Sliding down a three thousand foot long rope from a point in midair provides a rush that I am sure only a skydiver could appreciate. Add to that, the pleasant sensation of being shot at, and the net effect is a feeling that even the largest of roller coasters could not inspire. It was a feeling however, that several thousand Amatharian soldiers were able to share with me, for that number of men and women were sliding down the ropes from the cruiser to assault the mountain prison of the Zoasians.
As soon as my boots hit the ground, I gathered my company of one hundred warriors and swordsmen together, and gave the orders to move toward our target. We covered the ground toward our assigned entrance, all around us, the smell of smoke and the sounds of bombing in the distance. We encountered no resistance until we reached the installation’s entrance, which was a great iron door. Part of my team was a pair of demolitions soldiers, who carried all they needed to penetrate the site. With several quite tiny explosive charges, they cut a rectangular opening through the door, which allowed us all to enter.
As soon as we moved into the dark hallway beyond the portal, we were set upon by a group of twenty or so Zoasians whose duty it was to protect the hallway. Though they shot down two of my soldiers and delayed us slightly, we quickly overpowered them and continued on our way. The interior of the installation was a great dark maze of wide but low corridors, with small rooms and vestibules scattered here and there. The lighting was poor, probably owing to a destroyed generator nearby. Though we encountered numerous reptile-men, most save those we had initially encountered, were in no mood to fight, instead intent on escaping the invading force.
We seemed to have gone through so much of the supposed prison, without seeing a single prisoner of any sort, or indeed of any barred cell or room, that I was beginning to suspect that the Amatharian commanders had been misled as to the nature of the place, when suddenly we came upon a barred door. Once the demolitions team eliminated the obstacle as easily as they had done before, we found ourselves in a great room.
The room was of brobdingnagian proportions, as large as any warehouse which I have ever seen. It resembled a zoo more than a prison or a jailhouse, for rather than cells placed into the walls, the room was filled with cages, each about twenty feet square and separated from one another by eight or ten foot walkways criss-crossing between them. The prisoners of this zoo had no shred of privacy, for their every action was visible from all four sides by their fellow inmates, as well as anyone who happened to be walking by their cell.
The place was like a zoo in another respect as well. Every occupied cell, and it seemed that very few were unoccupied, was the unhappy home to one of a huge variety of creatures. I was able to spot a few which housed beings of the same type, but there seemed to be scores of different species represented.
“Are these all sentient species?” I asked the swordsman at my elbow.
“I’m unfamiliar with most of these beings,” she replied, “but of the ones I do know, they are all intelligent peoples.”
“Break up the company into squads,” I ordered. “I want all of these cages opened, and the prisoners set free.” The word “squad” is something of a loose translation on my part, just as is the word “company”, but they seem the closest I can come to the Amatharian terms. An Amatharian squad designates a group of eight or ten warriors led by a swordsman, and a company is nine or ten such squads led by a knight.
The prison was of such great size, that it seemed hours before even ten squads of Amatharian soldiers were able to open all the pens. Many of the alien prisoners made a hasty retreat, glad for the chance to escape their confinement. A few stayed in their cells, apparently unable to accept the fact that they were now free. Some, particularly those who had previous contact with Amatharians, and who knew the Amatharian language, chose to follow our company. Finally, among the prisoners were two Amatharians, a man and a woman, who were brought to me.
“What are your names, and how did you come to be prisoners of the Zoasians?” I asked them.
They looked at me inquiringly for a moment, obviously never having seen an Amatharian of my complexion before, and then described their ordeal. They had been part of a mapping expedition and had been captured by the snake-men. They were not part of the group we were attempting to rescue. The man introduced himself as Senjar Orsovan of the Earth Clan, and then introduced the woman, who seemed incapable of speech, as his sister Shenee Orsovan. The two of them were the sad specimens, obviously the victims of mistreatment by the Zoasians, and seemed even worse than they probably were because until now every Amatharian I had seen was in the keenest physical condition.