Beyond the Black Part 8

Don’t forget to catch up on the rest of the story Here. Radley caught the Chryl trooper on the side of the head with his makeshift club, shattering its comm. His second blow aimed for

Don’t forget to catch up on the rest of the story Here.

Radley caught the Chryl trooper on the side of the head with his makeshift club, shattering its comm. His second blow aimed for the base of the skull, right for the nerve cluster, but glanced off as the trooper recovered.

Its twin tentacles slammed into Radley’s chest and heaved him back.

He dodged a wild swing as the Chryl turned to bring its rifle to bear.

The Chryl’s attacks were sluggish, unpracticed. It was either green or had never fought in high gravity.

Either way, the advantage was Radley’s.

He chucked his robot-arm-club at his opponent and closed the distance. The Chryl deflected the blow easily, but it bought Radley enough time to grab and divert the rifle barrel.

His pressure suit glove couldn’t completely block the heat of the barrel as the beam seared past his head and into the wall behind him.

Radley braced a leg against the Chryl and yanked on the rifle. The trooper hung on fiercely, lashing Radley’s back and sides with its cybernetic tentacles.

Grimacing, Radley braced his other leg against the Chryl, adding his whole weight to the attack.

His shoulders hit the deck, then his head. The blow made him forget the pain of his aching ribs.

But now Radley had the rifle.

Though without the chip from the Chryl’s hand, it was just another club.

At least the Chryl couldn’t shoot him anymore.

Radley rolled away from the tentacles as they whipped out. The Chryl came close on the attack, and he kicked its stubby legs.

The blow staggered the Chryl back and bought Radley some breathing room. Though his feet paid for it.

Radley was almost to his feet again when one of its tentacles wrapped around his arm and yanked. He swore at the pain as the rifle clattered to the floor. He kicked it out into the corridor before the trooper could get its hands on the weapon.

The Chryl rushed past him, and Radley hauled on the tentacle, still wrapped around his arm, to drag it back.

The trooper beat on him with its free tentacle as he drew it slowly back into the empty room.

His ribs were on fire and his breathing labored, but if he didn’t end this soon, those would be the least of his problems.

Radley slammed the Chryl’s skull into the bulkhead.

It clawed at Radley’s head and neck, sharp metal nails marring the view through his faceplate.

He smashed the Chryl into the wall again.

The smell of smoke and stale air flooded into his helmet.

Holding his breath, Radley drove the Chryl’s head into the metal one last time before they both collapsed.

The Chryl’s tentacles twitched feebly.

Radley’s lungs burned as he checked his suit for the inevitable. Of the countless scuffs and little tears his suit had suffered over the years, the one that finally did it in was only a couple centimeters long, across his neck. His glove came away bloody.

And there was no way to fix it here.

Closing his eyes, Radley took a deep breath. And coughed as the pain in his chest reminded him of the beating he’d taken.

The ship’s atmosphere was stale and heavy but seemed breathable.

It was a good thing Pellina hadn’t let the Chryl blow the airlock. He might’ve laughed if it didn’t hurt so much.

Instead, he ran his hands along his bruised ribs. It didn’t feel like they were broken, but field medicine had never been his strong suit. He stretched and something in his upper back complained.

Radley sighed. “One down, three to go.”

And then the ships in orbit.

He crawled over to the Chryl’s corpse and pried the palm-plate off its hand. Digging through the exposed biocircuitry, he fished out the control chip for the rifle. He wiped the blood and goo on the Chryl’s uniform.

Part of him hated the process, the experiences that lead him to knowing how to do this, but, most of all, he hated the part of him that didn’t care.

Radley staggered to his feet. The adrenaline was fading, his limbs felt like rubber, and he wasn’t done yet.

He leaned against the bulkhead and took a few deep breaths, despite the pain. He’d need a better plan for the rest of their captors—his body couldn’t take much more punishment. Even if it could, Hicklepeck and Pellina would be dead long before he could take three Chryl like this.

Fortunately, he had more resources now.

Radley stepped out into the corridor to retrieve the Chryl’s rifle, but it was gone, along with the wreckage of the Voyagers’ robot.

Swearing, he checked up and down the hallway. There was nothing other than blast marks, no sign either had ever existed.

“Great, just great.” Radley let himself collapse against the wall.

A soft whirring came from the room where he’d left the Chryl’s corpse.

Cautiously, Radley peered in through the open door.

A robot, shaped like a three-quarter-disc a little less than a meter across, steadily pushed the body toward a vent that had opened at the base of one wall.

Radley sighed. “Some kind of service-bot.” He watched the thing struggle against the Chryl’s weight for a moment. “Those vents could give me the edge I need if I still had a weapon. Did you take that too?”

The robot continued its slow work.

With a groan, Radley dragged the Chryl’s body away from the robot.

The service-bot stopped and spun in a confused circle.

“Sorry, little buddy. But I need you to guide me through these vents. And you don’t need this to slow you down.” He rolled the Chryl to the far side of the room. Before the service-bot could find it again, he turned the lights of his helmet on and set it down by the bewildered machine.

The robot’s scanners must have picked up the object, because it returned to its course, pushing the lit helmet into the vent.

Crawling on his belly, Radley followed.

There was a steep slope immediately beyond the wall, before the passage leveled off. His helmet was the only light in the low space.

He guessed the vents ran under the decks so service-bots could freely roam the ship without interfering with operations.

Radley tracked the rolling light through a maze of intersecting conduits until the service-bot emerged into a poorly lit chamber in the bowels of the ship. A large pile of debris dominated one side of the room. Two of the blocky robots stood near the edge, clumsily replacing the upper layer as it slid back to the floor.

On the opposite wall, a dozen or more small alcoves gaped. Most were empty but two housed more of the blocky automatons, curled up like sleeping children.

A control terminal waited in the center of the chamber. An ancient robot stood vigil over it.

Radley grabbed his helmet back from the service-bot before it could be added to the heap of debris. A quick scan of the pile revealed the other missing items. He grabbed the rifle and gave it a thorough check.

It was a little banged up from its trip through the vents but none the worse for wear.

A creaking sound behind him cut short his investigation of the debris. He spun, palming the chip that kept the rifle functioning.

The robot at the control terminal raised a shaky hand to its face and spoke.

Most of it was either too garbled or too different for Radley to understand, but he caught the word “report” and the phrase “no spark.”

Carefully, he stepped over to examine the station. The control layout vaguely reminded him of engineering panels on modern ships. A central display flashed through hundreds of symbols, too fast for Radley to even begin to guess what they might be.

But maybe there is a way….

He turned back to the waiting robot. “Show me an interior schematic.”

The robot stared at him for a moment, then creakily worked the controls until the display showed what looked to Radley like an overview of the gas giant.

“No, uh, ship layout?” He racked his brain for other words which might be similar enough to convey what he wanted. “Inside map? Room guide.”

Eventually, the words “vessel configuration” got him what he wanted.

The robot pulled up a schematic of the Voyagers’ ship. It was bigger than Radley expected, though much of it must have been either crushed or buried in the crash.

But what he really needed was the layout of the vents and corridors.

He smiled as he committed as much of the design to memory as he could.

For the first time since seeing the Chryl gunships, he felt he had a fighting chance.

To Be Continued…

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