Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Lost Calling - Chapter 13

Present Day
Near  planet Kor'Daren
Imhari system, Inner Laskaris Arm

Calrose was given the co-pilot's seat beside Keona, while the others strapped in behind them. Driz and Arabel occupied seats in front of data terminals where they could monitor the ship's systems and do their best to aid in the execution of the plan. But it was really down to Captain Keona and her piloting skills to get the tethered ships moving and manage to control the metal monstrosity toward the surface of Kor'Daren.
The engines of the Dasaq'Wen fired and the mass of the two ships slowly began to move. Driz's short child-like fingers played over the control panel as he bypassed systems that Arabel had worked hard to design. Though he wore no CDT, he was using very similar skills to jack into the GRV's control system. He fired up the solitary engine that Uden had managed to get running and opened the throttle.
The conjoined ships twisted as Keona tried her best to control the direction of the ship, while engines of vastly different strengths pumped out thrust in slightly different directions. The stars in the front viewport spun and twisted before slowly steadying. Keona managed to angle the connected ships toward the planet, visually sighting it in the window and trying to keep it in place. The cockpit she sat in hadn't changed, but she could feel the difference in the shape of the ship. Her view no longer sat in the center of her thrust vector, but was off to one side. It threw her off, but innate piloting skills and years of practice on numerous ships allowed her to quickly adapt.

They were picking up speed, the added thrust of the GRV's engine actually paying off once they got moving. Keona and her crew were reasonably impressed. The GRV was a bulky and heavy ship for its size, but they were actually surpassing expectations for the total engine output. Sadly, it wasn't enough. The star-scythe was gaining on them, new barrages of blaster fire hitting more accurately and more often.
"Our hull can't handle many more of those," Driz reported after his panel lit up with warnings from the latest barrage.
"I know, Driz," Keona responded through sharp gritted teeth. "This thing isn't exactly nimble." She strained at the control stick, pushing her entire reptilian bulk into a turn to avoid a tight grouping of blaster fire. The ship turned slowly at first, but then Keona was twisting her back to get the ship straightened toward her target again. Each twist of the yoke was exaggerated by the conjoined ships, making large deliberate movements difficult. Each attempt to avoid an attack, left the ships jostling back and forth in a serpentine pattern until they could once again be straightened.
"We are go to jettison cargo," came Kando's gruff voice over the comm system. He and Zar, the massive Zygoram, had been preparing to dump the Dasaq'Wen's cargo out the rear hatch. The hope was that the pirates would stop to gather the valuable flotsam rather than continue their pursuit. But the decreased mass would add a little to their velocity if they didn't.
"Copy," Keona replied. She turned her body slightly, but didn't take any of her four eyes off the front viewport, "Driz, as soon as we are clear of the cargo, engage the peak drive."
"Are you sure the peak drive is a good idea?" Calrose turned to the Krahl captain, holding tight to her console as the ship rocked and shook.
"No, I'm not," the krahl responded flatly. "For all I know, the added thrust could shake both ships apart, but at this point it is worth a try."
Calrose sat back, her eyes darting back and forth from the front viewport to the panel display of the oncoming assault ship.
"Kando!" Keona shouted. "Drop it!"
Calrose's readout showed tiny pinpricks of light, each indicating a large storage canister worth thousands of credits. If they made it out of this alive, there was no way she could repay the crew of the Dasaq'Wen for the financial loss.
The rattle of the ships' engines suddenly became a roar as the peak drive engaged. Calrose could feel the increase in gravitational forces as the ships pushed their conjoined mass to even greater speed. She glanced down at the datascreen again, watching the distance between them and the star-scythe. It was still gaining on them, but rate at which it was approaching had visible slowed.
The pale disc of the planet had grown large in the viewport. We might actually do this, she thought hopefully. Her admiration for the Krahl pilot grew enormously. She wasn't sure she could have pulled off this much of the plan. She found herself leaning forward in her chair, not in an effort to counteract the g-forces but in the sheer excitement of the chase. The possibility of their imminent death waning just enough to make this, dare she think it, fun?
The engines whined and groaned as Keona pushed them to the limits. Driz rerouted as much available power as possible to the engines to keep them operating. The lights in the cockpit began to dim and flicker, but it wasn't enough. The pitch of the engine's drone wound downward as they began to lose power. They were running out of fuel cells as they quickly dumped everything they had into underpowered engines. The GRV's fuel reserves held out, but without a direct line into the engines of the Dasaq'Wen, Driz couldn't make use of that fuel for anything other than powering the sole engine left running on that ship. There was plenty of fuel there, but they just couldn't get to it. A point made even more painfully true as Driz watched the readouts report the failing of the GRV engine.
The joined ships lurched to the side, surprising Keona as the thrust coming from the GRV suddenly disappeared. Then the peak drive began to fail. The decrease in velocity was subtle, but soon enough Calrose could feel the lack of g-forces pushing her into her chair.
"Looks like that is all we are going to get out of that peak drive," the human pilot said, turning to look at Keona.
The Krahl turned her large reptilian head in Calrose's direction, two of the four eyes looking at her. "I think you are right. It might not have put any more distance between us and that star-scythe, but it sure bought us some time."
"And put us damn close to the planet," Arabel piped up, pointing at the viewport. The disc of the planet was no longer visible as it now took up the entire bank of viewports running along the fore section of the cockpit. They were close enough that they could make out the speckling of lakes and patches of dusty green forest between the stretching tendrils of cloud cover.
Calrose looked in awe at the planet's surface. It had felt like ages since she had stood on ground not that hadn't been manufactured in a factory. Her lungs ached to breath air that hadn't been recycled and filtered a thousand times. To feel the warmth of a bright sun on her skin.
"Incoming!" shouted Arabel.
The ships shook violently as an explosion rocked then entire hull. The lights winked out for a moment before returning accompanied by the din of a thousand alarms.
"What the hell was that?" Calrose yelled, suddenly thrown out of her reverie on the planet below.
"They are within range of firing ballistics!" the dark blue Bantonian responded. "Hull breach on the GRV, we are venting atmosphere."
"Dammit," muttered Keona. "Someone get down there. Close off that air lock." She turned to Calrose, "I think it is time we separated these ships."
Calrose nodded simply and unbuckled her harness. Floating free of the chair, she manuevered herself toward the rear door and out into the corridors of the Dasaq'Wen. As she approached the airlock, she could feel the rush of air sweeping out of the ship and into the GRV. It wasn't forceful enough to draw her in, but it made breathing more difficult and she felt like her ears would rupture from the deafening noise of escaping air. Passing an emergency access compartment in the wall, she activated the small lever to throw open the small door revealing emergency lights and a pair of rebreathers. She grabbed the breathing apparatus and strapped it around her neck, thrusting the feed tubes into her nostrils and covering her entire mouth area with the ill fitting mask. She hated these models. They were built to accommodate the widest variety of species, though in doing so it fit none of them comfortably. It would do in a pinch, but it wouldn't protect her from vacuum, so she secured it quickly and got to the air lock.
The blast had rattled the entire hull of the Dasaq'Wen. Wall compartments were popped open or wedged shut as the inner wall panel flexed from the pressure of the outer hull. The compartment she needed was partially open, but the shifting of the wall had crushed the frame around the compartment onto the access panel door. She pulled on it to try and get it open further, but it was wedged tight.
Calrose slid her fingers into the compartment to see if she could reach the switches, but her knuckles wouldn't fit through the slender opening. She squirmed to try and stretch her fingers but the switch was just out of reach.
"Dammit", she cursed, drawing her hand back, shaking off the pain of her scraped knuckles. She looked around for anything that she could use to pry the door open further. Frustrated when all she could find was a short piece of broken plating from the corridor ceiling as it floated past her. It wasn't much longer than her hand and its square shape didn't make it particularly useful as a pry bar, but she made the best of it. Wedging it into the stuck door, she wrenched on the planysteel plate, her fingers bleeding from the sharp edge. She pressed her feet against the wall, awkwardly looking for leverage in the zero-gravity. The metal groaned slightly, barely moving. Hoping it was enough of an advantage, she pulled out the small plate and reached in with her hand. Wriggling her fingers, she finally managed to get her hand into the panel. Blindly feeling around, she toggled the switch to close the air locks.
The round ports between the Dasaq'Wen and the GRV slammed shut, turning locks spinning shut to seal out the vacuum. Their silence echoed in her head as a goodbye to her ship. The lights went out in the corridor as a blast rocked the entire ship, throwing her violently against the wall. She screamed as her body wrenched against her arm trapped in the compartment, the force of the throw nearly snapping her forearm. She winced in pain and tried to pull herself free, but found the limb wedged tight in the door.
She looked for the plate she had been holding in her other hand, disheartened to see it tumbling down the corridor away from her, thrown from her grasp.
"Calrose?" she heard a faint voice pronounce her name like 'cull-russ'. Uden floated down the corridor, his large eyes wide in worry when he saw her trapped arm, orbs of deep red blood dancing around her.
"Uden!" she exclaimed with gratitude. "Get me out of this thing."
He nodded. The Bantonian looked around her at the floating debris, repeating her disappointment when he too found nothing in the corridor to help pry the door open. "Wait," he said simply, pushing himself back down the hall and out of sight.
When he returned, he carried a large metal pry bar, a tool made specifically for this purpose. It was thick and heavy looking in his hands, and would have been a chore for him to lift in normal gravity. Hefting it into place, he propped himself against the wall, one foot on Calrose's thigh for leverage. He pulled with all of his might to pry the door open, but it just wouldn't budge. Calrose used her free left hand to grab onto the end of the pry bar and push. The metal compartment door creaked under their combined effort.
"One. More. Good -" she grunted as they put everything into it.
Suddenly the door gave way with a snap, the metal hinges popping out the compartment housing. The loss of leverage and support sent everything flying. The pry bar slammed into the control panel, sending out a shower of sparks. The broken door along with Uden went careening down the hall, where the Bantonian slammed head first into a wall with a sickening crunch.
Shielding herself from the sparks, Calrose looked up to see Uden floating limply at the end of the hall.

- - -

"I need help!" Calrose called over the comm. "Uden is hurt."
"Nirea is on her way," came Keona's voice in her ear.  "What happened?"
"He was knocked out trying to help me. Hurry, his head is bleeding really bad." Calrose cradled Uden as best she could in the zero-gravity, her right arm weak and bleeding.
Before long, the horned Salacean appeared. Nirea grabbed hold of Uden, pulling him close to secure his unconscious form as she inspected his head wound. Holding her hands to the wound, she kept pressure on it. The doe-eyed medic looked up at Calrose, silently reassuring her. She glanced down at the human woman's arm, the blood floating out of the wound in round droplets. "Let me see your arm."
Calrose held out her arm, she peeled back the tattered sleeve of her flight jacket, exposing the gash on her forearm. She winced with pain.
"Tear the rest of that sleeve off and wrap it around your arm. Cover the wound then tie it just below the elbow." She watched as Calrose followed instructions, then motioned down to Uden, still cradled in her arms. "Good, now help me hold him steady while I stop the bleeding enough to clean up this scalp laceration."
"Is he going to be alright?" Calrose asked. She was scared the Bantonian would bleed out, his life forfeit just to save her arm.
"He took a bad hit to the head, but Bantonian skulls are harder than they look. Head wounds always bleed more than you would expect." The Salacean tore a piece of her own clothing and wrapped Uden's head. His large eyes were shut and his pale light blue skin seemed almost grey. Nirea looked up at Calrose, "He will live, but I need to get him to the med-bay."
The ship shuddered again with another round of blaster fire. The lights in the hall winked out and stayed out.
"Is everything alright back there?" Keona's booming voice broke through the noise of the hull taking a beating.
"Udonnonet took a hit to the head, Captain. I have stopped the bleeding and dressed the wound. I am taking him to med-bay," Nirea reported calmly. "Captain Calrose is injured, but not badly."
"I am headed  your way," Calrose added.
"No," the Krahl interrupted. "I need you to detach the umbilical so we can separate from the GRV."
Calrose looked at Nirea. They nodded silently to each other and parted ways. The Salacean, carefully pulling the floating body of Uden behind her, pushed her way down the corridor toward the medical lab. The human pilot turned her attention back to the terminal next to the airlock. Her arm throbbed looking at the torn and crumpled metal. Streaks of black stretched across the panel where an entire section of the control board had blown. The switches and readouts on the panel were blank and lifeless.
"Uh, Keona? We may have a problem."
"That is something we haven't been in short supply of," the Krahl responded over the comm unit.
"The airlock panel is completely blown. I have no power in this end of the ship," Calrose flipped random switches and hit panel with a balled fist. She tried the long umbilical release lever and it broke off in her hand. "I don't think I am going to be able to separate the ships."
"Well then, you might want to get up here and strap in. We're down to one last option."
"Which is...?" Calrose abandoned the destroyed panel, pushing her way out of the darkened corridor and back towards the cockpit.
"We hope to whatever gods look over this sector that we have enough hull left to make it to that planet."
The ship twisted and rumbled as it took another volley of fire. She lost her grip on the wall and floated into the frame of the bulkhead. She winced from the pain of her shoulder taking the majority of the hit. Her entire right arm now ached. Reaching out with her undamaged left arm, she regained a hold of the ship and pulled herself into the control room. Keona was barking out orders to every member of her crew across the ship.
"Kando and Zar have jettisoned everything," Driz reported from his console at the back of the cockpit. "Including the spent fuel cells. This is as light as our mass is going to get, unless that scythe starts blowing parts off of us."
"Put all the remaining power into the engines," Keona ordered. "Cut the life support systems by half. Everyone, put on your emergency rebreathers."
Calrose watched as everyone reached for the emergency gear stored in the side panel of each chair. She almost started for one herself when she remembered that she was still wearing the device. Her ears popped as she felt the atmospheric pressure change in the ship.
"Let's give it one last push," Keona practically snarled through gritted teeth. She pushed the throttle on her control panel, demanding everything the engines had left in them. "And Calrose! Get in a seat! This isn't going to go smoothly."
Calrose rushed back to the co-pilot's seat she had previously occupied. The chair and ship beneath it shook around her. The sound of crunching metal was nearly deafening as an explosion tore into the ship. The human captain managed to get her harness buckled in just as a second explosion sent the ships twirling, fumbling end over end. The white and orange clouds of the planet became a spinning blur occasionally replaced by the blackness of space as the conjoined ships tumbled toward Kor'Daren.
The Bantonian yelled in some strange language what Calrose could only assume were a litany of foul words. Massive doors slammed shut at the sides of the cockpit, cutting it off from the rest of the ship. When he had calmed enough to speak clearly he said, "We just lost hull integrity. Plating blown in at least four sections of the ship."
"Kando and Zar?" Keona asked.
"Engineering is safe, so far. I have the emergency seals in place. We are separated from most of the ship though. Half the ship is now in vacuum."
Keona fought with the controls, "I am not sure I can pull us out of this spin. We are two minutes from atmospheric entry."
A deep thud sounded, another explosion, but this one farther away from the sealed cockpit.
"We just lost the GRV cockpit," Driz explained.
Calrose looked over her shoulder at Arabel and the pain was clear on her face. She didn't know as much about the teenager as she would have liked, but she had witnessed how much painstaking effort she put into the systems aboard that ship. That explosion had torn away that piece of her in an instant.
"Hah!" Driz exclaimed. The three females in the cockpit turned to look at him for explanation. "They are backing off!"
They all looked down at their display panels.
"He's right!" Calrose stated.
Arabel tapped through menus on her readouts. "Looks like the plan worked after all. They have been trying so hard to catch up with us, they have had to plow right through the debris field we were leaving behind."
"Scans show they have taken a lot of damage to the nose and starboard wing," Driz added.
"Do you think they will break off their pursuit?" Keona asked her system's tech.
"I said they were backing off, I didn't say they were done chasing us."
The ship rumbled and shook again. But it continued far longer than any weapons blast.
"We are entering atmosphere," Keona called out.  "It might not matter if they pursue us or not if I can't keep us from slamming right into that rock. Everyone hold on!"
Keona gripped the controls tightly in her scaled hands. Her four eyes were scanning the bank of windows and flicking back and forth across a dozen readouts and control panels. Calrose watched her skilled motions as she twisted the controls, flipping switches to expertly jump from firing thrusters to applying mechanical drag flaps. Slowly the tumbling ships began to right themselves. But as the atmosphere thickened the awkward shape of the attached ships became more apparent. The console trembled with the forces exerted on the ships, feeling it tug this way and that as entire sections of the hull were ripped off in the downward fall.
The ground was quickly approaching. Far too quickly. But Keona managed to right the ships once again, using every last unit of fuel to compensate for the dead weight of the GRV on their belly.
Calrose cringed, her hands tightly gripped on the console. The thrusters blasted will that they had, the jets of energy trying their hardest to combat the planet's pervasive gravitational hold. Keona slowed the ship as best she could. Hoping the engines would hold out long enough to make a landing. But the sudden silence of the engines going dead told them everything they needed to know. The silence was quickly followed by darkness.