The Darkness Between Doors

by Geron Kees

Chapter 11

The nights on Rustgevend were dark ones. There was no moon, nothing to light the sky but stars. So the lights in the station on Crowla's peak could be seen from miles away.

"Looks like a spotlight of some sort, aimed into the tube from the station proper," Mike said, zooming in with his head bubble after they had come closer. "Looks like we're expected."

Erva, studying the distant scene through his binoculars, grunted. "I see ten men armed with staves inside the station, guarding the approach from the tube. And several more to their rear, also armed. They mean business, it would seem."

"I am detecting others, atop the station outside, and below the station, on the flank of the mountain," Nyf said on the private channel. "They are guarding against fliers - our Sasparian friends - I think."

Mike passed that information to the others.

"Crowla will not be taken easily," Mergrun offered. "He has to know now that his crimes cannot go unpunished. He will fight, rather than surrender." He gave a short, hissing laugh. "He did not foresee the intervention of the Armenti in his plans."

"It's not a done deal yet," Mike cautioned. "Ten staves can fill that tube with death for anyone that approaches."

"Nyf, would our suits withstand the bolts from ten staves at once?" Derry asked, on the private channel.

"I would say the danger would be significant," the artificial mind returned. "The tube is electrically neutral and will serve as a guide for the many bolts, focusing them and increasing their range. It would be impossible for you to approach without receiving the full brunt of their attack."

"We'd have the range on them with our zap guns, wouldn't we?" Cally asked.

"It would be close. You would need all three weapons at once to take down the ten guards. That means all three of you getting dangerously close to the staves. It is not an advisable course of action."

"I don't like the odds, myself," Mike said, frowning. "At least these people are inexperienced. This looks like a much better-planned defense than those jokers back at Aginshir offered up. But it still has its limitations."

Taking the Crites at Aginshir had been even simpler than it had been at Inishee. They had made their way to the open center of the building, and again found the odd blue bushes offering good cover between the door and their adversaries. The four enemy Crites had assembled Aginshir and her people on the central lawn, allowing them to seat themselves at the many tables and be comfortable, at least. The four guards stood at the points of a square around the group, with one of them close enough to Aginshir's table to keep heckling them about joining their cause.

"Crowla will reward those that are loyal," that one was saying. "This planet is in need of change. The empire has deserted us, leaving us to fend for ourselves."

"And yet we have been quite comfortable here," Aginshir returned calmly. "There has been no danger to our existence. Until now."

The holding leader was in female mode apparently, though Derry didn't pretend to understand the complexities of Crite sexuality. Only the fact that both Mergrun and Garmin referred to the holding leader as she had cued them in to the difference. Aginshir's brightly-colored clothing seemed no different than that of anyone else that Derry could see, and her voice sounded much the same as any of the male voices he had heard, though all Crite voices had a fairly neutral tone. All Crites were referred to as he, apparently, unless they were definitely in female mode, even though the average Crite on any given day was no more male than female. Nyf had explained it as a practical artifact of translation purely for the humans rather than a literal description of gender, and let it go at that.

"Comfort is the same as stagnation," the Crite with the staff called back, sounding a little more belligerent now. "Crowla would see us back on the galactic scene once more. The doors are open, and ready for use. We have been testing the door at our own station, and no harm has come to those that have used it. We will soon be testing the doors at the hub station, once all are armed with these new weapons." As if to accent that final remark, the Crite took his staff and tapped the ground with it several times.

"And what of the Armenti?" Aginshir asked. "Your own people have let slip word of their return to stop what you plan to do."

"They are few in number. What can they do to stop us?"

Aginshir released a short, hissing laugh. "You test them, and only a fool would do that. If you harm these three, do you fail to see that they will be back in even greater numbers? And with even greater weapons?"

The leader of the Crite invaders didn't like hearing that at all. "Crowla will deal with them," he blustered. "Soon we will have a hundred of the staves. And there would seem to be even more of interest to find on the world that lies through our very own doorway. Once we are armed, we will see what lies beyond the other doors. If the Armenti cannot run the empire, we will do it for them!"

Erva gave a quiet, disgusted sigh. "Fools," he whispered. "Crowla has filled their heads with nonsense of greatness. They fail to see their own limitations, even as they are paraded before them."

Mike just grunted. "We're well-positioned. All four of these jokers are in our line of site. Derry? You get the one in the back there, on the left. Cally? Take the one in the back on the right. I'll get the one in front on the left, and then bounce over and get the leader. Ready?"


"Me, too."

And then it was done. The first three Crites dropped immediately under the beams from their zap guns, while the leader briefly froze in amazement, unable to react in time before Mike shot him, too. And then it was simply a matter of collecting the staves and securing their 'guests'. Aginshir was happy to see them, and immediately sent some of her people to retrieve the fifth enemy Crite bound in the hallway, and the staff hidden under the bushes outside. And then they were down to dealing with Crowla and his home peak.

"I suggest a night approach," Mergrun said to Mike, after they had all sat down to talk about it.

"Won't everyone be awake then?" Derry asked.

"Yes, but my feeling is that there will be a substantial force awake during the day now, anyway. Crowla has been hitting the other Crite peaks during their sleep periods in order to minimize interference. I am thinking of our approach to their peak through the tube now. In sunlight, we will be visible to them for a long time in the tube before we arrive at their station. And I am sure they will be watching for us, too."

"Makes sense to me," Mike said. "Erva? Koort?"

"It does make sense," the Sasparian agreed. "Visibility will be our enemy."

"I also think there is some wisdom to a night approach," Koort agreed. "Even should we get there and find we cannot enter for some reason, we can still retreat without being seen. That way we do not tip our hand too early."

And so it was decided on a night approach to Crowla Holding. They spent the rest of the day napping and relaxing, ate a good meal, and then were off at sunset. Aginshir asked if they needed further help in their mission, and seemed unperturbed when Mike said he felt they had enough people already to do the job. She wished them safe journey, and bid them to return after their quest was completed to pass on the results of the mission.

And now, here they were in the tube, perhaps a half mile from Crowla holding, and the place was so well lit that they could not safely approach.

"Where'd they get the spotlight, I wonder?" Derry asked.

Gilden spoke up from behind them. "Such things are available in the maintenance stores of all the peaks. We seldom have use for them."

"Well, it's a problem now," Mike said, sounding slightly irritated.

"My people would approach from the air," Gilden added. "We would be difficult to see at night."

Mike nodded. "But your wings make quite an unmistakable sound, and you would be heard. Especially in numbers. And it seems they have thought of your people and taken precautions."

"Um, I have an idea," Derry said then, aloud so that everyone could hear.

The humans had their head bubbles up to make use of the night vision they enabled. His granddad offered up a thin smile, which was probably visible to the others, even under the limited light from the stars. The Crites apparently could see it easily enough, having a strong night vision themselves. Mergrun and Garmin both smiled.

"I'm not surprised," granddad said, with some sense of wary anticipation. "What is it?"

Derry turned to Cally, whose eyes immediately fastened upon his own. He saw reassurance there, and a prompt to go on.

"Well, if Cally and I flew back to Aginshir through the tube, we could be there in ten minutes or so. We could leave the station through one of those emergency panels, and then fly across to Crowla's peak. They may be listening for Sasparian fliers, but they won't hear us or see us. We will be able to see them in the dark, and knock them out. Once we get to the station, we'll go in through one of those emergency panels. That would put us behind the ones we see waiting. They'd be watching the tube. I think we could shoot them all and knock them out before they knew what was happening."

"If I may point out," Garmin said then, "Crite night vision is quite good. We are a nocturnal species, remember."

"I know." Derry nodded. "Our suits can mimic the night very well, and I figured to cross high up and then drop straight down on them. They'll be watching for an approach lower down, not from directly above."

"Another thing," Mergrun added quickly. "Those weapons of yours make a very distinctive sound. One loosed upon those on the roof, anyone else outside the station will hear them."

"How about the ones inside?" Derry asked.

Mergrun and Garmin glanced at each other, and Garmin gave his head a wag. "We think not," Mergrun added then, turning back to them. "Those inside the station will not hear what happens outside its walls."

"Crowla's people have never heard the weapons fired, anyway," Erva said then. "Even Dith and those with him were unconscious before the sound could register. So if someone else hears those on the roof being taken down, will they even know it signals an attack?"

Mike grunted. "It would put me on alert. But...those are a lot of questions." He was silent after that, and Derry could almost feel the man thinking.

"You'll have to trust us to do stuff on our own at some point," Derry said patiently, now on the private channel. "You've been in charge here, and rightly so. But you can't do everything on your own, granddad."

"I could be the one to fly over," the man said, as if he had not heard his grandson's plea. But Derry could hear the doubt in his grandfather's words, even across the private link.

"That would be just one gun," Cally pointed out.

"I could take one of yours along," the man countered. "That would give me two."

"But you'd still only have one set of eyes," Derry reminded. "And you just couldn't be as effective as two of us."

Granddad was silent again for several seconds, and then they could see him nod. "I needed you to talk me into it a little, son. But...even I can see it's the best plan we have."

Derry felt a small thrill run through his body, followed immediately by a more sobering sense of doubt. Could they do this? He looked over at his boyfriend. "Are you good with this?"

His boyfriend smiled. "I said I had your back."

Derry smiled, too, and turned back to his grandfather, whose eyes seemed very intense now. "We can do it."

The man nodded, and went over the plan again aloud so that everyone could hear the decision. "So while Derry and Cally are doing their part, we here will to get as close as we can while still being out of sight, wait until we see the enemy start to go down, and then we charge them. I'm going to fly ahead at that point, and you will all just have to make the best speed you can. Is this acceptable?"

"It makes sense to me," Erva said. "You three are the most able among us, the fastest, and the best protected." He gave a short laugh. "And the best armed. It would be unwise not to use this advantage."

"I agree," Koort said. "Justice, for me, does not require that I be in the front line to serve it. Only that I be there at some point to see it done. This sounds like a good plan to me."

"I see no other way to approach them," Garmin agreed. "This plan can work."

"Yes," Mergrun agreed. "I will go with whatever you suggest."

Granddad swiveled to look at Gilden. "And you?"

Derry could sense the boy's surprise. "Me?"

Granddad laughed. "Sure. You're a part of this show. What do you think?"


Erva reached out a hand and dropped it on his son's shoulder. "Speak your mind, son."

Gilden's wings clapped together faintly. "I would add something to this plan."

"We're listening," Mike said.

Gilden made a small, nervous sound, and then took a step towards the human. "I would go back to Aginshir with Derry and Cally. I will then fly with them - or as closely as possible after them, since they are faster - back to Crowla's peak."

"But the sound of your wings may be heard," Erva reminded. "You would be targeted, if they hear you."

Gilden's eyes were bright in the starlight. "I will not fly all the way to Crowla holding. I will approach only until I feel I may be heard, which is at least as close as we are now, and then I will land atop the tube, and run the rest of the way. As I get closer, I will slow and make my way more quietly. The light they have mounted fills the tube and will keep them from seeing me outside. I will then be there, much closer to Derry and Cally than all of you, to serve as back up if needed."

"The very light that fills the tube will make you visible to those on the roof," Koort pointed out.

"Yes, but if Derry and Cally get there first, and they will, they will take out those on the roof, anyway. Correct?"

Derry smiled. "Correct."

"So there will be no one to see me. Once there I will climb to the roof of the station and let myself down the side. I will not need my wings for that."

"There will still be those on the ground to consider," Erva said. "You may be seen, if not heard."

"They are well below the station roof, and the upper level where the tubes meet. They have set themselves to guard against fliers crossing between the mountains down low., while those on the roof guard against fliers crossing higher up. I will be above the ones on the ground, and well out of sight. And if they hear anything, it will take them some time to make their way to the station and ascend to the tube level."

Derry turned to his new friend. "It's dangerous. But we would welcome your company." It was all he could offer.

"I know this. And yet, even with your protections, things can go wrong. So it is also dangerous for you, as well. I will not act unless needed, I promise you." Gilden turned to his father. "I will not be reckless."

Erva tilted his head back a moment, as if making a decision, and then turned back to Mike. "It seems a worthy safeguard. And I trust in my son."

"Yeah." Derry's grandfather gently cleared his throat, and nodded. "Okay. We'll do it as you've all said, then. Derry, Cally, Gilden - all of you - be careful."

The thrill reasserted itself inside Derry. He turned to Cally and patted his arm. "Ready?"

"Uh huh."



Derry raised himself on his contragravity effect, waited for Cally to join him, and then the two of them drifted slowly back up the tube the way they had come, before turning to look back. Gilden gave his father a quick hug, pulled his lance close to his body, walked away from the group, and launched himself into flight after them.

"Let's go," Derry told Cally, and the two accelerated forward down the tube, heading back to Aginshir Holding.

And, hopefully, towards an end to Crowla's ambitions.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead