Not sure what happened before? Make sure to catch up Here before reading on! Gadwall joined Radley on long-range comms. “Crowe, how many hostile ships are in the system?” “And how close?” Radley added. “Three
Not sure what happened before? Make sure to catch up Here before reading on!
Gadwall joined Radley on long-range comms. “Crowe, how many hostile ships are in the system?”
“And how close?” Radley added.
“Three Chryl gunships entered the system a few minutes ago. I’ve turned off everything I can afford to, but they’ll pick up some trace signatures before long.” She said. “You got a plan, Captain?”
“Working on it.” Gadwall turned to Sweqs. “You said before the Voyagers couldn’t leave because the graviton engines on this ship were too powerful. They’d never escape the gravity-wells from the ship causing that black hole, is that still true?”
Sweqs checked the display Pellina had been using before she revealed her true nature. “It looks like its gravitational pull has decreased significantly in the last thousand cycles. I estimate that, if we limit the ship to one of its engines, we should be able to achieve an escape vector.”
Radley took over the navigational controls. “Great, let’s get this thing off the ground. I didn’t find any weapons systems, but at least it’ll give the Chryl another target.”
“Wait.” Gadwall grabbed Radley’s shoulder. “Our first priority is to destroy this Voyager technology.” He turned back to Sweqs. “What if we used more than one engine?”
Sweqs’s appendages bobbed. “More than one would create a graviton field strong enough to tether the ship to the black hole.”
“Would all four be enough of a tether to pull the planet out of orbit?”
There was a stunned silence.
Hicklepeck’s scales shifted through a series of green hues, each a little yellower than the last. “You want to drop…the entire planet…into the black hole?”
Sweqs thought for a moment. “If this ship was still planetside the combined gravity-wells of its engines and the black hole ship should create enough pull to cause the Earth’s orbit to decay.” They shuddered. “But it would also be too much for the Broc Mor to escape.”
“That’s the plan then.” Gadwall said. “Radley, get them back to the Broc Mor and get out of the system, I’ll give you as much time as I can.”
“Captain, do you seriously expect me to follow those orders?” Radley tightened his grip on the pulse-pistol.
“There isn’t time to argue!” Gadwall shouted. “Our priority is to keep this technology out of Chryl hands.”
“You’re right.” Radley shot Gadwall in the leg. “There isn’t time to argue.”
The blast knocked the captain off his feet and crashed his pressure suit’s systems.
Radley turned to the others. “Get him back to Pellina’s ship before his suit fails completely. The auto-navigation should get you back to the Broc Mor.”
Sweqs and Hicklepeck just stared at him.
With some effort, they hoisted the captain between them and dragged him off the bridge.
Gadwall’s voice came over Radley’s comm. “You know this is mutiny, Weller.”
“No, captain. It’s me doing my job. You brought me along to protect the Broc Mor and her crew. That includes you.”
“Yes, you are.” He switched back to the long-range comms. “Crowe, as soon as Captain and the others get back, I need you to get away from here, but preferably not too far.”
“What’s going on?” She asked.
“We’ll fill you in later, just make sure you get the ship to a safe distance, understand?”
“How far is—”
“Sweqs should know.”
“Why do I get the feeling you’re not coming?”
“Don’t count me out just yet. I have a plan.”
Not a good plan, but a plan nonetheless.
Radley waited until the scanners showed Pellina’s ship taking off before firing up the first engine.
The ancient ship shook slightly as the gravity from its engines fought with the planet’s own field.
Radley input the calculations that had been drilled into him as a soldier. He sometimes still dreamed about them.
He didn’t know if the Voyagers’ ship was capable of creating the gravity-well his calculations described—or where it would take him if it could—but the only alternative was going down without a fight. He’d never take that road.
Static filled his helmet.
Hopefully that meant the Broc Mor was safely out of range.
He secured his pulse-pistol in its pouch and reactivated the Voyagers’ final distress signal.
The Chryl were bound to come running.
The self-contained transceiver system weighed more than Radley expected, but he wrestled it to an airlock at the top of the ship. There, the gravity-well he’d programmed into the engine helped him hoist the bulky system up.
If his plan worked, he’d need a stronger transmitter than his suit comms if he wanted rescue. If it didn’t….
A bolt of energy smashed into the wall next to him.
Reflexively, Radley took cover behind the hatch recess, drew his pulse-pistol, and returned fire. His shots caught the Chryl trooper in the chest, stunning it.
Another shot to the head took it out.
Radley wished he’d kept Pellina’s rifle, but there wasn’t time to dig the signal chip out of this trooper’s hand. All he could do was continue with the plan, fight hard, and hope the Chryl gunships were close enough to get caught in the gravity-well.
He rushed back to the bridge.
Two Chryl had already arrived. One knelt over Pellina’s body. The other was examining the engine controls.
Radley knelt by the doorway and fired in. His first shots targeted the standing trooper. It died with a shriek and two un-aimed blasts of its rifle. One of which destroyed the display connected to the navigational controls.
The kneeling Chryl’s attacks were more precise. Three quick blasts struck the doorway and the wall behind Radley as he ducked back into cover.
He returned fire as best he could, but the Chryl’s superior firepower had him pinned down.
And time wasn’t on his side.
The Chryl must have called for reinforcements. If Radley didn’t do something to end this stalemate, and soon, he’d be surrounded.
Fortunately, he’d spent hours wandering this ship and one very much like it. He fired two blind shots around the doorway to keep the Chryl focused on that position, then slipped into a nearby vent.
The sounds of the Chryl’s rifle echoed through the confined space.
It was a straightforward crawl from one side of the bridge to the other. Radley emerged in the hall by the far doorway, close to where Pellina had made her final stand.
The Chryl trooper was carefully advancing on his old position.
It took three shots for Radley to be certain the trooper was dead.
He rushed to the navigational controls. Hopefully they still worked. He fired up the other three engines and typed in the same calculations he’d given the first one.
He didn’t know if four perfectly overlapping gravity-wells would stabilize, or if he’d just recreated the disaster at Chryl Prime.
Either way, he’d doomed the Earth.
The extreme graviton levels would draw the planet from its orbit. Then it was only a matter of time until it was gone forever.
And if Sweqs was right—and they usually were when it came to gravitational mechanics—none of the Chryl ships would escape.
That just left him.
Radley ran back to the airlock where the combined gravity-well was forming. He killed another Chryl trooper on the way.
When he arrived, the gravity-well had already over-powered the planet’s own field in the local area, causing an uncomfortable transition from floor to ceiling. The outer airlock had broken away under the stress.
The transceiver was gone.
Hopefully it had fallen into the gravity-well and not been taken by the Chryl.
Regardless, Radley wasn’t about to go looking for it. The odds of his plan working were so low that he didn’t worry about being found.
He braced himself against the inner airlock door and took a few deep breaths. He’d promised he’d never do this again. And this trip was worse than any of his deployments as a soldier.
Radley let go of the bulkhead and let gravity carry him out of the airlock. He crossed his arms over his chest and tucked his legs and head in, making as small a profile as he could. Just like he’d been trained.
The warping of the gravity-well spun him like a top, gathering speed as he fell farther and farther from the ship.
He kept his eyes shut. With this many G’s, he wouldn’t be able to see anything anyway. Numbness spread through him. It reminded him of his gut-wrenching first drop. A few moments stretched into eternity as the extreme forces tore at his body, trying to rend him limb from limb.
And then the pressure subsided.
He was still falling, but the acceleration had ceased. He opened his eyes.
Nothing but blackness.
He activated his helmet lights. The only thing they illuminated was him.
Radley checked his suit’s settings. He had enough oxygen for eight hours.
Eight hours for the Broc Mor to find him in the infinite black.
He dialed up his suit’s distress signal as high as it would go, but it was a fool’s hope. There was no sign of the Voyagers’ transmitter. Even if it had gone through the same drop he did—and survived—it could be anywhere in this system. He’d planned to drop with it, then they might’ve at least gone out together.
He twisted around to look at the field of stars, rather than the black hole. If he could’ve made out Earth, he would have watched to see if the Chryl escaped or rode the planet to its final end.
The hours dragged on, each slowly cutting away at Radley’s lifeline. When he’d made these kinds of drops as a soldier, he’d been outfitted with propulsion equipment to steer himself to a target and land on it. Now, he drifted aimlessly and far too slow to reach anything in his lifetime, much less before his air ran out.
Even if there’d been anything to reach.
He slept. The shallow breathing might buy him a few more minutes, and he wouldn’t have to watch death creep up on him.
Radley awoke to the feel of drag. He twisted trying to catch a glimpse of what slowed him down.
A ship was behind him, using its gravity field to suspend him like any other piece of salvage. It wasn’t a Chryl ship, but it wasn’t the Broc Mor either.
He checked his suit—less than two hours of air left.
Whoever they were, he owed them his life.
It took a few minutes for the ship to draw him safely to an airlock. Radley spent the time coming up with a cover story. The only other ships that might come this way belonged to Manodor and his goons.
He wasn’t disappointed.
Two Dathel thugs waited for him just inside the airlock.
Radley didn’t resist as they manhandled him into a large cargo hold. They set him down next to the Voyagers’ transceiver.
So it had come through.
“And here I was hoping we’d picked up something valuable.” A squat, flat-faced Dathel leered at Radley over his breath-mask.
“Ronle.” Radley removed his helmet and sucked in the foul-smelling air like it was the breath of life. “I didn’t figure you for the rescuing type.”
“I’m not. I’m the profit-making type. So why shouldn’t I just throw you back out that airlock and be on my merry way.”
Radley gestured to transceiver. “Because I can tell you where that came from.”
“I’m sure my boys can figure it out.”
“I’m talking coordinates, Ronle, to Voyager Prime.”
“Your captain promised something similar, and we haven’t seen hide nor hair of him since.”
“Take me back to the Broc Mor and you’ll get what you came for, I promise.”
“What’s to keep you from running as soon as you’re back aboard your ship? I’m no fool.” Ronle leaned close to Radley’s face. “Unlike some.”
Radley pressed his pulse-pistol against the Dathel’s chin. “Fine. Take me back to the Broc Mor or I’ll scramble whatever passes for brains in that little skull of yours.”
Ronle snarled. “Boys—”
Radley pressed the barrel deeper into the Dathel’s soft flesh. “Anything other than an order to track down the Broc Mor and you die.”
Hatred burned in Ronle’s eyes as he considered Radley’s threat.
Radley didn’t flinch.
Ronle snarled. “Go tell navigation we’ve got a new mission. Track down the Broc Mor.”
“On it, boss.” One of the thugs left the cargo hold.
Radley smiled. “That’s better. Now, while we’re waiting, why don’t you tell me how you found me?”
Ronle gestured to the transceiver. “We picked up the signal from that. Didn’t make sense for it to just be drifting through space, so we back tracked along its path. Finding you was quite the unpleasant surprise. How’d you end up out here anyway? Have a falling out with that captain of yours?”
“Something like that.” Radley didn’t bother with further small-talk. He kept his focus on Ronle and the other Dathels that occasionally wandered into the hold.
A quick jab of the pulse-pistol, and Ronle made the others go away.
Eventually, the report came down that they’d found the Broc Mor. Captain Gadwall was on comms.
Radley activated the long-range comms in his suit. “Captain, you there?”
“I’m here.” Gadwall answered. “How’d you get on one of Manodor’s ships?”
“Long story, I’ll fill you in later. For now, I’m bringing over a guest.”
“We’ll be ready.”
Radley kept Ronle at gunpoint as the Dathel guided him to a planet-hopper and got them launch clearance.
Radley let the auto-navigation pilot them to the Broc Mor so he could keep his attention on his hostage.
Once the ship’s systems indicated they’d successfully docked, Radley rose and backed away from the Dathel. “This is where we part ways, Ronle. I sincerely hope we never meet again.”
“That’s it then? You think you can embarrass me in front of my men and get away with it?”
“I think you’ll be too busy to come after me anytime soon. Here.” Radley gave Ronle the coordinates for Earth, at least where it had been when he left. “You’ve got a planet of ancient wonders to loot…if the Chryl haven’t beaten you to it.”
Before the Dathel could respond, Radley stepped through the airlock and sealed it again. A moment later, the planet-hopper launched, returning to the debt collector’s ship.
Gadwall stood in the corridor. “You shouldn’t have given him the coordinates.”
“If we’re lucky, he’ll tell Manodor about it before he realizes the planet’s doomed. Then your debt will be cleared.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
Radley shrugged. “Then I’ve bought us a little time. If Sweqs is right, nothing else is getting off that planet.”
“Yeah…nothing else.” Gadwall shook his head.
“Um, excuse me, Captain?” Hicklepeck came around the corner with a data pad in hand. “I need to get back to my studies. The data I recovered from the Voyager’s ship will take me decades to catalog. And generations of scholars to fully investigate.”
“What?”Gadwall turned to him in shock.
The Filtonian raised a hand reassuringly. “Don’t worry, I was able to limit it to historical and cultural data.”
“How much did you get?” Gadwall was practically in tears.
“Most of the records from the ship, enough to completely fill the storage capacity of my local systems. I can only surmise from the data structure of the files, but they contain, among other things, text, images, video, audio, geographic and astronomic records, and even genomic libraries Why, have I done something wrong?”
Radley patted the Filtonian’s shoulder. “No, Hicklepeck. For once you did alright.”
“The gates of hell are open night and day; / Smooth the descent, and easy is the way: / But to return, and view the cheerful skies, / In this the task and mighty labor lies.” –The Aeneid, Virgil