3-15: Of Wings & Prayers

“You raise a good point,” Laurie said as Scorch entered the cockpit, the door at the back whooshing closed.

“Hold on to something,” she said, and pulled the manual release. They were momentarily weightless as the crescent-shaped cockpit detached from the fuselage, shooting upward and away from the falling spaceship.

“It slowed us down, at least.”

“I don’t know that this thing was supposed to land surfaceside, though,” Laurie said. The airframe shuttered as it began to descend, picking up speed. “It has some maneuvering engines, though. Let’s see how creative I can get.” The engines were small, and wouldn’t offer much resistance, but it was all she had to work with. She glanced at the altimeter, and fired the ones in the nose, angling it down, so they were upside down.

“Forgive me, but is this better?” The Bartender looked more concerned than he ever had.

“Shut up,” she snapped. There were emergency air cartridges there, with vents directly up. She blew the vents wide open, and she jolted against the harness as their decent effectively stopped again.

There was a sharp clang behind her as Scorch, unrestrained, hit the ceiling. “I thought I told you to hang on to something!”

“Sorry, Captain.”

There were still rear thrusters available to her, and she turned the craft so they were right-side-up and backwards, the rear of the craft pointed into their trajectory. The Bartender looked out the window and instantly gagged.

“Really?” Laurie said, and he nodded, scales a distinct off-green color. “Try to hold it in until we’re on the ground.” She looked at the altimeter again. “Which will be shortly.”

The numbers ticked down quickly- far more quickly than she liked- and she stared at them intently, her hand clutching the throttle until it hurt. Small beads of sweat formed on her head, and one rolled annoyingly down her nose. She ignored it, watching the numbers until the time was right.

AS they drew close, she gave the thrusters all the fuel left. The cockpit shook as gravity tried to drag them down, while the thrusters struggled against it. They slowed, the tick on the falling altimeter became a crawl, and then they hit.

The first hit bounced them high up in the air. She managed to pull the throttle back and the ship tumbled end over end. The metal-covered ground rushed towards them, and this time they could watch as the came right down on the front of the canopy. The cockpit then rolled, a whipping motion, sending metal from both the hull of the cockpit and the scrap on the ground in every direction.

Evenrtually, they just skidded over the metal on the ground, leaving a black streak where the friction had melted the scrap metal of the planet’s surface. The came to rest against the ancient hull of a massive ship, upside down.

“Damage report?” Laurie croaked.

The Bartender’s only response was a retching sound, followed by the sound of liquid falling onto the ceiling.

“Oh good,” she said dryly. “Scorch, you alive?”

“I feel like a Numarian shake, but alive.”

“I don’t suppose you can give us a hand down?”

Scorch pulled himself to his feet, if slowly. “I may have to effect some repairs.”

“Probably true of all of us.”

Scorch put his hands on her shoulders as she unfastened the harness, flipping herself onto her feet. Scorch mover to the Bartender and repeated the task, except the Bartender couldn’t hold the contents of his stomach in, spraying Scorch with green liquid and he fell to his feet. He muttered an apology, before half-crawling out of the wrecked cockpit.

Laurie followed him, blinking in the bright sunlight. She looked around, scanning the horizon for any of the creatures on the planet that posed a threat.

“I can’t tell you guys how excited I am to be back here.”

“With no food, shelter or transportation,” The Bartended said from where he sat, slumped forward.

“I suppose those are our priorities. Feel up to moving, Bartender?”

He nodded and rose to his feet. “We can cover more ground if we split up.”

“We might get eaten by one of those dragons if we do.”

 

3-14: Downer

“Enough of this,” Laurie growled and pulled the restraints over her shoulders. “Scorch, get below and get in the turret. Bartender, you’re gunning up here.”

“Are you sure this is the best idea?” he asked as he strapped in next to her. “They look pretty well-armed.”

“They don’t seem particularly open to negotiation.” She throttled forward, accelerating towards the fighters. They reacted by moving into a tight formation, steering vanes shifting and giving off small plumes.

“They sure can move,” The Bartender observed.

“Try shooting them,” she said through clenched teeth as she brought them into range. “This thing sure can’t,” she said, under her breath as she wrestled with the controls of the Dead Corps ship.

Laser fire leapt from the chin, under the cockpit, as well as the dorsal turret which Scorch occupied. It hit one of the fighters, sending several of the thin vanes off into space. The other ship sped away from it, flanking their ship. It pivoted, firing as it remained facing them. The hull pinged as lasers spattered the hull.

Laurie swore. “Scorch, you want to take care of him?” She rotated the ship to give Scorch a clearer shot, while trying to keep the Bartender sighted in other ship. It sped directly toward them, laserfire pouring from it, tearing into the belly of the ship. The Bartender fired back, finding the main generator. The ship exploded spectacularly, shrapnel still speeding towards them.

“Not good,” she said, nosing down hard.

She wasn’t fast enough. A large piece of the destroyed ship found one of the engines, passing clear through it. It sputtered, made a choking noise that reverberated through the hull, and then detonated. The ship spun sickeningly, spiraling towards the planet.

Laurie clenched her jaw, trying to gain control over the ship with the one good engine. She managed to stop it from tumbling just as they hit the atmosphere. The cockpit glowed red as they descended, far too fast, and warnings blared as the heat shield began to fail.

She gritted her teeth, now in contest with the gravity pulling them down, the friction from the atmosphere trying to incinerate them, and the lack of control on one side of the ship. She fired the one good engine, trying to turn the ship so the engine would fire into the descent, and slow them enough.

The Bartender glanced at her nervously, but she paid him no mind. The ship was turning, but painfully slowly. She hoped there was no weakness in the hull, or they would be torn open by the heat. She watched the altimeter tick down, the falling numbers a blur.

The bartender again looked at her. “We can detach the cockpit and bail out.”

“We’ll loose the ship.”

“We might be going down with the ship.”

“Scorch, get up here,” she shouted. “We need to do it now if we’re going to. But a burn should slow us enough.”

“Do you trust our lives to ‘should’?”

 

3-13: Wreckage

“Scorch, did you see anything on Nuvaria we can use?”

“There are plenty of ships that have salvageable parts. We should be able to find the parts we need.”

The Bartneder made a hissing noise, the Fuesellian equivalent of a sigh. “I’ll lay in a course. Hopefully we can avoid being nearly eaten this time.”

“You worry too much,” Laurie said with a roll of her good eye.

“If anything, the last couple days have taught me I don’t worry enough. At least on Fuesellia, they would just shoot me.”

“Hey, I’m sure you will still have plenty of opportunities to die in horrible ways.” She grinned at him as he shook his head.

“I’m putting us down somewhere else this time.”

She nodded as he exited the Venturess, and she looked around at her ship, eerie without the usual hum of the engines and the glow of lights. She patted the bulkhead as she crossed back to the Dead Corps ship.

“We’ll get you back together, baby.”

* * *

Nuveria loomed large as they slowed to sublight speed. The Bartneder maneuvered them into a high orbit, scanning for the most promising area to scavenge parts from.

Suddenly, alarms began to blare and red lights flashed in the dark of the dingy ship.

“What do you want?” he growled, looking for the source of the alarm. He didn’t have to look long, or far. “Oh.”

The ship was long and thin with open bays, large enough for ships to dock or be carried. They were full, at least four large ships grabbled there. One by one, they were released, tracing burning paths through the atmosphere.

“That could be good,” he said under his breath as he turned to the opening behind him. “Hey, Captain, you might want to see this,” he shouted. She was already coming through, responding to the alarms.

“Any of those Theeldof ships?”

“Hard to tell at this range. One of those freighters might be what we need.”

“That would be a pleasant break. Let’s get out of sight, shall we?”

He nodded, and turned the ship in the direction of a debris field, shutting down most of the systems, watching the scrap hauler finish its business. It circled the planet once, and was gone.

Laurie patted the Bartender on his shoulder. “Let’s get down there and see what we can scrape up.”

He nodded, cycling the engines up and steering towards the planet. They were about to break atmosphere when the radio crackled.

“Unidentified vessel, stop now and state your business.”

Her lip turned up in a sneer at the voice. “Are you kidding?” she said to herself. She switched the radio on and replied in a more even tone, “This is Captain Laurie Mack of the Venturess. We were attacked and need parts for emergency repairs.”

Two small patrol ships came into view, light gray with fan-like steering vanes protruding from the rear and large cannons to the fore. “You’ll have to get them somewhere else, Captain. Salvaging is not allowed here.”

“Why the hell not?” Any trace of politeness was gone from her voice.

“Because Numeria is ours. No one is allowed to take anything.”

“If it’s a matter of money…”

“It is not. It is ours, so leave this system immediately.”

Her head spun with anger at the idiocy. She switched off the radio and glanced around. “Does this thing have guns?”

“It has turrets top and bottom, and chin cannons.”

“Let’s take them out.”

“Do you think that’s wise? Maybe they will listen to reason, and we are unfamiliar with this ship.”

 

3-12: Coming Home

“Let’s see if we can get to the Venturess and patch her up. I hate this stinking ship.”

“I’ll plot us a course,” the Bartender said, heading up to the cockpit, “You rest.” He glared at her.

“Fine,” she sighed, aware of the ache that seemed to envelop her body. “Is there anyway to lay down on this wreck?”

“Scorch, take care of her. Don’t let her try to do anything.”

She waited until he was out of sight to stick her tongue at him.

“Captain?”

She looked at Scorch. “Oh, nothing.” She went off find somewhere moderately comfortable to lay down.

*  * *

She woke with a start, sitting bolt upright as the ship jostled. She rubbed her eyes, or tried to. She still forgot about the implant every time she woke. She stood and climbed to the cockpit, anxious as to what she’d find.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost, Captain.” the Bartender sat calmly at the controls.

“What’s going on?”

“We are docked with the Venturess. I was about to wake you.”

“Oh.”

“Are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah… just woke suddenly, I guess. It’s been a day.”

The Bartender chuckled, a raspy noise in his throat. “That it has. Shall we go over and see what we can see?”

She nodded, leaning forward to try to catch a glimpse of her ship, anchored to the bottom of the Dead Corps ship.

Moments later, they were aboard the Venturess, poking around amidst debris and evidence of the violence aboard.

“You said it was bad, Captain, but this…” Scorch trailed off. “At least four hull breaches, plus the whole bay door.”

She nodded soberly as the Bartender came up from below. “Life support is shot. We could probably pull the central unit from the Dead Corps ship, but it’s useless until we seal the hull. Did you find what is wrong with the engines?”

“They fried the motivators. They’re welded in there now, we have to replace the whole drive lines.”

“Well, on the bright side, we know where we can salvage ship parts.”

“Or get eaten.”

“We could buy them,” Scorch chimed in.

“Do we get enough of a discount from your family to be able to afford them? We have most of the Fuesllia job payment left, but that’s about it.”

“Not if we come back without delivering Miiram’s package.”

3-11: Faults & Stars

Laurie sighed. “Let’s just take the one we know works and get the hell out of here.” She climbed aboard, wrinkling her nose at the stench from within. She climbed to the cockpit and slumped into the rust-colored pilots chair and began the takeoff procedure. Within moments, the clunky ship had climbed out of the atmosphere and away from the junk planet.

She stared out into space over the console in front of her, drifting in thought, only vaguely aware of the dull throb in her side. Her brooding meandered through the events of the past few days, the apparent interest in her the zealots of the Dead Corps had in her, and what to do next. The Dead Corps situation would have to be dealt with- somehow.

There was Miiram’s package to be delivered. The limited instructions he provided spoke to his need for discretion, as did his unwillingness to use the resources of the shipping guild.

And a promise to keep. She had grown up in the mines of Haluush, and the Foreman, Chip’s father, had known her all that time. If he needed her help, she owed him at least that one good deed.

Something coughed in the vent behind the console, a small cloud of green dust emerging. She gagged on the smell and stared daggers at the hull of the ship. The Venturess was still out there, derelict, in need of repairs. She had no desire to sail from port to port in the glorified wreck the Dead Corps used.

The Venturess was supposed to be her emancipation from the life that the Dead Corps condemned her for, and yet it was light years away.

She chewed her lip, weighing her options. The sun cleared the planet, wiping the stars from view as the viewport darkened in response. She reached out to the controls, and laid in their course.

 

3-10: Exit Strategy

Laurie holstered her weapons and crossed her arms as the robotic form stood before her. “And just where the hell have you been?”

“There was a great bargain for a sightseeing tour of this lovely planet, and I just couldn’t pass it up.” The lack of a true face only added to Scorch’s deadpan statement.

“I will shoot you right now,” Laurie said sternly.

Scorch chuckled from within his mechanical armor. “It seems some scrappers got wind of the price on your head, and were able to track us. They must have planted something on the Venturess, because it knocked the two of you out. I was in my armor, so it didn’t affect me. But the ship was boarded before I could do anything, so I shut down all my systems, and they just dumped me here.”

“Did you see who it was?”

“It was no one I was familiar with. The name of the ship was the Royal Sun, though. I was able to spot that.”

“Doesn’t ring any bells for me. Bartender?”

He shook his head. “Never heard of it.”

“Well, it’s not as if there is a shortage of pirates and bounty hunters out there. Let’s get off this rock and see what we can do.”

They reached the Dead Corps ship, barely standing out as functional from the numerous heaps surrounding it.

“You came here in that?” Scorch was incredulous.

“We didn’t have much choice in the matter. Speaking of, did you happen to keep hold of Miiram’s package?”

He tapped one of the nearly-seamless panels on his chassis. “I thought that was what they were after in the first place. They never even looked for it, though. They just grabbed what looked valuable and left.”

“They don’t sound like a very professional outfit.”

“Probably just looking for a quick score,” the Bartender opined. “That’s why they probably turned you into the Dead Corps. Most people want to avoid them.”

“That would make sense.” She stared up at the Dead Corps ship. “I do not want to fly in this thing again.”

“We might be able to get one of these other ships running again,” Scorch offered. “Some of them don’t look so bad.”

“I want my damn ship back.”

3-9: Gods and Machines

“This is stupid.” Laurie readjusted herself for what certainly felt like the thousandth time. They had ducked into a gap in the metal canyon wall, pushing aside a few panels, and had managed to get out of sight of the giant dragon. There was barely enough room to sit up, and the piece of metal she was leaning against bore the distention of somehow managing to be at exactly the proper angle to prevent her from finding a comfortable pose. “Is it still out there?”

The Bartender, better suited to such spaces, crawled to the mouth of the cave and peeked out. He saw nothing, but the scrape of metal could be heard as it paced nearby.

“Yep.”

She swore, rolling her shoulders in another vain attempt to relax. “Maybe it will go away in daylight.”

“It is daylight.”

She swore again. “I’m going to shoot it.”

“I think that would just make it angry.”

“Well, I’m angry and I want to shoot something.”

“Something?” The Bartender asked with sarcastic apprehension.

“Oh, shut up. How does that thing survive here? It’s not as if anything grows here.”

“Probably eats those little scrappers. Iron rich diet, you know.”

She allowed herself a slight chuckle. “I’m hungry enough to eat one myself.” She sighed. “Where the hell is Scorch?”

He shrugged his bony shoulders. “Somewhere.”

“Not helpful.”

“It’s all I have.”

“Well, whenever we can get out of here, we’re going back to the Dead Corps ship, if the scrappers haven’t torn it apart, and getting out of here.”

“Without Scorch?”

“It is rather apparent we aren’t going to find him.”

“It sure seems that way. Let’s see if we can sneak past him.” He looked out again, surveying the area. All was eerily quite, the only sound being the whistling wind as it passed over and through the remains of millions of ships. “I think we are clear,” he whispered back to her.

“Let’s go, then,” she said, crawling to the mouth of the cave. The Bartender blinked as he stepped into the morning sun, holding close to the canyon wall, such as it was. The moved swiftly and silently towards the far end, frequently glancing behind and above, keeping a wary eye for the predator.

It came at them from above, coming straight down the canyon wall in a cascade of metal with a loud screech. It ran towards them, four short legs moving faster than they appeared to be capable of. Laurie squeezed of a pair of shots, missing wildly, before turning and running.

scorch2Yet it gained on them, drawing ever closer. It had rancid breath that was enveloping, overwhelming, years of decayed flesh rotting in its mouth. Laurie could feel the heat from it as the mouth opened, ready to consume her. Panic came over her, but she did everything in her power to push it down. But she wasn’t going down without a fight. She pivoted to face the creature, raising her weapons as it brought its massive mouth down.

Suddenly, it shuddered, raising its head in anger with a deafening roar. She retched from the smell, but fired into its exposed neck, eliciting another angry roar. Its massive orange eyes were mad, searching for the source of its irritation. Laurie didn’t question it, emptying her weapons into it, now joined by the Bartender.

The fire went out of its eyes, and it collapsed in a cloud of rusty dust, whimpering noises escaping its lips as life left it.

“What the hell happened?” asked the Bartender.

“I think we found Scorch,” she replied as the sun glinted off the metal of his armor, clutching to a spike buried in the neck of the dragon. He released it, and slid down to the ground before them.

“It is good to see you again, Captain.”