The Doomed Voyage: Part 5

From the logs of Kyber Myla Bronson: It had been months since we’d had any contact with another living soul—which was hardly friendly—and weeks since the last habitable planet. The Kelust’s had managed to keep

From the logs of Kyber Myla Bronson:

It had been months since we’d had any contact with another living soul—which was hardly friendly—and weeks since the last habitable planet. The Kelust’s had managed to keep our fuel reserves up with the meager offerings of the barren worlds we’d encountered, but our oxygen supply was getting dangerously low as we pulled into yet another lifeless system. General Calix Weston called a meeting of the senior officers on the bridge to discuss options.

They huddled around the central captain’s chair, which the general had taken as his station. No one manned the tactical stations on the back wall, though Brigadier Martel glanced over at them periodically. The whole scene wore the smell of disillusionment—and stale oxygen.

I wasn’t invited, but someone still had to man the helm.

“Things are getting desperate; we need a solution and quickly.”

“We could place most of the crew into stasis. It’s not the most pleasant way to travel, but it would drastically cut down our oxygen needs.” Brigadier Martel offered.

“That’s still only a stopgap. We need a fresh influx of oxygen. Kelust Casper?”

“Without a proper source, it’s only a matter of time before our reserves are depleted. Even at peak efficiency, the air-recyclers can’t create oxygen out of nothing.”

While they argued, I ran another scan of the system. There were six planets and over a dozen moons, there had to be oxygen on one of them.

“Could we make another jump, the next system is—”

“Too far. Even if we put the entire crew into stasis—which wouldn’t leave anyone to fly this ship, let alone deal with any unexpected dangers—our air supply would be too diluted by the time we arrive.”

“And there’s no guarantee the next system would be any more hospitable.” The general nodded. “The last few haven’t been.”

“Sir?” The display in front of me flashed encouragingly.

“What about spacesuits, emergency oxygen filters, don’t we have anything like that on board?”

The senior kelust shook his head. “There are a few, but not nearly enough for what we’d need.”

“Sir?”

“If the crew was smaller—”

“No.” General Weston raised a hand to stop the conversation. “I won’t consider that as an option. Mention it again and I’ll find a new senior kelust, understood?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“General!” I slammed my fist on the console.

“What is it, Kyber Bronson?” He turned to me like a patient parent humoring a child.

I clenched my jaw for a moment before speaking in a more measured tone. “I think I’ve found our solution.” I switched my navigational data over to his console.

It was a closer readout of the fifth planet in the system, a small gas giant. Comprised primarily of nitrogen and oxygen.

He gave the data a quick glance. “Well done, Bronson, you might just have saved this ship.”

No thanks to you.

“I wouldn’t get your hopes up just yet, Sir. Look.” Kelust Casper pointed to the full atmospheric composition of the planet. “There’s a lot of trilanthine too.”

“Naturally occurring, is that even possible?” I had the sensors run another scan.

In small doses, trilanthine was a hallucinogenic—a favorite drug in the slums of Ithacor. In large doses, it was deadly. But the real trick was always in its manufacture. Lanthine and Dilanthine were notoriously volatile, to the degree that most suppliers of the drug blew themselves up before being arrested. But once achieved, trilanthine was relatively stable.

“Who’s the foremost bio-expert on board?” General Weston asked.

“Probably Kelust Lomax. Why?” The senior kelust looked confused.

The general ignored his question and pulled up the intercom. “Lomax, report to the bridge immediately.”

The kelust acknowledged the call.

“Zane, as soon as he’s up here, I want you to seal off the bridge, understood?”

The brigadier nodded and moved into position.

“What’s going on?”

Again, the general ignored him. “Bronson, put all the scans you’ve made of this system into a secure file and transfer it to my console.”

“Yes, Sir.” I compiled the information for him.

“Kelust Lomax, reporting as ordered.”

Brigadier Martel sealed the hatch behind him.

General Weston motioned the man to join the briefing and spoke in such a way that it was clear he meant to include me as well. “Good, now let me make myself perfectly clear: the composition of this planet’s atmosphere must never be spoken of to anyone not currently present. Do you understand?”

“Not really, Sir.” The young kelust said.

“If the wrong people learn what we’ve discovered, the streets of Ithacor will be flooded with a dangerous drug like never before.”

“What—?”

I sighed. “We’ve stumbled across a naturally occurring source of trilanthine.”

“I didn’t think that was possible.”

“Hence our vow of silence.” Brigadier Martel placed a hand on Lomax’s shoulder.

“But why bring me into this? Statistically, the odds of information leaking go up exponentially with each additional person who knows.”

“Normally you’d be right, but in this case, you—and that planet—might be our only hope of refilling our oxygen supply.”

If you think it can be done.” General Weston said.

I bit my tongue to keep from speaking my thoughts. No pressure or anything. It’s just all our lives hanging in the balance.

The time that Lomax spent pouring over the atmospheric data seemed to stretch on infinitely. And all the while we were taking what might have been some of our last breaths.

Finally, he nodded slowly. “It’s possible, but it would take time. And all the while, everyone aboard would be exposed to the trilanthine.”

“Kyber Bronson, change course. Take us to that planet.”

“Aye, Sir.” I took the controls and shifted our heading. “We’ll reach orbit in approximately ten minutes.”

“There you have it, gentlemen. We have ten minutes to come up with a plan to keep the crew safe from the planet’s atmosphere.”

#

To their credit, the plan only took eight minutes to finalize. Implementing it, however, was another story. Kelust Casper oversaw the fitting of twelve engineers—and myself—with the various atmospheric protective gear. Not good enough for a space walk, but Lomax declared it “statistically likely” to protect us from the trilanthine.

In the meantime, General Weston and Brigadier Martel set about the much more difficult task of putting the rest of the crew into stasis. The theory was that—with the greatly reduced oxygen needs—they’d also intake minimal amounts of the drug. And even if they were affected, a few wild stasis dreams were unlikely to cause any lasting damage.
Once my breathing gear was in place, I returned to my post at the helm. Kelust Lomax told me for the best chance of success, we’d have to get as deep into the atmosphere as the Odyssey could handle. So we were going to be in for a bumpy ride.

“Everyone’s down who’s going to be, Kyber.”

I turned to see General Weston take up the primary tactical position. He was out of uniform and didn’t have any breathing gear.

“Sir?”

“Not at the moment.” He smiled briefly. “I’ve placed Kelust Lomax in charge for the duration of this mission and relieved myself of duty.”

“Then why are you here instead of in stasis with the others?”

“At the depths Lomax is proposing, you’ll have to correct for atmospheric turbulence manually. That’ll go smoother if you have someone feeding you the sensor data.” He winked. “I wasn’t always a general.”

“But then why don’t you have a breath mask?” I tapped my own.

He shrugged. “We ran out. Don’t worry, if I get too out of it, you have permission to take whatever steps you feel necessary to protect yourself and this ship. Even from me.”

“As you say.” I turned back to my controls and activated the intercom. “Kelust Lomax, I believe we’re all set on this end. Just awaiting your order.”

“We’re as set as we can be without a sample of atmosphere to work with. Take us in, Kyber.”

“Acknowledged.” I eased the twin control rods forward, and the ship slowly dove into the gas giant.

Behind me, the general called out atmospheric readings, focusing primarily on wind speeds and directions, but also the relative density and composition. As we dove deeper into the atmosphere, the winds became stronger, tearing at the Odyssey and causing the control rods to fight against my control. A warning flashed on my display, but I couldn’t spare the focus to tell what it said.

“I think this is as deep as we get, Lomax.”

“Understood, beginning oxygen extraction now.”

A sickening hiss filled the bridge as the engineers siphoned atmosphere from the gas giant into the ship.

“There’s a vortex forming to port we should veer away from it.”

“On it.” I dragged the controls away. And a little up.

A few minutes passed with only the occasional update from the kelusts to distract from the battle I was fighting against the heavy winds.

“There’s…something out there, in the storm.” The general’s voice came in soft gasps.

“What is it? Do we need to adjust heading again?”

“I’m not sure. It looks like…like a person swimming through the clouds.”

Oh, great.

“I think you should go back to your quarters, General.” I keyed the intercom again. “What’s our status?”

“Oxygen reserves are up to about sixty percent. We just need a few more minutes.”

“She’s diving.” Behind me the general spoke intensely. “We have to follow her. We have to get closer to the core.”

“Hurry it up, will you? We might have a situation developing up here.”

“We’ll do our best.” Lomax signed off.

“Kyber, what are you doing? Didn’t you hear me, we have to reach the planet’s core.”

“No offense, Sir,” I didn’t bother to keep the frustration out of my voice. “But we’re barely holding it together where we are. So, you just go ahead and keep tracking your ‘mystery woman’ with the sensors, and let me worry about how deep we go.”

“You’re angry. Did she do something to you? Is that why you won’t help her?”

Grunting, I pulled the ship up until I could spare enough attention to turn and face him for a moment. “You’re damn right I’m angry. And not at some phantom out in that storm. At you. All of this—from the explosion that cost the lives of more than two thirds of our original crew, to the mess we’re in right now—is your fault. If you hadn’t commandeered our ship for your quick little trip home, we’d all be there already.”

He stared back at me with red-glazed eyes.

Lomax’s voice came back over the intercom. “What’s going on up there? Intake has dropped significantly.”

I turned back to the flight controls. “I had to take a little detour. I’ll get us back to a higher concentration here in a moment.”

“Understood.”

I brought the Odyssey back down into a thicker part of the atmosphere and resumed my contest with the jerking controls.

“Yes, this is the right way.” The general was suddenly right beside me. “But we need more. Deeper. Deeper!” He reached out toward the control rods.

I tried to block his approach with my elbow, but he pushed past me, hands outstretched.

So, I released the right stick long enough to turn and lay a stiff hook into his chest. The Odyssey rocked violently as the winds tore us off course and pulled us down. Whether from my hit or the ship’s motion, the general fell back to the deck and lay still.

I wrestled the ship back into control and began another ascent.

“We’ve got what we need, Kyber. Get us back into orbit.” Lomax called through the intercom.

“Gladly.” I muttered to myself.

To Be Continued…

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