Episode 66: Possum

rocket propulsion concept art

Even with her teeth clenched Crimson felt them chattering in her skull. The horrific force of 4,000 petajoules of explosions behind them rattled every screw, bolt, and soliesic seal on the Rival. Even with the inertial dampening fields providing some support, Crimson felt like she was going to be squashed into a pancake. The Rival shoved up from her cybernetic sit bones, rattling her spine, while the gravitational crush of the mag-mine felt like a powerful hand depressing her face and chest cavity.

But Crimson’s Mindframe was running like a thoroughbred.

Electromagnetism cast enough waves across enough spectrums of reality that science still hadn’t unraveled it all. Even still, their rusty instruments should have had enough sophistication to operate in a confusion of magnetic interference. The problem was the output: the mag-mine was drawing them in with the terminal force of being too close to a planet’s magnetic core. Without a core to incinerate them, though, it worked almost like a black hole. Inside its crush was a little slice of oblivion, and even light had difficulty not warping. So never mind scanners.

The reflective light that was getting to them now, and the compositional analysis of the metal object was enough to tell them they had visitors, but there was no way to know if they were about to be vaporized by energy weapons, or blasted with projectiles. The upside was that the incoming vessel was small. The downside was, it couldn’t be powering the mag-mine or the cloaking device that had hidden it until now. Either a portable power source was also floating out there, hidden, or another, larger ship. But if a pirate fleet was out there, it seems they meant to stay hidden until the magnetic toy had done its work.

Now, they caught on to the Rival’s scheme, but Crimson was gambling just a moment too late. The Rival was about to destabilize the mine, and when it did the magnetic field would collapse, and they would blast away at sublight speed. Since they hadn’t deactivated the mine remotely to preserve it—resorting to a chase—there could only be a few possibilities. They couldn’t deactivate it from that distance, or they hoped to board the Rival before it broke free. A ship that size could, perhaps be armed, but maybe it only carried magnetic clamps, and a ferocious boarding party. Alternatively, they could be an over powered gunship, about to slice off the Rival’s engines while a pirate cruiser waited nearby to pick through the bones of the vacuum-eviscerated seedship.

But they hadn’t fired yet.

Crimson shouted over the jarring, creaking rumble of the ship, “Prepare to cut engines!”

“What?” Andross challenged.

“Do it on my mark!” to herself she growled, “I’m calling their bluff.”

Clidjitt announced “Mag-mine destabilizing in ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five…”

“Cut engines!”

The failing point of the mine was easy to calculate. The trajectory of the Rival not so difficult either. The number of seconds Andross’ fingers would take to execute Crimson’s commands—and the engines’ combustion funnels ceased firing—a lot less scientific. But if she’d guessed right…

“Magnetic field has collapsed!” Clidjitt cheered.

Rival’s violent rattling shuttered to a halt.

“Engines dead. We’re sitting ducks—”

Clidjitt was still reading displays, “Scanners back online. The pirate vessel is closing: it’s launched a projectile!”

“Crimson!” Andross snapped, reaching for maneuvering thrusters.

“Don’t!” Crimson pushed off her cybernetic leg and crashed across the MiPie with a restraining arm.

Clidjitt continued, “Confirming: pirate vessel is a Type II Raptor Class boarding vessel, magnetic grapplers launched.”

“There!” Crimson stabbed her finger out the view screen, at the suddenly still, star-studded emptiness of space. A small glimmer of light, like a stray satellite sailed across the darkness.

“Grappler lock is a negative!” Clidjitt confirmed.

“Missed!” Crimson tensed her fist in pleasure. “Andross can you vent some fuel? Make it look like we burned out our engines!”

“Uhhhh,” Andross’s hands floated off the controls like an excuse but a few fingers descended again to poke obedient sequences. “Andross to Gator, can we vent a little fuel? We’re trying to leak for the pirates…!”

“Might not be too hard…!” Gator reported, over the intercom—background noise suggesting they hadn’t been far from such an issue anyway.

“The Raptor-vessel is attempting to reel in the grappler,” Clidjitt said.

“Now’s our chance…!” Andross whined from under Crimson’s robotic armpit.

“No. They’ll catch us.” She looked through the dorsal viewer, hoping to see the approaching boarding craft. “Play dead. This way they have to ask…”

She didn’t think there was a larger vessel out there. Just a mobile power platform. If this boarding craft was all there was, then playing dead would make them an easy victim. And maybe the pirates would try to negotiate entry, instead of blasting the Rival full of holes. If they could control the pirates’ entry point…

The control console chimed.

Both Shaak-Rom, from the Archive, and Clidjitt from the bridge reported. “Incoming Linkburst!”

“Give it to me here!” Crimson ordered, now pushing Clidjitt off his seat. Her flesh shoulder and side felt the prickly barbs of his exoskeleton, as she leaned into him. But she said, “See if you can’t make that door panel spark again!”

The holo-display fizzled to life and a strange alien, possibly a Pincho, appeared. He looked fierce, and slightly irritated, with his bizarrely shaped head-crest, and wearing a heavy armored suit. His arms were propped up as though on commanding rests, linked to dangerous weapon controls. “Merchant vessel! This is Termus Galhaan, of the Hunting Knife. Prepared to be boarded. If you resist, you will be fired upon.”

Crimson wondered if her Mindframe could read her a book on acting in 1.5 seconds. She just faked it. “We’ve sustained heavy damage to our engines and habitation decks! Please, don’t fire. You may board at Shuttle Bay 2! We are only a passenger vessel. We mean no harm!” Clidjitt, must have yanked a cable or two just then, because a shower of sparks behind her flashed dramatically.

“If you do not resist, there will be no casualties,” answered Galhaan, with a steely voice that implied no mercy.

“Please, we don’t want any trouble!” Crimson said.