The distant Sun peeked out from behind Jupiter and shown down on the small gaseous moon, Io. It had just crested above the highest peak in the Trangerian mountains. In the hollow of a narrow pass outlined by dark shadows cast from the rugged terrain Carel was gasping for air. Oxygen was leaking from the hit his converter had taken during the laser encounter at Sulligs, the Vasillian vampire land hold. The exoskeleton he wore was reduced to basic ground service. “I can’t keep up, Roush,” he yelled into his face-mike at his second in command. “Keep the Therns and the shifters moving, I’ll hold them off!”
He dropped to one knee as he released the safety of the S-40 cannonade mounted on the front of the exo. Carel knew that he couldn’t hold them off for long. The exoskeleton only carried ten clips for the vampire gun. The Gorb, the cyborg vampire dead form of the Romany, were gaining ground and he knew that they would be at him in a matter of minutes. They would be aiming carefully because they wanted him alive. Carel wasn’t that particular he wanted nothing more than to destroy his pursuers. With practiced police precision he moved the exo’s hands to feed a fifty pound magazine into the S-40 to arm the weapon.
When the Gorb entered the narrow cut in the hollow below him he triggered the cannonade. The flameless cartridges barked out the heavy silver tracers in ten second bursts. Billowy puffs of nitric acid in a valence state issued from the gun’s barrel and rose into the thin methane tinged helium and ammonia air of Io.
The leading Gorb, synthetic eyes glowing and fangs bared, took the first full burst from Carel’s gun. The silver coated slugs brought instant obliteration. Flesh and metal from the cyborg sprayed in every direction. Startled by the fire power of the cannonade the remnants of the cloud spread out into the shadows of the metallic rock surrounding the fragmented trail of the hollow.
Carel managed a quick glance behind. His four companions and the rescued Therns were almost out of sight. He knew that if he held fast, Roush, Swank and the two shifters in the raiding party, Flosiree and Hanold, would be able to outdistance the cloud of vampires and make it back to the slipship with Sutterlands spiritual granddaughter and the rest of the abducted Therns before the turillium ignited.
With the aid of the last power in the exo he slammed another heavy magazine into the S-40. He gritted his teeth against the shock of the recoil and activated the cannonade again.
It hadn’t been Carel’s idea to lead a raiding party onto Jupiter’s innermost moon; it was that damn fool Sutterland , the spiritual minister of the quadrant. Forty years ago Sutterland was the one who sent the Romany dead from Barsoom to Io. “A place for all,” he had said. “The vampire cyborgs might be an ill conceived legacy of an insane humanity, but even so they deserved to exist until their cybernetic organisms fail. They served their purpose in the ecclesiastical wars on Barsoom. On Io without fresh blood they will end their service and be reduced to their natural elements and disappear.”
He had been wrong. The Gorb, the last of the Romney vampirism dregs of the human race, fashioned after Ras Thavas’ Hormands didn’t deteriorate and vanish. Feeding on the iron rich blood of Io’s native animals they rejuvenated the flesh of their cyborg bodies. With this renewal the Gorb grew to become a new horde. Using Io’s vast metallic resources they built ships patterned after the levitating ray machines they had used in the ecclesiastic wars to extend their hunt for blood.
Their ancient one, Vlad Ţepes Obannato, said to be preserved for over a hundred years since an 1886 encounter with John Carter, began leading systematic blood raids on the remnant colonies of Mars. If these last of the outposts on Mars fell, the moon colonies and Earth would be next. Before that happened Sutterland had to rectify his earlier mistake.
In the last raid on Mars Obannato’s minions had pillaged the last lingering colony of the Therns near the Valley Dor carrying off a dozen of the inhabitants including Sutterland’s spiritual granddaughter Leowe .
Sutterland, couldn’t sit still and watch her be absorbed into the Gorb. He knew that the abducted Therns were taken for only one reason, to provide replenishment for their dead form. Moved to action, ecclesiastical right now on his side made a strike on Io politically correct.
“The plundering of new flesh to repair the Vasillian Gorb’s aging bodies with these raids has to be stopped,” Sutterland announced.
Rescuing Leowe would be a reason enough to end the vampire dregs. Sutterland would make sure that the Gorb didn’t bring vampirism back to Mars. He decided to kill them off. He would eliminate their ilk once and for all by imploding Io.
Sutterland handpicked Carel, Roush , Flosiree, Hanold and Swank for the task of stopping the progeny of this dark side of the human race. He selected Carel and Roush from the Interspecies Police force. Carel, an earthman, because Sutherland believed that he was a direct descendent of John Carter’s granddaughter Llana. Doctor Leland Rouch because he was a metascientest known for his knowledge of the Gorb’s mental abilities and his ability to telepathically read their minds. Florsiree and Hanhold were a team of shape shifter volunteers from the ancient Lotharian colony on Mars who could mimic the Gorb by morphing the transparent hair on their bodies to resemble the flesh and metal cyborgs. Similar to the Therns, with their inate Martian ability to adapt to atmospheric mixtures, they woud not need exoskeleton suits to survive in the air of Io. Swank was the turilium force expert who grudgingly joined the group to handle the implosion. Carel, Roush and Swank who needed an earth like oxygen mixture to breathe would be clad in exoskeletons against the methane tinged air of Io.
“You are the only ones I can trust to pull this off,” Sutterland had told the group.
“Why me?” Swank complained. His rancor was easy to recognize. “I don’t want to end up as cyborg fodder.”
“Because you five are the best.” Sutterland explained. And looking at Carel he added, “The royal blood of Llana runs in your veins and it is your duty to save these Therns from absorption and rid the system of the Romney scum.”
Carel ran his fingers through his dark wavy hair in a moment of thought. Fixing Sutterland with a stare from his steel grey eyes he said, “I think you mean that we had better not come back without Leowe.”
The clandestine landing of the slipship outside of Suillgs on the rugged mountain side was simple enough. Carel along with Swank and the two shifters made their way into the Gorb land hold without being seen.
Now it was Flosiree and Hanold’s turn. Mimicking the flesh and metal wild eyed look of the vampire dead form of the Gorb they slipped passed the guards into the bowels of the mining tunnels that surrounded the land hold fortress. The backpacks they carried held the components of the trillium detonator. Distracted by the Lotharians, Swank moveing quickly, in his exo to entere the tunnels. He carried the radioactive heavy turillium tailings that he had prepared for the implosion into the caves on th exo’s back.
Luck was with the three as they planted the charges. There had not been any security milling about nor workers in the lower end of the caves. Selecting four sites deep within the tunnels they set to work assembling the detonator.
Meanwhile Doctor Roush using his telepathic powers had located the captive Therns. They were being held for absorption in the mogitorium of none other than Vlad Ţepes Obannato. All of them were inside his crypt, a palace like building, just to the north of Suillgs at the foot of the Trangerian mountains. Roush headed for the morgitoriun and passed the location information on to Carel.
The exo added speed as well as strength to Carel’s search. It did not take him long to start upon that unknown way, nor did he do it with caution. Without wasting any time with concealment he guided the exo in long leaping strides toward Obannato’s crypt.
Arriving before Roush, he quietly and quickly dispatched two sentries with silver tipped arrows from the exos compound crossbow attachment. Then he began a room to room search for the Therns. By the time he had covered the lower level Roush arrived to meet him in the crypts great hall.
“They’re on the second sublevel, “the Doctor whispered into his face-mike. “Obannato’s mortician, Raduka Hu is readying several of the Therns for a nightly bloodletting for his master.”
“How do we get down there?” Carel asked mimicking Roush’s whisper.
“My mental readings tell me that there is a stairwell to the lower levels just down this hall,” Roush replied. There are no guards from what I have been able to pick up, but we’d better be ready just in case. We’ll have to move fast, Swank just signaled that the turillum detonator is already counting down. He and the shifters are all set. They will be joining us here, soon.”
Carel’s nodded his exo in understanding. “How much time?”
“Thirteen hundred, Barsoom time, less than an hour.”
“Let’s do it,” Carel said. “They must have Leowe down there too.”
The self contained exoskeletons were not built for stealth but Carel and Roush managed to navigate the winding stairs to the second sublevel without arousing any notice from the vampire dead.
Roush pointed. “This door,” he said.
Carel moved to the front of the metal door. “Ready.”
With one swift arm thrust Carel’s exo exploded through the door.
There inside, looked after by the Vasillians chief technician Raduka Hu, Leowe lay on a gurney side by side with several other’s of her species in the linier crypt. Bites that they all had received from the Vassilian vampires kept them alive in a twilight state. They were held in place by impalpable mind bonds of Hu’s staff, unable to move.
The mortician was in the process of harvesting blood, tissue and body parts from one of the Therns to regenerate Obunnato who lay in an adjoining cryonic bath. Obunnato’s metal and flesh extobody, aged from the lack of sucking in enough blood, had begun to regenerate with each pulse beat of the unfortunate Thern’s heart.
Next in turn, Leowe was being readied by one of Hu’s assistants for absorption. With one mighty catlike bound Carel was across the room to toss Hu and his mortuary team aside, snapping the invisible bonds that bound Leowe. He helped her off the gurney and onto to her feet. She stood unsteadily cradled in the exoskeletons arms staring at Carel through the faceplate not knowing who he was or what was happening.
“You’re safe now, Leowe,” Carel said to her. “We’re going to get you and your friends out of here.
Roush revived the other Therns while Carel made short work of the remaining Gorb in the operating room.
Starved of his replenishment the hideous creature Vlad Tepes Obannato began to slowly turn to dust.
But Carel’s impulsive destruction of the operating room door had set off an alarm. Their presence had been discovered and their chances of escape now seemed small indeed. Before he and the Doctor, with the Therns in tow, could exit the crypt a dozen or more cyborg vampire dead moved out of the shadows of the building to block their way. Their low guttural sounds and occasional sharp squeals denoting an almost habitual state of rage signaled their intent to retake the Therns along with both Carel and Roush.
“Now,” Carel yelled into his face-mike.
Both he and Roush moved in front of the small group in a defensive position as a laser firefight started. Using their exoskeletons asshields for the newly awakened Therns, Corel and Roush began picking off the Gorb standing in their way one at a time, with silver tipped arrows. They managed to make an opening in the gathering cloud of Gorb without the use of their exo’s cannonade within the building.
Carel’s exo took several hits from the vampire cyborg’s laser devices. He could tell by the placements that the Romany dregs meant only to disable him. They wanted live bodies, for fresh blood and body part replenishment not a group of bloodless corpses.
Flosiree, Hanold and Swank arrived at the rear of the gathering cloud of cyborgs just in time to cause a flanking disruption. The two shape shifters morphed into calots, the wild dogs of Mars, feared by and the only animal deadly to the vampires. Swank, in his exo moved through the cowering ranks firing his built-in laser at full kill mode. That merely stunned the Gorb, but it allowed the three to link up with Carel, Roush and the surviving Therns.
“The turillium implosion is set to go in twenty minutes,” Swank reminded Carel, “Let’s get the hell out of there now.”
“Take the lead Doctor,” Carel shouted at Roush.
Firing as they moved, the group headed out of the crypt. Instead of circling back through Sulligs Roush led the small band northwest into the mountains which were a short distance away. He ushered them through a narrow pass that lead directly to the waiting slipship.
With Carel holding the rear against the disorganized, but advancing cyborg vampires they hurried on. Time was running out. The turillium implosion was only minutes away.
As Carel backed into the hollow his exo began to malfunction. That’s when he cried out to Roush. After he ran out of clips for the S-40 he used the last of his arrows and the exo’s laser pulses to hold off the vampire dead. The closest Gorb fell back out of bow and laser range keeping them away from Carel’s firepower. His respite was short lived however as the Vasilian cloud increased to dozens who came charging into his view racing madly toward him.
It was several hours before he regained consciousness. A feeling of surprise washed over him when he realized that he was not dead nor in the clutches of the vampire cyborgs. He was lying in a pile of sleeping silks and furs in the bay of the slipship. Leowe was bending over him placing a cool cloth on his forehead. He opened his eyes just as she turned to Roush, who was piloting the ship, saying, “Will he will live Doctor.”
To which the Doctor smiled and nodded his head, yes.
“How?” Carel managed to ask through parched lips. He braced himself on his left forearm to rise slightly to look at Leowe.
“ With you holding them off, we managed to get to the ship,” Roush said, “… and we picked you up out of that pile of inhumanity a moment before the implosion. Io is now just negative space dust.”
“Then it’s all over,” Carel said.
“ No,” replied Leowe. She smiled at Carel. “It’s just beginning.”
The red eye of Mars appeared on the view screen as Roush pointed the slipship away from the dust cloud toward their destination.