Dietrich was politely escorted out of the office by the same two guards, who seemed to enjoy shoving him along.  The rest were being led to another mech bay by the ancient butler.

  "Why are you dragging me along?  Shouldn't I be flying with them?"  Dietrich asked, walking backwards to face the guards.

  He received a hiss in reply, the man on the right grabbing his shoulder and spinning him around.  Any further comments were silenced as the muzzle of an energy weapon was shoved into the back of the pilot's red hair.  The sparks of it's plasma coils snapping like static on his skin.

  The hallway went for a while, before opening into another huge hangar.  This one with much more repair machinery than the first.  Sitting in the middle was Vici, her broad armored torso pierced with hundreds of wires that hung like webs.  The horrified Dietrich traced them back to a single computer station, where Norse was observing progress.

  "The hell you doing Norse?  Get your men off my machine or I will personally make sure that I go down with this whole mansion!"

  The tingling on his skull quickly grew to a painful series of shocks, as the guard gripped tighter on his weapon.

  "Ah, there he is.  Get him down here would you."  Norse smiled ruthlessly.

  Dietrich felt two arms wrap around his and began to pull forward.  He never stopped staring at Norse.

  "Alright you and your repugnant vessel can leave.  But if you don't want to die, I expect you to do a couple things first."

  "If one of them is listening to you, then go until my ears bleed.  Which will be momentarily."  Dietrich hollered back.

  "Close it, or lose it!"  One guard growled, gripping him by the head.

  "Now Mr.Fokker.  I did put something in that trash heap.  It's a program my scientists devised, right before I killed all of them in a little experiment.  Their curiosity got the better of them, so I let them take a ship to the planet.  Destroyed I assume, not twenty kilometers from the atmosphere, which is quite volatile by the way."

  "The program."  Dietrich said coughing.

  "It is a language program devised to help you.  I was going to put it in the New Age prototype, but this thing actually fits the role better."

  Even as Norse held all the cards, he was still dangerously close to being torn apart.  He knew that standing before the crazed man was a risk.  But it didn't bother him at all.  Because he knew that Dietrich still wanted to live.

  "So I can read the alien stuff, fine.  But what else did you hide?"

  "Oh, I realize you will do a full scan once inside.  But know that I won't put anything in.  Even for fun.  I need you to do this.  It took me ages to find people with profiles that would be suited to penetrate the barrier."  The two men stared sharply at each other, their eyes burning into each other.

  "I don't want to see you again Norse.  I mean it. So let me in my scrap heap, and let me leave before that smirk of yours drives me to suicide."

  That last exchange nearly brought the guards finger all the way down on the trigger.  But Norse held up his hand, and motioned for him to be freed.  Dietrich crashed to the floor, and stood up shakily.  He didn't bother to glare back at his enemy, Norse knew his thoughts all too well.

  As Dietrich heaved himself up a boarding ladder, one of the guards taunted;"We're the wardens loser!  And the universe is your prison!"

  Vici drifted quietly through the void.  Dietrich maintained radio silence, quietly coordinating the team's decent.  He had joined up in formation with the other mechs a few minutes ago, after leaving the transport vessel that had driven them to this forsaken place.  He had brought up specs on all of their vessels, besides the prototype that Tillie used.

  "Dietrich."  Came a crackle over the headset.

  "Yeah?"  Replied Dietrich, flipping through the data on the planet again.

  Wind speeds were insane, the whole cloud layer around the planet seemed to be in a constant state of turmoil.  Super storms bursting in and out across the globe, some capable of flattening a city in minutes.  What more, the clouds had a composition of non-natural gasses that were prone to generating and conducting electricity.  The interesting thing was that the huge spikes were where the worst of it was happening.  They appeared to have a base diameter of three hundred kilometers, and a mind boggling length.  A construct so huge that if destroyed, parts of it would simply fall into orbit.

  "You think we can keep formation through that?"  Seth asked skeptically, referring to the bubbling cloud layer they were approaching.

  "Not really.  But I don't have any other way of doing it."

  "Then I guess 'unto the breach' would be appropriate.  Let's begin."

  Dietrich didn't need to be told twice, he set the arc patterns for landing, and prepped his shielding for the atmosphere.  The whole group took a symmetrical formation with three mechs in a triangle with Jack and Tillie as outliers to each side.

  Within an hour, everyone was within fifty kilometers of the planet.  Ever since they had begun to approach this bizarre world, people Besides the ominous feeling that everyone had in their gut, weird things were coming over the coms.  At first they were indistinguishable garbled things, pings and crackles.  But then something like a voice came over the radio, making Dietrich jump.  He filtered it, and realized that these were reports from the science vessel Norse had sent.  The messages were ghostly, each one opening with a date four weeks old.  Every few minutes, a new one would go through.

  "Time; four-hundred eigCrrrrrht twenty-one ninety. Jeremiah, chief of security, has suffered a mental breakdown.  He had been pounding at the walls for an hour before we put him in solitaryCRRRRRconfinement."  The fifth log ended with a beep before everything went silent.

  Everyone seemed to hesitate to speak, afraid to talk over the dead.

  "What is going on?"  Asked Joey over the radio.

  "I don't know how we're getting these things.  It ignores everything I understand about radio transmissions."  Dietrich replied, his face pale.

  "Time; seven-hundred....never mind.  The ship's engines are incapable of pulling us back.  AnotherCRRRRbeam struck the ship a few minutes ago.  We won't be able to survive the storms below, I don't need instruments besides my own eyes to figure that out.  Norse.  Damn him, we were just a play toy for his tests."

  Silence yet again.  Unbroken, for a long time.

  "We're about to head in another thirty kilometers.  Everyone keep tight."  Seth called over.

  "Roger."  Came a nearly unanimous reply.

  Dietrich felt bad, as if his head was being forced open and looked at.  He suddenly remembered things from ten years back that he assumed were lost.  Was this the barrier probing his mind?

  "I can't concentrate!"  Growled Dietrich aloud.

  "Watch it!"  Called Joey.

  Dietrich realized he hadn't kept tabs on where they were.  They were falling into the atmosphere, and weren't prepared.  Vici was about to smash into Joey's mech, which appeared to have it's joints locked for a state of landing.

  Oh no.  Please no.

  Dietrich was sweating, Vici was building a burning red corona around her hull.  Nothing but the swirling clouds and dancing lightning filled his monitor.  They were heading in, puncturing misty holes in the gargantuan thunderheads.

  "Hold your patterns!  We'll hit each other in this!"  Dietrich yelled over the roaring air.

  It was too late, Jack came screaming by and sheared off some of Vici's armor plating, rupturing a control line.  Glutton spun off to the left, and out of vision, narrowly avoiding a fatal collision with Joey.

  "Brace!  Brace!  Planet surface in twelve seconds!"

  Dietrich came out of the cloud layer first it seemed.  He only looked for a second, but on his monitors he saw an alien world far different than he had imagined.  Long mountain ranges dotted the horizon, silhouettes hidden by an intense fog.  The ground was a barren steppe, odd black vegetation dotting the landscape.  In the middle of it was something incredible, and(to the human onlooker) supernatural.  A huge symbol that spanned acres wide was carved into the ground, and it's lines were glowing with a purple aura.  The first word that came to mind was;


  Dietrich was too overwhelmed to think about the nearing rocks below.  Even as he struggled to grasp the chutes and engage reverse thrusters, he could only watch the mystic images play over through his eyes.

  Die and be

  His hand tightened around the chute lever, and with one last instinct driven move, he shoved it down.

  Vici buckled with such ferocity that it tossed her pilot right into the cockpit ceiling.  Three chutes came out, but instantly one broke away.  The reverse thrust activated, three ports blasting away and expending a third of the fuel trying to keep the giant from splintering across the ground.  But as the altimeter quickly ticked closer to zero, it was made obvious that impact would be less than graceful.

  Rocks flew asunder, and the ground rumbled as Vici struck the ground.  Touching the ground had torn open the arm even further, and it skid across into a small cliff face.  That had severely damaged one of the pods on the back.

  The pilot was out cold, his mind overburdened and incapable of keeping him awake through the madness.


  "Come in!  Everyone!"

  Dietrich's eyes flipped open.  The place on his back where he had hit felt like it should have killed him.  Seth's voice had woke him.

  "This is Joey!  It wasn't pretty, but I'm down!"

  "I'm okay."  Tillie replied quietly.

  "Jack here, I don't see Dietrich!  He might have veered off when I hit him!"

  "I'm-I'm here."  Dietrich coughed.

  Quickly he assessed damage, coming to the conclusion that only the left arm was inoperable.  It was really remarkable that the few wounds to the outer hull were all Vici received.

  "What was that thing I saw on the way down?"  Dietrich asked.

  "I saw it too, someone is quite an artist."  Jack replied.

  Dietrich began to rise from the crash site.  The mech got it's footing on the foreign rocks, standing up to survey the area.  He saw all the other mechs standing as well, Seth's left a huge crater behind when he crashed.

  "Hey, Norse's lackeys were right, we can breathe this air.  It's got all the right stuff, but I wouldn't stay out there all too long.  These levels of contaminants aren't great for the lungs."  Dietrich reported,

  "How far are we off the drop point?"  Asked Joey,"cause, we sure didn't come down smooth."

  He was right, they were quite a ways off.  It looked like they would have to walk a few kilometers before getting to the place that Norse had calculated the barrier was coming from.

  "Target is north."  Tillie said over the mike.

  "Then let's move."  Seth suggested.

  Trudging across the fog layered landscape for a while wasn't great, but it did give the still functioning drones a chance to patch up Vici's body, and restore movement to the arm.

  "Hey guys, you seeing this?"  Joey asked over the coms.

  Dietrich turned his attention ahead, and his jaw dropped.

  The group had gone over a barren hill in an attempt to get a better vantage point, which they did.  Far beyond was a long and deep field that stretched for miles.  Littered over the entire expanse were things.  Things is the only way to describe them.  Xeno machinery that ranged from mech-like suits of armor to gargantuan cylindrical vessels that were larger than any earth military ship.  But these were not shiny new alien devices, they were in states of disrepair.  Long, woody vines drooped over the giant spaceship hulls, and the Xeno mechs were falling to pieces.

  "Is this a scrapyard?"  Asked Dietrich in amazement.

  "It feels more like a graveyard."  Seth replied as he led the group down into the rows of ancient machines.

  The first thing everyone did was examine one of the Xeno mechs.  They were skinny, and shrouded in armor.  Some even had things like a cloak draped over them.  Some actually glowed faintly, displaying a symbols like the one they had seen coming down.  These runic mechs were also jointless, held together through some force that had weakened and caused the limbs to fall off where no power was present.

  It was very eerie to wander amongst the disused leftovers from a dead civilization.  It was like staring at tombstones.  One realizes that this husk is the legacy of a species long fallen.

  "Guys, I've got movement!"

  Dietrich turned, seeing some dark shape flying by,"me too, not any of you right?"

  "I don't think so, I'm all on my own."  Seth replied.

  There was a hiss Dietrich's ears, he traced it to a long bandage that disappeared behind a row of mechs.

  "I'm following!"  Dietrich yelled.

  Vici was off, running swiftly through the forest of metal and plant.  He pushed a kneeling mech out of the way and caught a glimpse of the bandage again.  As he brust around the next corner, it teased him once more.  Long this chase went before Dietrich though he had it cornered.  As he turned again, shock cannon unloaded, he came upon the next most disturbing thing he had seen.

  There was a hall of mechs, but these were different.  Unlike the others that had been dilapidated, something had scuttled these in a messy fashion that contrast the order that had been put into this scrapyard.

  This had been done, Dietrich assumed, by the abominations at the end of the line.  Beast or machine he couldn't tell, each not taking away how sickening they looked.  The first one he chased was a floating pod encased in wrappings.  But that is where machine ends, the shell was cracked and out of it flailed a tentacle.  It dripped with a mucus like substance, as did the hole in the front which had a circular maw crested with unnaturally shaped fangs.

  Behind it were others of these freakish things, and they were feeding on one of the xeno mechs!  They all suffered the same deformities, and were wrapped in veils of black, rune covered cloth.

  They finished eating the one mech, and then turned to face the prey that had blindly wandered into their hunting grounds.







The End

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