Aftermath (Part 11)

by Simon Challands

an Élite story

"Over to you," Aeyris told Kirrik. His voice was steady but his face was pale and his leg bloody.
     "Over to me what?"
     "Where's the door? How does it open? It was your idea to come here, so I hope you had an idea about how to get in."
     Kirrik looked up at the grey metallic mass. "Around the other side," he told them. They walked around to the far side of the ship. One of the pirates glanced back at the mess surrounding the hangar's entrance.
     "Can't see or hear any sign of anyone trying to break through," he pointed out.
     There were a few puzzled looks from the rest of the team, until Marchero's face suddenly took on a look of panic. "In the ship, fast!" she shouted.
     "Why aren't they trying to break in? Why not just seal off the area and let the air out?" She was greeted with several worried looks, and several questions along the line of "How do you know?"
     "It's a guess, OK?" she snapped back. "Any other ideas? Or do you want to stand around and find out if I'm right?"
     Kirrik found the door. At a touch it slid open, much to his surprise. "No lock? Never mind that now, everyone on board."
     Most of them were on when machinery started up at the far side of the hangar. The last few took a panicked glance at the hangar doors and leapt in after their companions, cramming together in the narrow entrance.
     "Close the bloody door!" someone at the front yelled. The pirate at the back looked around in alarm.
     "With what? There's no panel here, just a bundle of wires!" he exclaimed.
     "Well go out there and close it from outside!"
     "Get lost!"
     "You'll die just the same. Only we all will if you stay here."
     "You go then."
     "I would if you lot weren't piled in the way."
     "Like hell you would!"
     "Shut up everyone!" Kirrik's voice rose above the noise. "Get out of my way and let me get to the bridge. I'll see if I can close it from there." There was much shuffling and cursing as he forced his way from his place in the middle of the crush. The air started moving, out of the ship and through the hangar.
     Kirrik had disappeared from view. The wind had turned into a gale.
     "Help!" a man exclaimed, uselessly, as his ears popped. People furthest from the door were trying to make their way deeper into the ship, people near the back were trying to grab hold of the people in front to stop themselves from being blown out. A few abandoned weapons bounced out of the hatch, and clanks and clangs resounded over the ship as pieces of equipment and debris bounced off its hull.
     Then the door slid shut. Hands were removed from ringing ears; they popped again as the ship's reserves restored air pressure to normal. When Kirrik returned he was greeted by cheers, even Marchero grudgingly thanked him.
     "I didn't have time to take a close look, but it seems this ship is close enough to the original for me to know what to do. Aeyris, are you still as good as you were?" he asked bluntly.
     He quickly scanned all that remained of his gang. "Silsi, can you fly this?" he asked.
     An attractive young woman announced "I'd love to give it a go."
     "Not you?" Kirrik asked Aeyris.
     "I need to have this leg sorted out, and my reactions aren't what they used to be. Silsi's as capable as anyone. Made it from Harmless to Deadly in five years, in all sorts of ships, too."
     "Fine. Marchero, you can take the navigation console. It's about time you proved yourself useful. Aeyris, pick someone for secondary gunner, will you? The rest of you, find somewhere out of the way. We'll sort other positions out when we need them."
     Aeyris chose another of his pirates for the secondary gunner, and sent the rest off to search the ship and make an inventory report. Their doctor was sent looking for medical supplies. Kirrik lead the rest of them to the bridge.
     The Constrictor's bridge was spacious, five chairs sitting at various stations and a sixth at the back for the commander. The girl Silsi took the foremost one, sitting in front of the main monitor. Kirrik indicated a chair on the left wall to Marchero, next to her he sat Aeyris' gunner, a nondescript middle-aged man.
     Kirrik sat himself at the bridge engineering station, on the opposite side of the room to Marchero while Aeyris rummaged around in the lockers looking for a first aid kit.
     Kirrik found the engine controls and brought them on. There was a sharp protesting whine from somewhere back in the ship as the drive was powered up quickly from cold. Possibly for the vessel's maiden flight, not a reassuring thought. The readouts stabilised rapidly, though. Indicators flashed on throughout the bridge and previously blank consoles illuminated. The viewscreen came to life, showing the hangar wall and the wrecked doorway. The piled junk had been too heavy to have been moved much by the decompression, but as they watched it shifted under the force of the bulldozer that had appeared behind it. A passage was quickly cleared, spacesuited soldiers were following it in.
     Kirrik left his place and moved to the commander's chair. He flicked the viewscreen onto rear view, where it now displayed the main hangar door.
     It had not been necessary to open it completely in order to decompress the hangar, and it the gap was not wide enough for the Constrictor to pass. Aeyris gave up looking for a first aid kit and ordered, "John, hit the door!" The secondary gunner found the controls for the rear laser and let loose.
     The laser was powerful, and destroyed the heavy door where it hit it. But it was strong enough to remain intact away from the blast point. Kirrik glanced across to the engineering console. The engines had powered up without problem, but the motivators had not yet charged.
     "Silsi, any movement?" he demanded.
     She shook the controls. "Nothing yet," she replied.
     Kirrik returned to the controls on the chair of his arm. He attempted to key the entrance door controls, but it would not lock. Switching the viewscreen revealed the soldiers moving around to that door. The charge reading crept up.
     "Keep trying to move," he ordered. Silsi obeyed, but the ship stayed still.
     Suddenly there was a shudder from somewhere, not the ship moving. A light indicated the external door had opened. Kirrik managed to close it again. Then it was opened, and this time it would not shut. Instead he closed every other door in the ship.
     Another shudder from the ship, and the image on the viewscreen moved. "We're off!" announced Silsi, although the charge meter was still only indicating eighty percent. "Controls are sluggish, though."
     "Never mind that, just get us out of here."
     The ship turned slightly. The secondary gunner took out more of the blockage, gradually carving his way across it as the turning presented undamaged metal to the laser. When she was satisfied the gap was large enough Silsi spun the craft around and nudged the engines.
     It lumbered forward. Under the partially charged engines controlling its movement was difficult, and it caught the edge of door with a hard jolt. Warning lights flashed up around the bridge, but none of them announced more than superficial damage. The ship was free in space.
     Aeyris took opportunity of the respite to call for his medic over the intercom. Someone replied "We can't get to you, there's a depressurised area between us."
     "The external door's stuck open. Is there a spacesuit there?"
     "We haven't found one. What's sticking the door?"
     "You're isolated until we can close it."
     "I'll survive here for the time being."
     Further discussion was curtailed by a jolt and someone announcing "Incoming fire!"
     "Where from?" Kirrik demanded.
     "Nothing of note on the scanner," Silsi announced. "Could be base guns." Another jolt, and the shield indicator on the main display dropped a little. Silsi threw the ship around. "It's livened up at least," she commented.
     "Marchero, set hyperspace target."
     "Anywhere not here!"
     "Targetted on Esdi, hyperdrive engines will be up to power in five minutres."
     The ship flew on on a seemingly random course, but they were gradually moving further away from the base. A few more shots from it hit the Constrictor, taking the rear shield down to fifty percent and marking the front.
     As one threat receded another appeared, half a dozen marks on the scanner, leaving the asteroid. The secondary gunner, who had been monitoring them identifitied the approaching ships as Sidewinders, small, fast and deadly. They quickly intercepted the erratically flying Constrictor.
     "Still two and a half minutes to hyperspace," Marchero told them as the Sidewinders neared.
     The attackers struck simultaneously. The shields screeched in protest, but held against the fire. Two of the Sidewinders skimmed past, dropping their missiles at close range. Silsi had managed to slew the ship round, and they struck the less damaged forward screen, causing it to shake violently and briefly spin out of control. The front screens collapsed.
     A brief "Aargh!" from Aeyris, then a surprised comment, "We're still here? Seems like you were right about this ship, Kirrik."
     Kirrik grinned at him, then frowned as six more ships appeared at the edge of the scanner. Silsi had managed to point the Constrictor at one of the first wave of attackers, and pressed the laser control. The Sidewinder disappeared into a dust cloud. The rear gunner lashed out at another ship. This one spun to avoid the attack, but took a glancing blow to the wing. Still flying but damaged it turned and fled the scene.
     Another two of the base's ships attempted the same missile attack as previously, but this time released too far from the target. The Constrictor's ECM system removed the threat, and its laser fired again as one of the Sidewinders shot past the bow. It was hit squarely but continued on as its shields took the hit.
     More incoming fire hit the front of the ship, six lances from the second group of Sidewinders. The energy reserves started to drop as emergency power was taken from them to supplement the depleted shield capacitors. The hull wailed in protest as it was scored under the incomplete protection now given to it.
     Kirrik's eye was caught by a light flickering on his chair's control panel. "The door's shut!" he told Aeyris.
     "Great, we'll work that out later. If we get out of here."
     Another strike from somewhere hit the rear shield. "Five seconds," Marchero told them.
     Yet another missile launch, striking the poorly-protected front. An alarm sounded around the bridge, "Energy Low" flashed on the main screen.
     The view distorted in impossible ways. Time flickered - one moment people were moving with impossible speed, the next as if they were in deep water. The main screen illuminated with the Witchspace tunnel.
     Then it vanished, almost as soon as it had appeared. Once again the ship was floating in normal space.
     "Quick," the secondary gunner remarked laconically.
     Marchero was searching her console in confusion. "We're not at Esdi."
     "At least we're still alive," said Silsi. "Jumping without proper control like that, we're lucky to be." Still in one piece didn't answer two important questions - where were they, and when. The jump was short, so the risk of time and space displacement (away from the intended target) should not have been too great. Probably.
     Marchero turned her chair to say, "We've only jumped about five hundred AUs. Not in any significant direction, as far as I can tell. Where do you plan on going next? There's a really nice bit of empty space I know near here. Maybe even medieval deep space, if we've moved too far in time. Well, Sir Knight, when are we?"
     It was a few minutes before Aeyris, exploring the comms equipment, found a timing beacon. "I'm sorry to disappoint Milady, we're only out by forty-three minutes." He gave Marchero a sarcastic smile.
     "Right, re-program the hyperdrive. We'll have the leisure to do it properly this time."
     The co-ordinates for Eddi were re-entered. Then they sat back whilst the computer tried to calculate the ideal jump parameters, to a far greater tolerance than before.
     While they were waiting the bridge door opened. The pirate's medic came in, carrying a few bits of a very basic first aid kit. With him came another pirate, holding a twisted metal rod. Part of it looked like it had been melted at some point. "Someone had wedged the door with this," he said. "We've been in a fight, have we? Looks like it took a direct hit."
     The medic quickly cleaned and protected Aeryis's wound. "How's Tikapora?" Aeyris asked him.
     "Fine apart from being one arm down, as far as I can see." The medic shrugged. "Doesn't seem to have caused him any distress at all."
     "That's good." He gingerly touched the bandaged leg, then leant on it. "Seems like it'll hold for a while. How's everyone else?"
     "A few bruises from being tumbled around," he was told. "No-one is seriously injured. I'm more concerned about longer-term issues. Garath found primary life support monitor, and he says that quite a bit of the reserve oxygen has been used up in having to re-pressurise twice. And there are more of us in here than it's designed to cope with."
     "How long will it last?"
     "No idea. There's been no noticeable change in CO2 levels yet. Everything else checks out fine, for the moment."
     Aeyris walked over to the unoccupied engineering station, limping slightly, and sat down. "What's the inventory report?"
     The man holding the metal bar stepped forward. "There's very little on board. Only enough food for three days, and water for a week. The water recycler's damaged. We're looking at it right now." Aeyris dismissed the two; they left the bridge to return to searching the ship.
     It was not long before they were due to hyperspace when Silsi found something. "There's a weak signal on the edge of the scanner," she informed, a note of surprise in her voice.
     Almost before anyone could reply to this unexpected news Marchero added "And I think that the hyperdrive had been pre-programmed to bring the ship here."


Apologies for the rather lame Red Dwarf reference :-)
Part 12
Story index