Episode 65: All At Once

Bridge concept sketch. DanArt

“Swing our tail pipe around and prepare to fire the main engines!” Crimson ordered. She pulled down the intercom panel and keyed in a direct line to Engineering again. Gator answered.

“What the heck’s goin’ on, Crims?”

“Mag mine. Suspected pirates. We’re gonna’ swing our tail around and try to melt through the diablos thing. Less than 4 minutes, full thrust.”

“Whoop-dee-do. I gotta’ tell you: every time we do this, things get a little worse!”

“You wanna’ explain to our passengers how we got picked outta’ mag-fall, crushed by a mine, and kidnapped by pirates?”

“Pirates!” a familiar but unwelcome voice on the Bridge: Amborghent Joffs.

Crimson spun around and levered herself out of the chair to face the frazzled councilman. “Not yet! If we succeed, we might yet get away! I need you and your people in their quarters and out of the way!”

Shaak-Rom was out of the Archive and standing behind the civilian leader. Joffs only took a step back, worry plastered his rotund, greenish face, but he was resolute. “I… think I should stay. At least until I know more.”

“We’re kind of busy!” Crimson snapped.

Shaak-Rom put a red hand on Joff’s shoulder and said, “Perhaps I can bring the councilman up to speed.”

“Fine,” Crimson waved her hand, “Just get him out of here!” She turned back to the intercom. “Gator! Prep the engines. I want any excess power to inertia dampeners.”

“Here we go…!”

She turned her attention to the view screen. It was still spinning, stars wheeling from one side to the other, but it seemed different somehow. Andross and Clidjitt were trading instructions:

“ …Stabilize with port thrusters.”

“Axis aligned!”

“Keep it there.”

“Are we in position?” Crimson asked, “Because I feel like I’m going to throw up.”

“It’s better not to look out the window,” Andross growled. His own eyes were fixed on the navigational display. The blip of the Rival Bay sat in shrinking orbit around a central point, like a tetherball coiling around its pole.

“When will we be in range?”

Clidjitt’s two claws typed with the precision speed of a classical pianist. “T-minus two minutes, twenty-five seconds.”

Crimson was back on the intercom. “Gator, two minutes to full thrust.”

His baritone rumbled sounded out of breath. “Almost there!”

Crimson tried to ignore the spinning stars. “Clidjitt, you gotta’ spare eye for pirates?”

The insectoid deftly made adjusted to Andross’ commands, while sparing a third pincer to flick across the scanner controls. “Still no significant reading beyond the mag-well.”

“Keep looking!”

Gator’s voice came back, “Engine’s primed and ready.”

“Good. Inertial dampeners to full.”

“One minute,” announced Andross.

The seconds counted by in slow ticks. Crimson felt her Mindframe trying to push an Earth I poet’s quote out her mouth—someone called Dickinson. She managed to keep it to herself:

‘Twas like a Maelstrom, with a notch,

That nearer, every Day,

Kept narrowing its boiling Wheel

Thanks, Emily, Crimson grimaced.

“Approaching optimal burn range,” Clidjitt chirped.

“Standbye,” Crimson ordered. She switched back to shipwide communications, “All hands, prepare for full thrust! Passengers, brace yourselves.” She clenched her teeth. Twice in one year; too much.  “Bring the fire!”

“Firing!” Andross answered. The Rival began to shake from the aft as the engines rumbled to life. Then, like someone had pulled back and elastic band and let it snap, the Rival bucked. Crimson cursed, and was crushed to the deck by the force of a thousand Gs. She tried to push her face and chest away from the vibrating deck. The others were properly strapped into their seats.

The bulkheads groaned and rattled. Andross shouted over the protesting structure, “Full thrust! The mine is still dragging us in!”

Crimson propped her robotic hand on her metal knee and forced herself up, feeling like the ball bearing in an aerosol spray can. Straining against the force she keyed the intercom and called to Engineering. “A little more power, Gator!”

“Safeties are off!” replied the engineer.

She felt Andross increase the throttle. Triumphantly he yelled, “Rival holding position!”

“Give it hell,” Crimson growled.

“Crimson,” Clidjitt chirped, “I’m detecting another ship. It’s appeared about 1000 kilometers outside the event horizon. Bearing 311, mark 55. They’re coming our way!”

Crimson was struggling to seat herself into the scanning station behind the insectoid. “They must have figured out our plan! Are they armed?”

“The mag-mine is still disrupting our scanners. But spectrograph indicates a metallic object of about 20 meters by 50 meters.”

“That’s about the size of the Boatmam,” Andross inserted.

Boarding craft. Could be worse. One thing at a time, though. The panel behind them at the neck of the bridge flashed with a shower of sparks. Joffs voice cried out from the back; it sounded more like surprise than pain.

“Where we at with the mine?” Crimson demanded.

“Holding!” Andross said.

“One point five minutes!” Clidjitt replied, “sixty seconds and we’re free.”

“When will the pirate vessel enter the event horizon?” Crimson asked.

“At current speed,” Clidjitt referred the spectrograph. “Roughly a minute.”

“Standby,” Crimson warned, “He deactivates the mine to try and save his equipment we’re gonna go flying.”