Beyond the Black Part 10

Falling behind? Catch up Here before reading on. It didn’t take Radley long to hunt down the last Chryl. Once that was taken care of, he stumbled back to the compartment where he’d left Hicklepeck

Falling behind? Catch up Here before reading on.


It didn’t take Radley long to hunt down the last Chryl. Once that was taken care of, he stumbled back to the compartment where he’d left Hicklepeck and Pellina. The well of his adrenaline had run dry, his whole body ached. It didn’t help that the blows he’d taken to his chest made every breath painful. And the atmosphere was already too heavy for easy breathing.

A fresh surge of panic flooded through him as he approached the door to the compartment and found it ajar.

Without thinking, he forced it open far enough to squeeze through, bringing the Chryl rifle to bear on whatever was inside.

Pellina and Hicklepeck hovered around the central control console, oblivious to his entrance.

“I told you to keep this hatch sealed!” Radley let the rifle droop to his side. His every step felt heavier than the last, but he trudged over to the two scholars.

“It wasn’t sealed?” Hicklepeck’s protruding eyes still looked shocked.

“Dammit, Hicklepeck,” was all the fury Radley could muster. He slumped to the base of the panel and made a mental note not to entrust the Filtonian with anything in the future. “Either way, the ship is ours now.”

“Oh, excellent.” Hicklepeck’s scales flashed a light green before returning to pale blue. “I also have good news. I was able to pull the entry vector from the ship’s datalog.”

“So you know where the Voyagers came from?”

“Not exactly. The vector hasn’t been updated since the ship’s crash, which means that it’s about a thousand years out of date. Given enough time, and access to records about the history of the Chryl system, I could back-trace the celestial mechanics to get a more accurate result, but without more specific data on when the ship crashed the best I could achieve is an approximation. And it gets worse.”

“I’m beginning to question your definition of ‘good news.’”

“As I tried to tell you before, the Voyagers used a different astrogation paradigm than we do, which makes tracking distance virtually impossible.”

“Surely a smart guy like you could figure it out.”

“Do you know how long one Kipple is?”

“I don’t even know what that is.”

“Precisely my point. One Kipple is the height of an ancient Filtonian scientist, and it was how my people measured distance before we began space exploration. Without context or comparison, any unit of measurement is meaningless.”

“I’m sorry,” Pellina butted in. “Do you two truly believe you’ll be able to use this vessel to find the Voyagers’ homeworld?”

“Of course, I thought that’s why you were here too?” Hicklepeck turned his bulging eyes toward her.

Pellina shook her head. “No, I came to learn what this ship could teach us. I, like most of the galaxy, had given up the idea of finding Voyager Prime as a fantasy.”

“It may still be, if I can’t figure out a way to decipher this astrogational data.”

“Or if we don’t figure out a way to deal with the Chryl gunships in orbit.” Radley eased himself back to his feet. “Did either of you come up with anything useful on that front?”

Hicklepeck shook his head. “I’m afraid I was too preoccupied.”

“Nothing as firm as a plan.” Pellina said. “But I’ve been studying the schematics and capabilities of this vessel and I may have found some things we could use to our advantage.”

“Great, like what?”

“For starters, the ship is still intact.”

“Stop right there. I looked at those schematics too, and large sections of the ship were crushed or buried when it crashed.”

“But it didn’t crash.” Pellina’s face lit up as she gestured the two of them over to her display. “The vessel made a controlled landing on this planetoid and has spent the last thousand years burrowing its way inside. I believe it’s been using the ore, and possibly other parts of the ship,” she glanced at the debris pile nearby, “as a fuel source to keep certain systems running. Those crushed sections seem to have been designed to collapse as the process progressed.”

“What process?” Hicklpeck eagerly examined her findings.

“My initial thought was terraforming because, well, new planet. But going over these readings, I don’t think that’s true. External scans suggest the gas giant is stable now, but the system insists that a catastrophic failure has occurred.”

“The robot here said something about ‘no spark’ when I came in earlier.” Radley gestured to ancient machine that waited stiffly behind them.

“It spoke to you?” Hickplepeck turned to study it.

Radley grabbed the Filtonian’s shoulder and turned him back toward Pellina. “Let’s stay focused.”

“Right, sorry.”

“As I was saying,” Pellina continued, “most interesting to us are the three still functional graviton engines. I believe—”

“Wait, this ship has three graviton engines? That can’t be right.”

“It appears to have launched with ten, but most ceased functioning long ago.”

“No, you don’t understand. The reason modern ships aren’t equipped with a redundant engine system is because, in lay terms, overlapping graviton fields increase power exponentially. If they aren’t very precisely calibrated, they quickly spiral out of control.”

Hicklepeck’s scales shifted to a light yellow. “How catastrophic are we talking?”

“You saw what happened to Chryl Prime.”

“Oh.”

“That’s it!” Pellina slammed a hand on the panel. “I know what they were trying to do.”

“What?” Radley asked, despite himself.

“It’s so obvious I should have seen in earlier. They used those tubes to pump out clouds of light elements and then hyper-gravity to condense them. The Voyagers were trying to artificially create a star.”

Hicklepeck lit up. “An artificial star? That’s stupendous, can you imagine the potential uses?”

Radley was more somber. “Could it have worked?”

Pellina shook her head. “I don’t think so. Not with this equipment anyway. Even with all ten engines in working order, it would take hundreds of thousands of years or more to achieve the kind of density that allows stars to form. And as each engine failed that number went up exponentially.”

“Even so, this is a remarkable discovery.” Hicklepeck turned to each of them in turn. “Why aren’t you celebrating?”

“I think you’re missing the point, Hicklepeck.” Radley said.

“Apparently.”

Pellina sighed. “The ship didn’t crash, Drurary. It landed. Which means they chose this rock, this sector, intentionally.”

“Yes, presumably because it possessed a high concentration of volatiles.”

“An extra planet on the outskirts of the system didn’t greatly affect the ecosystem of Chryl prime, but a new star…?”

Radley leaned against the console. “And I thought what we did was horrible. At least we waited until they attacked.”

“The Chryl might be right, calling them the Invaders.” Pellina slumped in her suit.

“You…you’re saying the Voyagers did this…as an attack?”

“More likely they just didn’t care if the Chryl got caught up in the middle of it.”

“No, I can’t believe this.” Hicklepeck’s scales shifted to a deep purple. “It must have been an accident. Either this ship got knocked off course, or…or the Voyagers didn’t know this system was inhabited. That must be it!”

Radley shook his head. “Unless you can find one to ask, there’s no way to be certain. But I know how the Chryl will take this news.”

“Of course! That’s how I’ll exonerate them.” Hicklepeck turned back to his display. “Somewhere in here is the data I need to find their homeworld. From there we can learn the truth about this vessel. You’ll see. It was a mistake, nothing more.”

“Good luck with that. In the meantime, Pellina and I will figure us a way out of here.”

It took the two of them most of a day to come up with a viable plan—that didn’t include sacrificing Hicklepeck, much to Radley’s chagrin. Pellina’s landing craft didn’t have the range or speed they needed to escape Chryl space, so their only option was the Voyagers’ ship. They circled various versions of the same idea for hours before agreeing on one that had a middling chance of escape with only an average risk of death.

It took another hour to convince Hicklpeck to go along with it.

“Whatever else this ship may be, it is a piece of history. There are so few true Voyager relics left, it would be a crime to let any kind of harm come to it.”

“I’m more concerned with the harm that comes to us if we don’t.” Radley said. “And you never know, maybe it’ll hold up better than we expect.”

“Don’t patronize me.” Hicklepeck shook his head. “I’ve heard your plan, we’ll be lucky to get out of this with our lives, let alone the Voyagers’ ship.”

“Hey, at least you’ve still got a working pressure suit. Things go bad for me a lot more quickly.”

The Filtonian burbled.

“Come on, Pellina thinks she’s found the bridge. If we’re going to make it through this, that’ll probably be the best place.”

She was waiting for them in a small command room near the center of the ship. The service-bots had picked it clean of any furnishing, but the controls reminded Radley of the Broc Mor’s navigational ring.

The ship shuddered as Radley switched off two of the graviton engines. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep this ship together with one, but he knew he couldn’t balance more.

Feeding more power into the final engine, Radley eased the field around to lift them away from the planet’s core. A shrill alarm rang through the ship, but it obeyed.

Emergency bulkheads closed off the section as the scanners reported structural damage to the outer hull.

“Probably just the pumping tubes.” Radley hoped. “We don’t need those anyway.”

The huge ship powered through the turbulent atmosphere with little difficulty, though it seemed new alarms went off every minute.

A light, which Pellina guessed signaled the communications system, ignited as they breached the last cloud layer. The scanners indicated a total of four Chryl gunships within immediate striking range.

And Radley knew more couldn’t be far off.

“This is a bad idea.” He muttered.

“What?” Hicklepck had better hearing than he suspected.

“Here we go.” With a deep breath, Radley reignited the second graviton engine.

For a few agonizing moments, nothing changed.

Then the Voyagers’ ship bucked and spun as the competing gravity fields battled for dominance.

Radley’s vision blacked out against the uncontrolled forces.

“Pellina!” He kept his hands on the controls she’d shown him. “We’re running out of time.”

“Not yet.” Her voice felt very, very far away.

His hands were going numb. Another few moments and he wouldn’t be able to tell if he’d worked the controls at all. And if not…well, it wouldn’t be long before it didn’t matter to him.

“Now!”

His soldier’s instincts kicked in, allowing his body to obey even if his conscious mind was too addled to follow.

The pressure ended jarringly and the ship dropped into deep space.

Radley got his senses back just long enough to verify they’d actually done it. They’d escaped Chryl space.

Then the blackness engulfed him again.

To Be Continued…

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