Episode 64: Scramble

rocket propulsion concept art

“Full scans!” Crimson yelled, “Where are they?”

“Scanning!” answered Clidjitt.

“Can we stabilize our attitude?”

“Tryin’…” Andross replied, both hands on the flight yoke.

Crimson sat at the scanning station, but the Brev—with his four arms and compound eyes—would have as many screens open and functional on his own display. She spun and barked at Shaak-rom. “Linkburst a distress signal on a broad range. See if the Gateway has any support ships to send to us.”

The white and blue stripes across the red, devil-horned, Trivven looked naturally like war paint. Shaak-Rom’s obedience was deadly efficient. He was already moving into the communication’s alcove as he asked. “What is our distance to the Gateway?”

Andross’s focus was forward on his instruments, but he answered, “’Bout three days at sublight!”

Even Crimson’s swear died in her throat. Three days. Fifteen minutes out of mag-fall. It made all the difference. Even the imperturbable Shaak-Rom had frozen, one foot and hand in the Archive.

“Go!” she shouted. For all the good it’ll do. The Duka Master disappeared into the alcove to ‘burst their distress.

“I hope you mounted some guns on this thing when I wasn’t looking…” Andross growled through grit teeth.

“Just try and shake us free!” Crimson snapped.

“You gonna’ full thrust again?” Andross challenged.

They’d broken free of a mini black hole just out of Berkatol when it had surprised them nearly a year ago. A narrow escape that she’d rather not repeat. But before she could get into a sequel argument with the hot headed flyboy, Clidjitt interjected: “We are inside the event horizon of the mag-mine’s pull. It was perfectly positioned to catch us, slingshot us out of the magnetic trade way, and keep hold of us.”

“Snake-spit, how big is that thing?” Crimson shook her head.

Clidjitt’s second right claw danced across some controls. “About 20 meters.”

“We’re not shaking it.” Andross concluded.

“Slow us down then.”

From the Archive Shaak-Rom’s voice could be heard recording their call for help, “Mayday. Mayday. This is private vessel Rival Bay, Serial Number: 8199673400Q. We are under attack. Magnetic-mine pulled us out of mag-fall…”

“Have we got any scanner info on hostile ships?” Crimson demanded.

“Negative,” chirped Clidjitt, “The strength of the electro-magnetic field is making it difficult for our sensors to take accurate readings.”

“What about the spectrograph?”

“Light reflections outside the mag-well are negligible.”

“If they’re out there, they’re cloaked,” Andross concluded, still focused, slowing their spiral.

Crimson tried to think, her Mindframe calculating the power output necessary for such feats. She shoved the scrolling numbers away. “That’s a lot of energy. A mag-mine that size and a cloaking device? There must be something big out there. Can we get a lock on any residue energy or exhaust?”

“Scanner resolution is pretty bad,” sing-songed the Brev’s translator.

“Is there any way we can break the mag-mine’s hold?” Andross asked, “We’re sitting ducks out here! When that thing pulls us all the way in, we’re definitely taking structural damage…”

The concept was simple—immaculately calculated—but simple. Fish the Rival out of mag-fall. Drag it in with a mag-mine (even an unarmed mine would smash large portions of the ship’s outer hull). Anything remaining intact was left at the mercy of mercenaries and scavengers. She could only hope the hits placed on her and her crew required proofs of death. Otherwise, if the mag-mine wasn’t armed with a warhead, the cloaking field would drop and reveal a heavily armed gunship. Only if the pirates needed proof, would they be forced to board and do the dirty work themselves. Vaporized atoms floating in space wouldn’t bring a payday capable to offsetting the cost of such an elaborate enterprise.

An awful lot of work for a grudge match. Bad losers.

“Information!” Crimson snapped. “The mag mine. Is it armed? Is it armored?”

“I’m not detecting any energy signatures that would indicate any kind of fusion device,” Clidjitt replied. “Its design suggests its primary function is magnetic field generation.”

“What if we gave it more than it asked for?” Andross said, “Throw the Boatman at it? Ram it.”

“Dumb idea,” Crimson replied, “We may need it yet.”

“What about projectile weapons?”Andross retorted, clearly on a roll. “We got anything onboard that might be big enough to crack that nut. A simple, armor-piercing round, accelerated by the magnetic field would impact the mine at 1,000 times its ordinary power.”

“If anyone does it’s an illegal personal item,” Crimson warned.

“Would be handy!” Andross rolled his eyes. “Doesn’t this rust-bucket have any anti-piracy measures?”

It should. In their line of work it would have made a lot of sense. But flying around the universe in a gutted, used seedship came without certain perks. And Crimson’s own lack of self-preservation had probably delayed her investment in customary precautions.

“Not really,” she answered, darkly.

“Snake-spit!” Andross said, tossing his hands in the air.

The pilot’s derision irritated her almost more than the pirates. “Hey! If you wanted the Nautilus you should have signed on with Captain Nemo!”

Andross gave an exasperated head shake.

Crimson’s mind kept ticking. Who knew that the remaining hitman of Qualvana would go to the effort of a space-based ambush? It was unlikely. But now 300 settlers were caught in the line of fire.

“How long until we’re drawn into the mine?”

“Approximately 20 minutes at current trajectory,” Clidjitt answered.

“Can we slow that down?”

Andross was a born pilot. Even his grumbling gave way to solving a flight based dilemma. “We can swing ‘round. Use our engines to slow the spiral—need continuous adjustments. Hafta’ be manual. But it should work.”

“How much time could you buy us?”

Andross looked at Clidjitt. The Brev was typing calculations into his display with his stickly claws. He narrated the results. “With minimal output… we could add one hour until impact.”

“Waitaminute!” Andross sat up straighter. “What if we torch that thing?”

They looked him.

“If we get close enough—angle our propulsion engines straight at it—and go for full thrust! Could we melt the sucker?”

Clidjitt went back to his controls. “Spetrographic readings indicate traditional Queriddium alloy, but I detect no special quartz or silica plating. It would probably take 5 minutes at 2,000 Kelvins to destabilize the mine.”

“Full thrust would put out at least 3,000 K,” Andross nodded.

Crimson was grabbing the intercom. She had to think for a moment to recall the code for Engineering. “Gator, prepare for full thrust!”

“What? Again?” came the Megladyte’s reply.

The cyborg turned back to her hotheaded pilot. “Not just a pretty face, fly boy.”

“Best of the best…” Andross admitted.