long time. Tired as he was, it probably would.
"I love you," he whispered into her ear.
"I love you too," she said, caressing the fur that ran along his arms, kissing his soft rodentine nose.
"I'm close," he whispered.
"Then come." He listened to her advice, thrusting just a little more urgently. She felt herself get wrapped up in his desire, could see it in his face as his eyes glittered. With a soft moan he came, his body shuddering atop hers, his cock coursing within her with his climax.
Something felt wrong-- the shaking in his body seemed to go on too long. "Morrail?" she asked.
"That's not me," he said, looking up. "Earthquake?"
"I don't know." An alarm sounded out in the distance; the PADD next to them on the bedstand turned yellow with black letters: WE ARE UNDER ATTACK.
A voice shouted over the PA, "Morrail! Helena! Get into the Library at once! We're under attack!"
"Dammit!" Morrail snarled, grabbing his shoes and a shirt and heading for the tunnel that linked the four outside domes and the doorway to the library. Helena came right behind him in slippers and a bathrobe. "What is going on out there?"
"Take a look," Chatenni said, waving a PADD at him. Morrail looked.
"What in the name of Saturn's Rings is that thing?" "That thing" was about eight meters long with a tapered nose at each end, and it was chewing up their shuttlecraft with all the gusto of a pack of hyenas feasting on a dead gazelle. Lasers from the tapered nose sliced, diced, and penetrated the shuttlecraft's unarmored upper hull; high-powered gauss rounds much like those found down in the Forcassa bolthole shattered the front glass. It had four caterpillar treads that allowed it to lurch along the ground as it dragged itself up over the corpse of the shuttlecraft.
They ran for the library; it was far safer than any of the tents and had already been well-sealed for environmental control. They collected in the main control room set up in the foyer and looked up at the big screen. A huge plume of white gas was venting from the shuttle. "What's that?"
"The fusion plant. Looks like that thing just ruptured it," Yuma said.
A voice came over the loudspeaker. Nix's. "Zender's suiting up right now to come down and take care of that thing."
"Good," Morrail said. "Because I suspect we're its next target."
"Who, us?" Yuma asked. "Why?"
"Because if I miss my guess, the fusion plant was its target. Look, it's done, sniffing the air. I think it's going after that next." He pointed to the low, white box with rounded corners, barely a meter square, on the floor. "The shuttlecraft has a larger power plant, but this one's next on the sensor array."
Even has he spoke, the craft turned its conical nose into the air, a mockery of some animal sniffing out its prey, then began lumbering to turn around. It headed towards the library. "Run! Upstairs and to the back, everyone!"
They needed no urging. Both Morrail and Chatenni held onto PADDs, watching the immanent demise of their primary life support on the main viewer. A bright light and a loud explosion interrupted their viewing, and a figure stood at the top of the library steps, a large tube on its shoulder pointed at the crawling war machine. "Take that!" a voice came over the microphone.
"Don't worry, guys. I'll take this ugly son of a bitch out in no time." He fired his weapon. The screens went blank for a moment. Digital knows no in-between; there was no static. When the image returned, the thing had stopped moving as if surprised. A large hole was gouged out of the nosecone. The sounds of shattering glass informed the archeology team that the monstrosity had opened up with its gauss weapons, shredding the delicate protection that covered or replaced the windows of the library.
"We're open to the outside! Everyone, pile into that bathroom over there!" Chatenni shouted, pointing. He pulled at the door; it opened with a shriek of grinding metal. Eight people ran past him and he pulled the door shut behind him. The sounds of weaponsfire continued to come from outside. "Yuma, give me your coat!" He took that, and his own, and jammed them against the bottom of the door, sealing them off. It was cold.
On the screen, one of the external feed cameras continued to play out the scene. Zender drove his powered armor as well as any veteran of the llerkindi/Sinox War could, dodging, fighting, shooting. The enemy tank continued to shoot at him as it crawled up the library steps. He allowed the portable particle cannon he carried to recharge, then let loose another powerful volley that wrecked the caterpillar treads on the left side once and for all.
"I am registering a significant increase in neutrino activity from the enemy machine," Nix said. "I suspect a self-destruct mechanism."
"I'm on it," Zender said. He dove into the ruins of the shuttlecraft, pulled off one of the walls of the wrecked ship, and threw it at the machine. It blinked out of site.
"I'm going, I'm going!" the AI responded. The screens again went blank.
"Nix?" Chatenni asked, glancing down at his darkened PADD. Nothing on it seemed to be working; it was linked into the networked power system, and had lost contact with its power source when Nix had gone off the air.
In the cramped and musty bathroom, six students and their two teachers waited for word from outside. The room seemed to grow colder as they huddled, anxiously.
"Zen? In here!"
The door creaked open to reveal a large figure in white Stark armor looking in on them. He reached up and pulled the helmet off. "Thank the stars, you're all right. I'm in contact with Nix. The ship took a pretty hard hit, but it's nothing that can't be fixed. We're all right, everyone's alive." He pointed down the hallway. "I stretched a piece of the tent material across the hallway back there and used some e-seal on it."
"What was that?" Nive asked.
"Spoilsport, I suspect," Zender replied. "Designed to detect any fast neutrino fusion power sources after the war and take them out. It's a devilishly good design, to tunnel under the ground like that."
"So that's where it came from. I wondered how something so big could wander into camp without anyone noticing."
"We don't have the seismic sensors set up," Chatenni said with some apology. "I'll get to it as soon as I can."
"You do that," Zender said. "But don't be sorry. We can't anticipate everything. Anyway, we've got a few working Sdisks, including the one I tossed at that monster, still lying around, and we've got a ground-working fusion plant to restart your PADDs with. Come on, let's get back to work."
"I do hope the rest of this mission isn't this exciting," Nix's voice came very clearly from Zender's helmet.
"I'll agree to that," Helena said with conviction. "Let's get fixing. We don't want to look like a bunch of slobs when the ships from the Ring arrive."