Chapter 3, part 1
Day 3, 1100 hours
Ezri and her team walked down the ramp, leaving the Apocalypse ship’s passenger hold. No sooner had they left the ramp, did it recede back into the ship. As the ramp moved backwards, the passenger hatch moved downwards. Both the ramp and the hatch closed in near harmony.
Already Ezri could feel the heat and humidity, it was 35 degrees centigrade, and she inwardly groaned because Trills did not like the heat.
The ship’s wing-mounted thrusters, aimed at the ground, fired up. Slowly the ship began to rise until the thrusters from behind activated and the ship began picking up both speed and height.
Ezri ignored the departing ship, as her eyes were trained on a massive metallic grey coloured blimp, hovering a few hundred metres up. She waited for Juanita and Dallas to announce the start of the match. As always Max had reconfigured the team’s helmets, so that they tapped into the Apocalypse commentary. This would be useful because during arena matches, Dallas and Juanita sometimes revealed what lay ahead during a match.
Even Max could not always update the team, because he could not hack into every blueprint and schematic of the match layout. This was a practice which virtually every mission controller did to varying degrees.
Though against Apocalypse rules, Ezri knew it did not deter mission controllers. She personally suspected that Apocalypse did not clamp down on this practice because it secretly approved of it, as it was another means of prolonging a gladiator’s lifespan.
As she waited, on the grassy ground, for the commentary to begin, she looked straight ahead to where the course began. Past a force field generated by two metallic columns, there was a wide gorge, lined by trees on both sides, and Ezri knew it would be treacherous going.
“Max here, I’m uploading the first part of the course onto your PCD. As you probably gathered you have a gorge to navigate, it extends for half a kilometre before ending at a cliff face.
“And then what?” Ezri asked.
“I’m not sure, but I’ll find out the rest of the course layout before you reach the cliff, Max out.
This did not sound to promising to Ezri, but before she could think anymore about the cliff, the commentary began.
“Today we have a special treat for all you Apocalypse viewers,” said Dallas. “Team UFP are down on the planet Dollebia, it’s hot, it’s humid and the native wildlife is just as unaccommodating. If Team UFP survive the gorge, make there way across the valley, they will come to an abandoned temple. In there we have a little surprise for them, as they will have to defeat what we affectionately call ‘The Leviathan’.”
Dallas smirked to Juanita, who elaborated upon the leviathan. “Some of Apocalypse’s fiercest gladiators have died at the claws of the leviathan. No doubt Team UFP will join those departed warriors.”
“But enough said already,” said Dallas excitedly, “and let us get to the action!”
The force field disappeared and Ezri knew the match had now started. “You know the drill!” she said to the rest of the team.
Making their way past the two black columns, the team headed down a grassy slope. As always their rifles were held up since danger could come at any time and from any point. The slope became considerably steeper and now the team was clambering down a rock face.
Juanita looked down from the cockpit and at the gorge. “In the first part of the course, Team UFP must navigate through the gorge which will eventually come out to a sheer rock face. The terrain is treacherous, ambushes abound, and the inexperienced gladiator is easy pickings for the dangers lurking inside this gorge!”
The lack of action made Ezri uneasy, and she wanted to get down onto the flatter, though still rocky, terrain as soon as possible because she was ridiculously exposed clambering down this steep rock face. Suddenly phaser fire hit the rock surfaces next to her, and she quickened her speed. She jumped the last two metres, landing heavily onto the rocky floor.
Her feet seized up from the impact, but her ankles felt fine, and Ezri dashed over to some boulders the size of escape pods. Jake, Holo and Nog were now moving over to positions of cover, and while they did that Ezri fired a few pot shots at some combat droids lurking amongst the rocks.
The droids had been painted in a grey rocky camouflage pattern, making them difficult to spot. So Ezri switched to the partial infrared/natural light setting on her visor. Bringing it downwards, her vision became more black and white in colour, while the outlines of the droids were now a dull glowing orange.
Looking to her team mates, who were now behind cover, she signalled to them giving them a countdown of three. Holding up her hand she held up a finger, two fingers, three fingers…
She and her team mates burst out of cover, firing at the droids. Ezri fired a few rounds at one such droid, and one round hit the droid’s head causing it to explode into burning pieces of shrapnel. Her thallium powered rifle was really doing the trick, and she marvelled at how it chipped away at the rocks the droids were hiding behind.
Moving out she advanced to the remaining droid’s positions.
Holo did the same lowering himself and quickly, and quietly, moved forwards. One of the combat droids moved out of cover, but Holo was more than a match for him. A round had been discharged from his weapon before the droid even raised his rifle.
The three remaining droids burst from the rocks, but Ezri and Holo dived downwards into a prone position, while Jake and Nog finished the droids off.
Ezri got back to her feet. “Let’s keep moving. Nog you cover from behind and keep those lobes of yours open!”
She moved, alongside with Holo, deeper into the gorge. Not only did she have to keep her eyes peeled for enemies, but she had to watch where she put her feet. The gravelly track was not always so, and Ezri hated the brief times when she had to lower her rifle to get over a particularly large boulder.
It was easy destroying the next few lines of droids, as they were not so nimble moving around the rocky terrain. However things became very ugly when a fifty strong horde of slashers came flying into the gorge.
“Slashers!” warned Ezri, as she looked upwards.
At once the rest of her team trained their rifles upwards and started firing. Even so it was not enough and about half a dozen slashers came flying towards each member of the team.
It was hard destroying them because they drifted around so much. When four slashers slowed down and were within two metres of Ezri, their blades whipped out of the spherical body and began whirring around. She managed to destroy three of them but turning around the fourth was too close. Its blades made several revolutions penetrating her armour and digging many centimetres into her flesh.
The blades were agony as they dug into her intestines, but gritting her teeth, Ezri aimed her rifle at the slasher and fired. The round made a huge whole straight through the slasher’s centre, and the blades suddenly stopped. One of the blades embedded into her intestines, splintering from the burnt slasher’s body.
“Ooh those slashers!” exclaimed Dallas. “They probably cause the most painful injuries that gladiators have to endure!”
Blood was already pouring out of Ezri’s wound, and it hurt like mad. Still she had to get the blade out of body, looking around she noticed the slashers were no more.
Jake, Holo and Nog were hurrying over, with Jake and Nog looking concerned at the thirty centimetre long blade protruding out of Ezri’s abdomen.
“Do you need some assistance captain?” Nog asked.
“No,” said Ezri grimacing. “I just got to take it out of my guts!”
Clenching her teeth together, she got her left hand to the blade and tugged. For a moment her wound felt like it was on fire, and Ezri let out a shout of pain. The pain settled down, and the more she breathed the better she felt. Now the nanites were working, the blood flow had been staunched, and the pain was further receding.
Still Jake and Nog looked a little worried, and Ezri had to chivy them along. “It's nothing this wound, I’m feeling better already! So stop standing around like idiots and get moving!”
She started walking again and the rest of the team followed. What surprised her was how the armour was penetrated, this was armour she had bought a few days ago and was supposedly stronger than the original gladiator suit of armour. Though maybe these slashers had extra sharp blades… It was the only explanation and served to remind Ezri that Apocalypse was not going to make things any easier with the matches.
After defeating some more combat droids, the team came out of the gorge and were now facing a huge three hundred metre high cliff.
“What on Trill do we now?” said Ezri, more to herself.
“Look over there,” said Holo, pointing to a circular platform. “I think we use that to somehow proceed to the next part of the course!”
“You think so?” said Jake sceptically.
“Let’s go to the platform and find out what it does,” said Ezri wearily.
As she walked closer, she noticed the platform was made of some blue glowing material, while black tritanium plating lined the perimeter.
“I know what this platform is,
” said Max through Ezri’s earpiece. “It’s a transporter pad, just step on it and it will automatically beam you over to a preprogrammed destination point!
“Thanks Max!” said Ezri gratefully.
Turning around she addressed the whole team. “It’s a transporter pad, Max told me, we just step on and it will beam us over to the next part of the course.”
However Jake, Nog and Holo were looking dubiously at Ezri, they did not seem to believe this. So deciding to take the lead in matters, Ezri decided that she would step onto the pad first. “I’ll step on the pad first…” she told her team.
Walking over she stepped onto the transporter pad, which was less than half a metre in diameter. The moment both her feet were on the pad, she saw a green transporter beam dematerialise her.
Moments later she materialized onto a small clearing between the edge of a forest and the edge of the cliff. Walking over to the edge, she came to a stop and looked down. She could just see Jake, Nog and Holo down at the bottom of the gorge.
“It’s alright!” she yelled at the top of her voice.
This did the trick as moments later Jake, Nog and Holo had materialized close to her position.
Dallas was rifling through his commentary notes on a padd, and he pretended to be surprised when he saw on the screen Team UFP materialising on top of the cliff. “Having easily made the first part, Team UFP must navigate through a two kilometre long track through the jungle.”
“It’s not only Apocalypse opponents they have to worry about,” warned Juanita. “There are other dangers lurking amongst the trees!”
“Indeed,” said Dallas automatically. “If they do make it through the second part of the course, then at the end there are two hovertanks which will be at Team UFP’s disposal!”
Ezri turned her back to the cliff edge and looked at the dusty track leading into the jungle. She did not like it one bit and she needed a map of the route. “Ezri here, Max I need a map of this jungle route now!”
“Just a moment…
“Hurry!” she warned. “I can’t wait around and I’m proceeding right now into the jungle.”
She signalled to her team to follow her into the jungle, as she walked along the track the tall trees loomed overhead, and Max finally responded.
“Alright, I’ve got the map for this part of the course, I’m uploading it into your PCD right now.
Now Ezri was inside the jungle. Tall and twisting brown tree trunks stretched high above her from the ground. Massive green shrubs and ivy like plants filled the undergrowth. The track was winding and somewhat indistinct, and Ezri quickly took out her PCD, her personal computer device, and flicked to the recent downloaded contents of the map.
Thankfully the route she was taking was straight, more or less, and Max had even been generous enough to provide a reading of how close to the centre of the path Ezri and her team were. This was important in case she lost sight of the path, also another handy feature was a red marker that filled a small part of the yellow route shown on the map. Already a tiny bit of red had covered the yellow, showing to Ezri just how far she had to go...