Chapter Index
-First Command - A Tom Corbett Adventure

Chapter 22

Colonel Dumas, looked at his chronograph at the seconds ticked down to zero. He turned his eyes away as four nuclear detonators exploded simultaneously. Even at a distance of ten miles from the nearest explosion, the shock wave made the soft Venusian soil undulate like a Jovian moon-serpent. Tables and chairs of the field headquarters were thrown high into the air and men scrambled to retain their footing. Even the relatively heavy all-terrain vehicles bounced as high as a foot off of the soil bed.

"Letís go!", shouted Dumas even as his engineers began moving toward Senís base. As they sped toward a series of ventilator shafts, a flight of Solar Guard ground attack craft screamed over their heads. "Letís hope that the infiltrators have done their jobs.", thought the Colonel.

The confusion suddenly became chaos as the nuclear charges shook every section of Senís base. Roger had been resting, half-conscious, against a console. As soon as the explosions began shaking the lab, Roger called on his training to summon enough strength to begin destroying the radio links to the outside sensors. He began cutting wires and cables and used a large spanner to smash controls.

A technician entered the room and shouted, "What do you think you are doing!?"

Roger turned to him and held the wrench high over his head, threatening the man. The technician, seeing Rogerís actions, thought the young man had gone mad and instead of interfering, decided that he would be better off trying to find a safe place in case the comet had caused damage to the corridors. He left the lab without another thought about Roger. Self-preservation became his priority. Surprised by the manís actions, Roger was glad that he wouldnít have to fight. He returned to the business of destroying the communications system even as he began coughing blood from his lungs.

As soon as he regained his footing, Astro began opening the main circuits from the power station. As each section of the base lost itís power, the backup lighting and ventilation systems came on line. Although the lighting was much dimmer than that supplied by the main power units, it was bright enough to allow movement with safety. When the circuits were shut down, Astro entered the stairway to the generator cavern and descended. He scurried along the catwalk at a run and was almost halfway to the row of generators when a bright orange light erupted from behind and above him. The right railing of the catwalk exploded in a shower of sparks as the heat ray vaporized the molecules of the steel.

Astro turned in time to see a lone figure attempting to close the distance between them. He looked around, trying to find a suitable location to jump off of the catwalk, but there was too much distance between the cavern floor and the walkway. He began running as fast as he could and did not hesitate when his pursuer called, "Halt!" and unleashed another bolt of heat energy. The ray passed two feet over his head and struck rocks on the far end of the cavern. As he reached the end of the walkway, Astro leaped off of the end, bypassing the five-foot high ladder that led down to the cavern floor. He began running down the row of screaming generators that were being powered by high pressure water from a swift underground river. Astroís ears began to hurt from the intense sound and as soon as he was able to duck out of sight from the soldier, he ran behind one of the great turbines and searched for a suitable place to hide. He found a snail-shaped coil of tubing that would allow him to squeeze into the center and he quickly wiggled his way deep into the coil. Once hidden, Astro became aware that the tubing was very warm. In fact, the heat was almost unbearable, but he called on his training to allow him to endure the pain. After a minute, he could see the reflection of the soldier in a polished copper sheet. He ducked as far into the coil as he could as the man with the blaster passed by while slowly inspecting each generator unit. After the soldier was out of sight, Astro thrust his stump out of the coil and pulled himself free of the hot machinery. He knelt behind one of the generator casings and slowly peeked around the edge of the unit. The man continued walking past the next generator and looked down the row of machinery. Astro took a deep breath and, using the noise to disguise his movements landed a jump-kick directly into the back of the trooper. Caught completely by surprise, the manís arms flailed ahead of him in order to break his fall. He instinctively let go of the blaster, which rattled on the steel flooring about twenty feet in front of him. Astro prepared himself for hand-to-hand combat even as his foe came to his feet and squared-off with the big Venusian. The manís dark gray uniform had helped to hide the fact that he had a large combat knife in a scabbard that was strapped to his left leg. As he drew the blade, the dim emergency lights reflected off of the wicked steel. He made a slash toward Astroís midsection, which the Venusian attempted to block with his left hand. The instinctive move almost cost Astro his life because he did not have a left hand to deflect the blade. Had he not been quicker, the sharp blade would have cut deeper, but he only received a surface wound, which was partly absorbed by his clothing. The soldier switched the knife to his right hand and charged Astro in an attempt to stab him. Astro leaped into the air off of his right foot and brought his left foot up solidly under the manís arm and immediately dislocated the arm at the shoulder. In the same movement, Astroís right heel caught the man directly on the chin which snapped his head back so quickly that his helmet flew off of his head. The uniformed man fell at Astroís feet, out cold.

Astro, panting from the exertion of combat, grabbed the heat blaster and began dispensing heat rays into the bearings of the turbine units. The bearings immediately overheated and blew apart causing the turbine to seize. As Astro worked his way down the row of generators, he hoped that Tom and Roger had been as successful.

Bull and Paul kept pace with a group of men that were heading toward the rocket launchers. After taking positions near one of the two ships that were poised on steep ramps that helped to stabilize the ships during the initial moment of flight, they grabbed tools and wire in an attempt to look as if they were performing official duties. A familiar voice called to them from the direction of the other ship.

"You men! Come here!"

Paul did not recognize the voice immediately and he froze momentarily as he believed that he and Bull had been discovered.

"Over here! Now!", called the voice.

Paul looked toward the second ship and his eyes followed a boarding ladder up to an open hatch. He was relieved to see Tom motioning to Bull and himself to board. The officers quickly jogged to the ladder and began climbing to the entrance. As soon as they were both aboard, Tom saluted and asked, "Are you ready to leave this place?" Both men nodded and Tom directed them to the upper level of the ship.

"Itís pretty cramped in here.", said Tom as they climbed past a series of space-mine dispensers that were fully loaded. Once in the cockpit, Tom told his superiors that the only other seats were at the atomic cannon turret positions and that they should strap themselves in for immediate blast off.

"Lieutenant! Can you fly this thing by yourself?", shouted Bull.

"No problem, Sir. Itís all controlled from the pilotís position and it doesnít have much range. You and Major Robb have the astrogation equipment. Just give me the coordinates to the Space Station after we clear the atmosphere."

"Youíll have them, Lieutenant! Now, letís raise ship!"

As Tom pressed the buttons that began priming the coolant pumps, the ship and ramp shook violently as nearby explosions began tearing the doors and gratings off of ventilation shafts.

"Here come the Space-Marines!", shouted Paul just as his head was pinned against the acceleration chairís headrest as the sleek ship jumped toward the outer end of the launch tube.

Around the complex, a coordinated attack by ten-thousand Space Marines was taking place. As the Engineers blew open the openings, masses of men, who had assembled through the blinded monitoring devices, began pouring through the tunnels. Resistance was light because the workers were unprepared for a fight and Senís soldiers were quickly overwhelmed. Those who managed to take up defensive positions, were incapacitated by sleeping gas grenades or parallo-rays. It would take less than an hour to secure the entire base.

"Master Sen!", spoke the tired man. "The situation is grave, indeed. Our home will be overrun within minutes. Please, Master, let us evacuate this base."

Sen looked up to his advisor as he tried to evaluate his position.

"Yes. We will evacuate. Prepare my ship and assemble a guard unit to escort me."

The man bowed and left the room. He gave instructions to several soldiers and waited for the units to arrive.

Senís mind began to formulate plans of escape, but they were quickly put aside as his rage would only allow him to perform a brutal act of revenge.

A stream of vehicles quickly took positions at the base of the rocket launch ramp. Soldiers filed of the trucks and formed a barricade around the perimeter. An officer opened the door of a vehicle and the white-clad figure of Tamos Sen quickly stepped out and walked to the boarding ladder of the waiting ship. As he climbed the ladder, he noticed that the second ship was missing.

"Where is Number Two?", he shouted to a technician.

The man cupped his hands over his mouth and shouted back, "It left without clearance over ten minutes ago, Sire!"

"Cowards!", spat Sen as he continued climbing the ladder. "Even my pilots are deserting me!"

Sen quickly climbed to one of the turret positions and shouted to the pilot, "Go, you fool! We havenít much time."

The primed shipís tail spouted fire as reactant was introduced into the nuclear furnace. The escort, unprepared for an immediate departure, ran for their lives, as the flames spread around the launch area. Within a few seconds, the ship pierced the night sky above Ishtar Terra. As soon as the ship was stable in itís flight, the pilot shouted back to the turret position.

"Sire, what is our course and destination?"

Sen paused and set his jaw as the words welled up from within his mind. "Our target is the Venus Space Station."

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