To Boldly Go...

Chapter 4

Sillika cursed under her breath as she totally failed to get any of the scanners to work. She'd be the first to admit she didn't know everything about even half the technology in the shuttle, but she doubted even an engineer would be able to get anything out of the ear-piercing burst of static from the communicators or the madly beeping scanners. It was useless.

She tried to avoid turning round, trying not to let her gaze linger on the covered shape laid across two seats. They'd brought Vixa back; she at least deserved a decent burial. Sillika shuddered, she thought they'd left all the death behind them. It seemed she'd been wrong, the cyborg-like creatures were almost as terrifying as Lraac had been. She was used to the idea of biomechanical research, especially in labs, but for some reason those... Things worried her more than she cared to admit.

"Any luck yet?" Callum stuck his head round the door. Sillika sighed.

"I can't get anything."

"We'd be better off with tin cans on string, no?"

Sillika laughed.

"Well, at least you'd be able to work them."

"Ooh, I dunno. Bit too advanced for me I think."

"Har har."

Callum grinned, then snapped his fingers.

"Oh yeah, Jay's got our transport out of the hold."

"Huh?" Sillika was about to ask what he meant, but he'd already darted back out. She shook her head and followed him.

As she stepped outside, her gaze alighted on a sleek black shape hovering about a foot off the ground. Jay was sitting astride it, and grinned at her.

"Hover bike, standard issue. Pretty good, eh?"

"Very nice."

Jay's grin dropped from his face as he glanced behind her into the shuttle.

"Anything on the scanners?"

"Nothing. Can't get any communication either, that interference has gotten worse."

"That's all we need," Jay said grimly, hopping off the bike. He walked over to the shuttle, stared inside for a second then palmed the door scan panel. It hissed shut, the landing ramp rotating back into the door, seamlessly vanishing into the hull. Jay tapped a few keys under the panel and stepped back as the air around the ship shivered for a second.

"Okay, we're secure. Let's move out." He hopped back onto the bike and motioned for then to get on behind him, tossing them each a pair of wrap-around goggles as he did so. Sillika slipped hers on and mounted the bike, Callum climbing on the back and wedging himself on behind her. The machine seemed big enough to carry three people, any more and they would probably have to be tied to the back. Jay pressed something and suddenly the bike roared into life, rising further off the ground and shooting forwards. Sillika gasped at the sheer speed of it, and saw why the goggles were needed so badly. The wind whipped her hair into her face, forcing air into her mouth as they shot along the ground. Her skin smarted slightly as the dust was blown into her face at incredible speed. Behind her, Callum whooped slightly.

"This tech I like!"

Sillika grinned and turned back towards Jay. They both saw it at the same time. A column of thick black smoke was rising into the air, and over the roar of the engine Sillika was sure she could hear gunshots. Jay hunched over the controls, and somehow the bike gained even more speed, surging forwards again. Sillika strained to see where they were heading, and saw a huge cliff-face looming up infront of them. The grey rock was dotted with dark shapes, and as they drew closer Sillika could see that they were caves. However, her attention was caught by the smouldering wreckage at the base of the cliff. Jay slammed his foot onto a pedal and the bike roared at a halt. Sillika stared with horror at the scene that greeted them. The rocks were blackened with deep laser scars, the ravaged shapes of the two other hover bikes lying in a smoking heap at the foot of the cliff. The whole place looked to be the aftermath of a huge firefight.

Jay leapt down off the bike and ran towards the mess. Sillika's gaze locked with Callum's and almost simultaneously they ran after him. Jay straightened up from examining a wreck as they reached him. His face was creased with anger and worry, but he also looked puzzled.

"No bodies," he said simply.

"That's a good thing, right?"

"Maybe. Maybe not," he muttered, staring at the devastation. Sillika glanced up at the caves.

"You think they went in there?"

Jay shrugged, then set his jaw, determination flooding his features.

"Let's find out. Guns ready, I don't want to be surprised again."

Sillika nodded, and noticed that even Callum refrained from his usual mock salute at an order. Jay lead the way, glaring accusingly at everything that might possible be hiding an attacker. Sillika shivered as they entered the caves. It wasn't just the cold; she was filled with a sense of dread about the whole thing. The image of the cyborg kept flashing up in her mind as they made their way into the maze of tunnels, and in the gloom of the cave it was all too easy to imagine one suddenly appearing from behind something. The cliff must be honeycombed with caves and tunnels.

"I don't like this," Callum whispered. Sillika nodded.

"I know. Something's not quite right here." She glanced round for Jay, and felt her heart miss a beat. He'd gone.

"Jay?" She stopped moving so suddenly Callum walked into her, "Where are you?"

There was no answer, and Sillika felt a shot of panic hit her. She looked for the tunnel they'd just come through, and realised with increasing alarm that she couldn't remember which one it was. She realised the she'd automatically moved to stand back to back with Callum.

"I keep expecting a Grendel to leap out on us," Callum muttered. Sillika shivered.

"I never thought I'd say it, but I can imaging worse things than Grendels right now."

The sound of footsteps from a tunnel to their left caused them both to jump and train their guns on the entrance. Sillika almost sagged in relief as Jay emerged, but felt worry flood her again as she saw his expression. His face was ashen.

"They did come in here," he said flatly, "I just found Mikeal."

"He's..." Sillika trailed off. She didn't need to finish the sentence, the look in Jay's eyes told her enough. Too much. She placed a hand on his shoulder.

"It's not your fault."

"Yes it is. I'm the Commander; I'm in charge of this mission. What's left of it anyway," he said bitterly. Sillika was about to speak again, when suddenly Callum yelled a warning. The three of them hit the ground together, as bolts of laser blasted the rocks apart above them. In the resulting cloud of dust, Jay yelled at her.

"Try and find a way up to the top! I've got to get to the bike, or we'll be totally stuck!"

"What if there isn't a way?"

"Blast one!" And he darted away, firing blindly. Sillika grabbed Callum and they both fled up a nearby tunnel. Behind them, Sillika could hear the sound of gunfire then, worse, slightly clanking footfalls in pursuit. They didn't speak, just ran, both trying hard not to think about what could happen if they came to a dead-end. Laser sizzled through the air, blasting pieces of rock out of the walls around them, filling the air with the smell of ozone and clouds of choking dust. Sillika's heart pounded away in her chest, and she felt half-certain that whatever was following them would be able to track them by the near-deafening sound. Suddenly, they were outside, coughing up dust, but alive. She spun round, in time to see two metal-clad figures appear in the tunnel mouth. They raised their gun to fire, but Callum was just faster, cannoning into Sillika and sending her crashing to the ground. He fired, blasting the rock above the tunnel opening. The rock, already weakened by the previous gunfire, collapsed, burying the creatures under several tonnes of solid stone.

It was several seconds before Sillika trusted herself to breathe again. Trying to slow her madly beating heart, she stood up, taking a step back to avoid treading on Callum. Her foot hit nothing but empty air. Glancing down in horror, she realised they'd emerged onto a small platform protruding out from the cliff-face. Very far up. Her vision swam at the sheer drop beneath her, and she desperately tried to reassert her balance. She'd been right on the edge, and was now balanced very precariously on one foot. Unfortunately, most of her weight wanted to be on the *other* foot.

"Oh sh..." Sillika screamed as she finally lost her footing and tumbled off the edge of the outcrop. Suddenly she stopped falling. She looked down at the dizzying drop under her feet and gulped.

"Nice view down there?" Callum's voice floated down to her ears. She looked up, and realised that Callum had caught one of her flailing arms. He was clinging to her wrist, half-off the cliff himself.

"Callum," Sillika said, forcing her voice to remain calm, "Just out of interest, could you see it in your way to pull me back up again?"

Callum grunted, then lifted Sillika up seemingly without much effort. She sat down gratefully as her feet touched solid rock. She sighed in relief, then her brain caught up with her. She looked up.

"Since when did you get so strong?"

Callum swayed slightly, beads of sweat forming along his too-pale brow.

"I... Ohh," he stumbled, catching hold of a nearby boulder to steady himself. Sillika felt a shot of panic hit her.

"Callum?" She stood up quickly and touched his shoulder. It felt strangely hard under her fingers. Suddenly Callum jerked slightly, face creased up in pain. He raised a hand to his forehead, and Sillika let out a gasp of horror. Small lumps seemed to be racing down under his skin, joining up under his flesh. Suddenly they seemed to burst through his skin and a mesh of metal surged out of his hand. The same thing was happening on his other arm, and from the lumps in his shirt, on the rest of him too. Shaking, he held a hand up to his face, his expression one of horror as strips of metal seemed to surface from his skin. He spun round, and Sillika began to back away. He lurched forwards, more metal appearing from no-where, now racing over half his face. His gaze hit Sillika's, and she saw the complete terror in his eyes. His hand shot out suddenly, gripping Sillika's wrist like a vice.

"" He hissed, his voice sounding strange, as if there were many voices speaking at once. One eye seemed to darken, reddening and becoming shiny. Sillika gasped as Callum's grip doubled.

"Let go Callum, please!"

Callum's gleaming red eye stared impassively at her for a second, then he released her arm. She clutched it, trying to massage some life back into her hand. There was the sound of a motor and Sillika spun round as the hover-bike rose up by the edge of the outcrop. She felt relief hit her as she saw Jay hunched over the controls. He beckoned frantically at her.

"Come on!" He yelled, Sillika looked back at Callum, then to Jay.

"We can't just leave him!"


"Callum!" Sillika gestured to towards him. Jay's mouth dropped open so far he could have swallowed a brick. Sillika ran over to him, and he reached down and pulled her onto the back of the bike. She saw him reach for the controls.

"What are you doing?" She screamed. Jay flicked a switch and the bike began to rise. Sillika stared at him aghast.

"You're not going to leave him there?!" She steadied herself to jump. Jay reached back and grabbed her arm.

"Whatever that is now, it's not Callum! We *have* to leave him!"

Sillika looked back, and gasped as Callum suddenly straightened up, all emotion vanishing from his face. Dimly, over the roar of the engine, she heard his strange, multiple voice.

"We Are Borg."

Chapter 5