The pilot episode of the Wanderers series.
Ferrus Jandor was proud of his new ship.
He wriggled into a more comfortable position on his chair, then pressed the comm.
"Losin, how soon till FTL?"
"Thirty, maybe less. Not used to this engine style."
"Understandable. Keep us informed."
Kapla turned away from her console.
"Captain, strange emissions coming from ahead."
"X-rays, energetic protons. A low level, but more than usual."
"Okay. Any change, update us."
Barrin, the Zyrothan astrogator, opened a channel to the bridge.
"Up ahead, a big disturbance. Our gravitational sensors have gone off-axis, and the life-support officers are having to constantly rotate a-grav."
A new channel opened.
"Belay the FTL order. We've got a stellar remnant up ahead. Pilot!"
"Turn us around."
"It'll take a few minutes at this speed, sir..."
"Well, quick as possible." He understood the difficulties of space travel.
Barrin was speaking again, an urgent tone to his translated voice.
"Whatever it is, it's moving straight towards us!"
They could see it now, the bent starlight ahead and flashes where matter was sucked in. A wormhole.
"We can't manouvre out in time!"
Ferrus' voice left him for a moment, and then he took control. "Prepare the a-grav! Increase power to mass field! Accelerate!"
The crew scrambled to carry out his orders, and the wormhole was becoming ominously visible.
Then, with a sudden burst of light, they were through the singularity.
They could see the wormhole's destination end travelling away, and then it evaporated with a flare of blue.
A wave of particles crashed into the Wanderer, and there was rumbling along its hull.
"Heat flexion! Compensating!"
Ferrus shook himself."Damage report!"
"One hull breach, sealing... now. Axial thrusters are just gone."
Barrin's face returned.
"What's wrong, Barrin?"
"I've... no idea where we are."
Jandor slowly looked around the stars. They were all different then the ones he was used to; there were strange constellations and nebulas in view.
"Losin," he said as calmly as he could manage, "I want to know what just happened. Why are we here?"
Losin looked confused. "I have to admit, I don't know sir," he said, looking very genuine, "the only thing it could have been was a Dimensional Rift or a wormhole. A Rift would have had much more precise readings... I guess we fell through a wormhole."
Jandor cursed quietly. They were caught up in some kind of sci-fi cliche he didn't even know existed. Well, if it had to be this way, so be it.
"Klapka," he ordered, "get our bearings. How far away from home are we?"
Klapka took a moment to check the charts. "As far as I can tell, sir," he said slowly, "we're in another galaxy on the fringes of the Viperius Galaxy System. If you want to know how far away from home we are..."
Klapka pointed out into space. "Home is somewhere that way. We're so far away, we can't even see the galaxy we live in. It could take us several hundred years to get back, even at super-light speed."
Jandor groaned inwardly. This was not good.
A few light years away, a Daemon Warship orbited around an ice planet. On board the ship, a young Gehennian by the name of Dusteater paced about angrily.
"Send a team of Shaytan to the planet's surface," he said irritably.
"But master," said a Korgrath with concern, "that planet is far from it's sun. Only a fraction of the Daemons we send will survive down there."
Dusteater ignored him. "Simply do what I say," he said. Two days ago, Darkshriek had ordered him on this resource-harvesting expedition. The fool. No Daemon wanted to go on a peaceful harvesting mission; what he wanted was a war assignment- a chance to slaughter Angeli, Typhons, Rennites, Aians, or anything else he might come across. Unfortunately, he had not yet found any sapient beings in Obscura. The most he had found were single-celled organisms that fed off of rocks. Hardly anything worth killing.
And so, with an irritable growl, Dusteater went back to his job.
"Jandor," Losin said.
"We've taken a bit of damage, and we're going to need to land for repairs."
"OK. Barrin, where's the nearest planet we can land?"
"There's an ice planet not to far from here that is just about habitable."
"OK. Klapka, take us there."
The damaged Wanderer set off in the direction indicated by Barrin. Before long, they arrived at the ice planet, and set down on the surface.
The glaring eyes of a Shaytan peered into the endless white expanse. Already, one of them had perished in the cold. Its body was laying a few meters back, face down in the snow and ice. Nobody was paying any attention to it. They didn't need to.
Currently, only one piece of information of any interest whatsoever had been gathered. It was cold. And everybody knew that already.
The Shaytan trudged through the snow, leading the troop. Where were they supposed to go? If any life was present, it would stand out against the whiteness. There was nowhere to look.
Far, far off into the distance, almost just out of sight, sunlight shined against an alien object. Something large.
"Is the planet safe to move around on?" Jandor asked. He was naturally wary, looks could be misleading. They usually were.
"Seems so. About -7 degrees out there, adding in the wind factor. Cold, but bearable."
"Right, let's head out there. Get some engineers, and a group to explore the surface.
A few minutes later, the silver door of the Wanderer opened. Leading the group was an Atrenid in a charcoal-colored coat. Keyum was the chief scientist, and eager to search new planets.
"Not too bad out here, eh? A bit of chill's good for the soul," he said, walking down the ramp, and looking around.
"Instead of rejuvenating temperatures, I'm more worried about the ship," Losin grumbled, following behind Keyum.
As the engineers set to work repairing the ship, Jandor walked over to Keyum. "It's freezing out here," he said, bundling up. "I won't be able to stay out here for long."
"Of course, ectothermy and all that. I'm just worried."
"Well, we have no idea where we are, for starters."
"I thought that was obvious."
"My point is, we don't know what's out here. It looks lifeless, but there are other worlds, other species. We can't be sure of their intentions, even if we find any."
"Is looking for other intelligent beings your main concern or something?"
"Not really. I'm just saying that we should be prepared. And I'm not exactly sure we are."
"Well, you won't have to worry," Jandor said. He turned back to the Wanderer and spread his arms. "Our ship has stood the most hostile times and places. I'm sure she'll be ready for anything."
Dusteater looked through the blizzard, and saw only white. Luckily for him, Gehennians had radar, and this was what he was using to find this new arrival. A fight, maybe!
It took him a full twelve minutes to realise his radar was non-functional. What he was seeing as the objective was, in fact, a snowflake trapped on the transmitter. How in the Master's name it had got there he did not know.
The Shaytan below him stumbled on, numbed by the low temperatures. A dead Shaytan made less effective cannon fodder, so he turned his plasma beam on low and warmed the area up a little.
"You! Korgrath! Construct something warming. I won't be bothered with repeatedly using my fire."
The Korgrath walked over to one of the dead Shaytan bodies, and began dismembering it. It then soaked the pieces in Firespitter grease and lit them, then gave one to each Daemon to carry.
"It's not much, but it'll warm their hands."
"What was your name, Korgrath?"
"Zeg-zarrik, you are a fool."
"Thank you, lord."
Dusteater warmed up his head slightly to melt the snowflake, and then searched for a target.
5900 yards to the East.
Jandor shaded his eyes with his hand, and looked to the horizon. It wasn't bright, but the presence of a number of faint red lights, twinkling in and out on the horizon, was a little odd.
Keyum was frowning in that direction too.
The men they had brought with them were making themselves busy, doing... whatever it is you can do on a barren, ice-cold planet. The snow was just about soft enough to manipulate, and a number of large snowballs were being rolled around.
"Hey, do some real work." Losin had come out too. He turned to the captain. "We'll be done soon, sir. We were just wondering if you wanted to see something."
"What is it?"
"A ship. it just emerged from behind the planet, and it's making movements towards us."
"What does it look like?"
"Well... big, grey, spiky?"
Jandor shrugged. "Establish communications, if you can. Are all our weapons working?"
"Mass cannons are broken. Only one missile tube is accessible."
"We don't have the power to pump the laser, either."
"We'll just have to hope they're friendly."
A shadow swept over them- something giant, with an enormous wingspan. It circled back round, and landed with a thud, spraying snow out as it furled its wings.
Keyum gasped. "Amazing! Native wildlife of such size and activity on this planet!"
The Gehennian growled. "Who are you, worm-like creatures?"
Jandor sighed. "Greetings, on behalf of the Centro exploratory mission. We are-"
The Shaytan forming a ring around them, firespitters and burning body parts in their hands, were a little distracting. "Go on, pitiful creature."
Jandor raised a brow. "Sorry, I forgot what I was going to say."
"Just as well. Your voice is irritating."
"Now, look here. We aren't some-"
Zeg-zarrik grabbed him and pushed him down onto the snow. "The boss says you should shut up. So do it."
The crew drew their weapons, looking wildly at the appraching Grakk. Their pistols didn't look quite to intimidating against the Daemon rifles.
Dusteater pushed them aside and poked his massive head inside the Wanderer. He then withdrew it.
"Zeg-zarrik, take a squad inside. Investigate. Take anything interesting. If they resist, kill."
They were only too glad to get into the warmth.
Barrin protested as he was marched out onto the snow. "You can't do this! You'll break something! I'll have you know I'm a green belt in machita!"
The crew were assembled in a semicircle, stripped of their weapons. Firespitters were pointed at their chests, and the Shaytan seemed bored.
Zeg-zarrik emerged. "Nothing worth taking."
Dusteater sighed deeply. "Blow it up, then."
Jandor stepped forward, angry. "Stop right there! That is my ship, and you are not blowing it up!"
"It's not a very good ship. You'll be better off without it, maggot."
"I like my ship."
Dusteater flicked Jandor with a claw. It seemed casual enough, but the force was enough to send the Salsene sprawling. "Silence." The Gehennian then stepped forward, and walked slowly around the ship. He looked it up and down, and then arrived back by the crew.
"I tell you what, little creature. You have a choice. Either one third of your crew die or you lose your ship."
"You can't do this!"
"I do what I want, whatever species you are."
"I am a proud Salsene, and you're trying to destroy my ship. That is a mistake."
"Your hubris is almost as irritating as your voice." Dusteater moved in closer, his hot breath all over Jandor's face.
Keyum made a signal with his hand. The crew charged as one, overwhelming the rather surprised Daemons and knocking them to the ground. The Grakk were stronger, but they were outnumbered.
"What is this!?" Roared Dusteater. He picked Jandor up by the collar and raised him twenty feet above the ground. "Stop, fools!"
But the job was done. The crew were now in control, wielding the firespitters or picking up their weapons from the pile. Keyum stepped forward.
"You're going to have to let go of our captain, lizard."
The Gehennian snarled, and then dropped his prey. Jandor hit the ground with a thump. He brushed himself down, and then joined his crew. "While your appearance was indeed interesting, I think me and my crew can agree that we'd rather you remained here for the rest of your life."
They backed into the ship, but Dusteater made no move to stop them. "Oh, I'll take that into consideration. After I've killed you all."
As the door started to rise into its closed position, Barrin made a silly face at the Gehennian. Then, it was shut.
The ship's ascent thrusters began to fire, pushing hard against the ground and making ripples in the snow. Dusteater took off after them, and grabbed hold of the ship's fuselage. With a swipe of his claws, he made a long rupture in the outer hull. They were rising fast, clouds shooting down from above to meet them, but the Gehennian held on.
"Ensign! Get the turrets online!"
The four flak turrets that were on that side of the ship were turned to face the dragon. Their guns moved in their fixtures to point directly at the winged creature, who raised his head just in time to see the first bullets fired.
The high-calibre shots smashed into his nanobot adamant, making him judder with each impact. He tried to roar, but the atmosphere was far below. His claws were shaking in the handholds he had made, loosening slowly in their places...
He scrabbled on the smooth armour, but could get no new hold. He began to slip off, floating away slowly from the ship. But that was okay with him, as we was drifting towards the Daemon Battlecruiser that was rapidly appraching from the port side, its bay doors opening to pick him up.
He welcomed the air that rushed into the hold as the bay sealed. Grakk rushed out to attend to him, but he pushed them away. "Shoot that ship out from the sky, now!" He bellowed.
"Yes, lord!" An afrit replied through the intercom, and the pilots got to work.
The ship's lucifer cannon angled to point at the Wanderer.
There was a quiet woosh as nothing came from the gun. "Sir, there's something stuck in the barrel!"
"What is it?"
"A... missile, sir."
It took Dusteater a whole five seconds to process this, by which time the cannon exploded in a gout of flame. The blast travelled up the weapon's mechanism, venting hot plasma into the ship's magazine.
The reaction was fast and intense. The cannon's munitions went off with a colossal bang which, while limited by the small number of shells inside, was enough to rip the ship's underside open and vaporise one of the ship's wings. Trailing smoke and with fire visible inside it, the battlecruiser was stuck turning to port, its other thruster disabled.
"What in the master's name..."
Dusteater was helpless as the Wanderer jumped into FTL and away.
"Can we enter FTL?"
"Not at present, my lord. There is little left of the engines. We will be able to reconstruct the FTL drive but..." The afrit swallowed nervously.
"Our Crossverse entry device is completely gone. We won't be able to get back home."
Dusteater grabbed the Afrit and crushed it in his paw, then clenched his fists and roared at the void.
Then space was silent.