Beyond the Black Part 3

This is Part 3, catch up on the rest Here. “I’ve got two bogey’s on my scope.” Radley pushed Hicklepeck aside. “Friendlies?” Captain Gadwall studied his own display. “I wouldn’t count on it. Not this

This is Part 3, catch up on the rest Here.


“I’ve got two bogey’s on my scope.” Radley pushed Hicklepeck aside.

“Friendlies?” Captain Gadwall studied his own display.

“I wouldn’t count on it. Not this far out.”

“Better play it safe then. Crowe, find a likely patch of debris, then have Sweqs make us dark.”

“On it, Captain.” Her fingers flew across the ringed navigational controls. and the ship rocked with the changing gravity.

Radley pulled up the scanner data for the incoming ships and swore. “They’re Chryl ships, no mistaking it.”

“I thought the Chryl were destroyed.” Hicklepeck struggled to keep his feet as gravity righted itself again.

“It’s nearly impossible to eradicate an entire race.”

“And even we didn’t try that hard.” Gadwall highlighted one of the incoming ships. “Doesn’t look like they’ve spotted us yet.”

The lights dimmed and most of the displays switched off.

“That won’t last for long. Even if they’re here for a pleasure cruise, they must have noticed our entry into the system. At this range they’ll see us in a few minutes.”

“What happens if they find us?” The shade of Hicklepeck’s scales was impossible to read in the dim light, so Radley took his perpetually shocked expression at face value.

“We’ll have tea and crumpets, what do you think will happen?”

“Hicklepeck, which planet are you looking for?” Gadwall flipped through the scanner’s overview of the system.

“S-seven.” The Filtonian stammered.

“That’s on the outer edge.”

“We’ll never slip past them, Captain.”

“We need some kind of distraction.”

“Whatever we’re doing, we’d better get to it.” Crowe called. “One of them’s turning this way.”

“You ready to give up yet, Hicklepeck?”

“Of course not. I knew there’d be…obstacles.”

“In that case, Radley, take the professor in the planet-hopper. We’ll buy you a window, then circle back for you in a few days. Will that be enough time?”

Hicklepeck wrung his hands. “It depends on what we find, the condition of the wreck, how much interference the Chryl provide, travel times—”

“Take it or leave it.”

“Yes, I will take all the time you can give me.”

Radley grabbed him by the collar. “Great. Throw what you need into the planet-hopper, we’re leaving in two minutes.”

“Better make that one.” Crowe pointed to the glowing display.

“You heard the lady, move.” Radley dragged the stuttering Filtonian off the bridge.

After showing Hicklepeck the route between the planet-hopper and his quarters, Radley rushed off to pack his own gear. He didn’t know what kind of mess they’d step in on Chryl Seven, so he took only the bare essentials. Better to be light and mobile, than weighed down with junk he didn’t need.

He stowed his things into the planet-hopper, then stepped back out into the corridor. “Hicklepeck! You coming?”

“Yes, just…oof…just a moment.”

“What are you…oh for crying out loud.” Radley stepped around a corner to find Hicklepeck dragging two large trunks. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“I assure you this gear is all entirely necessary.” The Filtonian huffed as he heaved against his load.

Grinding his teeth, Radley stepped in to help. One tug gave him a new respect for the scientist. “What do you have in here, your own ship?”

“Only the bare essentials.”

“This isn’t some holiday trip you know.”

“Of course not, but you yourself spoke of how dangerous this mission is. Best to be prepared for anything.”

The main lights returned as Radley sealed off the airlock. “Time’s up! If we’re going to go, we’re doing it now.”

“Ready when you are.” Hicklepeck shouted back from the cockpit.

Radley jumped into the navigator’s ring and fastened the harness. “We’re ready to launch, Crowe.” He turned to Hicklepeck. “You might want to strap yourself in, this won’t be smooth like the gravity well drops.”

The Filtonian scrambled into the harness next to him. “What do you mean?”

“Launching.” Crowe’s voice echoed over the comms.

“Without the graviton engine to compensate, the acceleration in this thing is a—”

The planet-hopper hurdled forward as it detached from its internal dock and rose to join a few stray asteroids in a low orbit around the spherical Broc Mor.

Radley gently coaxed the high-burn thrusters to life as they circled, gathering speed.

Through the wide cockpit viewport, he caught a glimpse of one of the Chryl vessels. It was considerably larger than Gadwall’s ship, and his trained eye picked out at least three missile ports.

He swore under his breath.

“What’s wrong?”

“That’s a Chryl gunship. Even if we go unnoticed, the Captain’s in for a rough ride.”

“But you and he have dealt with such things before, right?”

“Sure, in gunships of our own. But the Broc Mor doesn’t have any weapons.”

“Why not?”

Gadwall’s voice came over the comms. “Here’s your window, Weller. Good luck.”

“Because we didn’t plan on coming back to Chryl space. Now hang on.” Radley twisted the navigational controls toward the empty blackness at the edge of Chryl space and throttled up the thrusters.

For a few agonizing moments, it felt like the planet-hopper left without them, and the harnesses dragged them painfully along behind.

Eventually, the sensation ended, and they were comfortably standing in the cockpit once more.

Hicklepeck coughed and sputtered. “What was that?”

Radley shook some of the dizziness from his head. “That’s what thruster acceleration feels like.”

“When I made the trip from Filton to the spacedock it wasn’t nearly so…intense.”

“Well, I’d wager they weren’t in as big a hurry.” He checked the scanner. It reported several graviton disturbances in the area they’d just vacated.

And no Broc Mor.

Hopefully that meant the captain’s plan was working.

One of the Chryl gunships was still loitering in the vicinity, presumably checking for unwanted guests, but now they were long gone.

The navigational readouts predicted they’d intercept Chryl Seven in a few hours. And if they were lucky, before the Chryl noticed them.

“I don’t understand, won’t the Chryl be able to track our engines in this as easily as they did the Broc Mor?”

“Maybe, and we’ll have to keep that in mind before we fire them up again.”

“Wait, do you mean to say we’re drifting?”

Radley laughed. “That’s the beauty of space travel, Professor. If you set the right course, one little burst of speed will carry you forever.”

Hicklepeck stared out the viewport in silence for a few minutes. “What are the Chryl like?”

“Aggressive, dangerous isolationists. Surely that much must’ve breached your ivory tower.”

“No, I mean, what do they look like. Even in my study of this system, I couldn’t find a single credible account of their appearance.”

“What makes you think I’d know?”

“You said you fought in the war, as a…GWT I believe? I assume that brought you in close quarters with the enemy.”

Radley shifted uncomfortably. “You could say that. But I never saw any true Chryl.”

“How so?”

“Chryl Prime, back before…well us, was a small planet, with thin atmosphere a light gravity. Apparently, before they decided to declare war on everyone around them, the Chryl figured they’d need to have soldiers that were built for harsher climes. The soldiers I encountered had been cybernetically modified, a hideous amalgamation of synthetics and flesh. I wouldn’t be surprised if none of them were close to a true Chryl anymore.”

“And after the war?”

“I don’t know, maybe the politicians and diplomats got a good look at the original specimen, but I never did. Just the nightmares they became.”

They stood in silence again for a time.

“Did something like what happened here happen to Human Prime?”

“What?” Radley glanced up from his display.

“You mentioned that Humans knew about planet’s dying, and there not being much Human space left. Was it because of a war like this one?”

“I don’t know. It’s ancient history, and that was never my strong suit. You’d be better off asking Captain Gadwall.”

“But you must know something.” Hicklepeck turned those big, bulbous eyes to stare at him.

“From what I remember, our sun went dark, not long after the colony ship that settled Klime Two left the system.”

“That’s horrible.”

“Again, ancient history. But they say if you go far enough out, and know where to look, you can still see it twinkling at the edges of the night sky.”

“Have you tried?”

Radley shrugged. “I try to stay more focused on the here and now. Speaking of….” He glanced at the scanner.

Chryl Seven rapidly approached, even if it didn’t look like it through the viewport. It was a small gas giant on the far edge of the system with two rings and a handful of moons.

“I’m not picking up any ships in the area, but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a Chryl base on at least one of those moons. So which one are we headed for?”

“None. I told you we’re going to the planet.”

“Hicklepeck, that’s a gas giant, there’s no way any ship that crashed into it that long ago is still there.”

“Now you misunderstand me. The Voyagers’ ship isn’t on Chry Seven. It is Chryl Seven.”

To Be Continued…

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