Episode 19: Countdown

When she got back to the bridge Crimson’s rattling Mindframe dropped all its calculations, and spit out one equation: “Aw, crap.”

Andross was still sitting in the cockpit, rummaging around the nav-displays with Clidjitt; Andross—full of Flyer Crystal residue.

“Hey, Mama Robot,” Andross twisted his chair around with the grace of an arthritic frog, “I was just explaining to the insect that the M in equation escape velocity is not that of the Rival but the imaginary mass of the Mag-lock. We are recalculating to compensate for the difference not from us to a planetary body, but the imagined force of a body that can draw an object through a solar system at the speed of light. It’s kind of like the kid brother of a black hole…!”

“You’re going on the Boatman.” Crimson grunted.

Andross’ swollen hands rose in impudence. “Heeey, there ya go! I knew you’d come ‘round.”

“Yeah,” grunted Crimson, “I need all the Flyer Crystal evidence off my ship. That includes you. You’re still not flying the mission.”

“Oh, come ooon! I could do this with my eyes closed.” He gestured his exasperation, but Crimson could detect the clumsy, slowness to his movement.

I could have you shoved in a hermetically sealed container pod with sensor dampers until the cops are gone. Don’t make me delta-v my mind.”

Andross wiggled like a bobble-head. “That’s not technically correct. You would have had to say: don’t make my mind reach delta-v…”

“Andross.”

Ballistic and orbital mechanics rolled the MiPie’s eyes in a slingshot effect. “Okaaay.”

*

If she ever got to see Vaken Rae again, she would personally crush all his knuckles in her robotic hand. Shaak-Rom was in a back workstation, frantically falsifying the crew list, hiding Andross and Clidjitt’s payroll records. The crystals were loaded onto the Boatman, but it all hinged on Gator getting the Doon-tau jammer up and running. Currently he was having problems; P’Xak was helping him. Besides that, Keffler and Braevel reported having difficulty with their little science experiment. Time was running out.

Crimson sat in the cockpit alone, her Mindframe clicking over loudly, counting the milliseconds as their window for the launching the Boatman approached. She straddled the flight desk, poised for action, staring into the tie-dye funnel of spectral color changes.

Her right middle finger was on the intercom. Only the first knuckle flexed to press the call button. “Gator: status.”

“I’m working, Crims,”came the rumbling reply, impatient and deep in his scaly throat.

“Five minutes to decompression,” she growled, equally flat.

“Tell Andross he may have to ride an air explosion…!”

Depressurizing a full shuttle bay of air was illegal in some systems, due to the short supply of purified oxygen. Not only that, it was dangerous; sudden depressurization could break a million little things as the weight of 100,000 pounds of air burst into the vacuum of space. It was impractical, wasteful, and irresponsible. Then igniting a shuttle’s fuel thrusters right into the cloud of O2? Chernobyl.

But worse still…

“Andross isn’t flying,” Crimson shook her head, hissing her ‘s’s more than she realized. The flamboyant pilot was good, but the fact that he was on board a vessel didn’t automatically make him the pilot. Andross had wooed everyone to believe it was so, including himself.

But the Megladyte lacked interest, “Okay…”

“Are you done in time?” she demanded.

“I completely dismantled it, Crims! We didn’t want it hangin’ around. And there ain’t no instructions to rebuild it!”

“What do you need?”

“At least another hour!”

The math was simple. “You have half that. You’re on the Boatman for this one. Depressurization in 3 minutes. See you in a couple of days.”

“Peaches.”

 

*

 

Being a chunk of flesh sitting on a mechanical frame had its advantages at times. When the Shuttle Bay was empty the countdown was complete. Gator radioed his success only 96 seconds earlier. She left it to them, and allowed her Mindframe’s components to guide her hands, bringing the Rival Bay to the exact angle necessary for ejection. The bay doors opened. Clidjitt was good. She hoped he was up for the challenge. She struck the intercom.

“Stand by, Boatman. Initiate launch.”

“Launch!” came the insectoid’s shrill reply.

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