Aftermath (Part 15)

by Simon Challands

an Élite story

Garath looked up from his cards. "I'll fetch Aeyris," he announced, and disappeared out of the room.
     "He's loosing," Arrachachak grinned.
     Aeyris strode in a short while later, with several members of his crew loitering around behind him. "Are we under arrest?" he asked.
     "In a manner of speaking. After all, you have trespassed on military territory. For the time being I accept your explanation and ignorance of this fact."
     "Thanks," Aeyris muttered.
     "What are your intentions regarding this ship?" Kirrik put in.
     "It will be examined by our engineers."
     "I'm not sure I can allow that," Kirrik stated sharply.
     "I am not sure you can prevent that. Anyhow. If we are eventually satisfied you are here in innocence you will be provided with a replacement vessel and will be free to go your own way. If not you will be imprisoned."
     "Back the way we came?"
     "That is not up to me to decide. The device which brought you here will be studied. You might be permitted to use it." The alien departed without waiting for a response, but this time all the guards went with him.
     "Can we force our way out?" someone asked, after peering through the doorway to see if any of the post's soldiers remained.
     "No chance," Aeyris stated. "We'll have them all over us as soon as we power up."
     "You just want to wait?" Marchero replied scornfully.
     "It's all we can do."
     Four two days waiting was all they did. Food was supplied to the Constrictor, but not enough for more than a day. It was agreed that they would ration themselves and try to build up a store, although they were unable to accumulate much. Technicians from the post repaired some key life support facilities such as the water recycler, and whilst the main door was open the post's systems provided fresh air and heat. Some of the crew voiced the opinion that the technicians were secretly trying to probe for information about the ship, but only Kirrik was slightly concerned by the idea.
     The waiting was not broken by the arrival of the ship that was supposed to be coming for them. Late in the nominal night Tikapora was awake and standing idly near the ship's door, watching the soldiers that still stood around the landing bay. Suddenly a brief look of discomfort passed over their leader's face, as if he had just received distrubing news on the headset he wore. Tikapora tensed slightly, before quickly heading back into the ship.
     The insect-like creature woke Aeyris and Kirrik, and they retired into the mess room.
     Aeyris rubbed a bleary eye. "Something's up?" he assumed.
     Tikapora spoke a strange collection of sounds that would have been very difficult for the human larynx and mouth to even approximate. When he finished the translator he always carried interpreted.
     "I saw something upset the soldiers. And I heard faint alarms, probably too faint for you to hear."
     Aeyris nodded, but Kirrik stood up. "Wait a minute," he told them.
     When he returned, Kirrik confirmed Tikapora's brief story. "The soldiers are standing there the same as ever, but I can also hear a faint alarm."
     "You've good ears to match Tik," Aeyris noted.
     Aeyris tapped his fingers on the table. "I think we should keep this to ourselves," he said finally.
     "Why not tell the others?" Tikapora queried.
     "Sorry, I meant all of us, and not let our captors know. It might give us an opportunity if they don't know we know we may have one."
     "Er, yes," Kirrik decided after a couple of seconds. "Let's rouse the others."
     Most of them were crowded into the mess room, eating whatever they could scrape together for an early breakfast, when they were interrupted by the leader from the landing bay guard.
     "You're free to go," he announced.
     The room erupted as everyone started asking questions at the same time.
     "Quiet!" shouted Aeyris, then "Quiet!" again as the noise failed to dim. Eventually it died down to mutterings between people sitting next to each other. The soldier had been watching the rabble with a hint of a sneer.
     "Why?" Kirrik asked.
     "The ship should have been here three hours ago. Two hours ago we heard enemy communications nearby. One hour ago ships were seen entering the system. There's a cargo bay next to this landing pad. Take what supplies you need and get out. We are evacuating; self-destruct has been set for thirty minutes. Broadcast L-01 to activate the launching sequence." The soldier jumped out of the ship as several people jumped up to grab him and demand further information from him.
     Once again Aeyris was forced to shout at his crew until they calmed down. "Arrachachak, Mychov, go and grab as many of those supplies as you can. Tikapora and Mu, have a poke around the immediate area to see what else you can find. I want Silsi, Marchero, Edwards, and Sawaka on the bridge. Everyone else, find something useful to do," he finished vaguely.
     As people scuttled off in various directions Kirrik turned to Aeyris. "No need for secret planning, after all."
     "Humph. Bit of a surprise, them telling us."
     "You've spent too long with pirates. There are still a few decent people in the universe."
     It was only a few brief minutes before Tikapora and Mu returned. "We can't get out of this area," Mu announced. "Everything apart from this place and the cargo bay has been sealed off, and there are no terminals to be seen."
     "Too bad," Kirrik said. "You might as well join the others."
     Ten minutes later Arrachachak and Mychov returned. Mychov was driving a lifter, carrying a couple of cargo canisters on a trailer.
     "Somone open the cargo doors!" he called out.
     "I don't think we've found them," Garath shouted back from the main door. "Chuck them in here, we'll worry about storing them later."
     Arrachachak jumped up into the ship. Mychov dropped the trailer and turned the lifter around. With some struggling with the unfamiliar controls he eventually managed to make the lifter's claws crab a canister.
     "How long?" he shouted at the ship.
     "Don't know - at least fifteen minutes. I think," Arrachachak yelled back.
     The lifter headed for the ship. Mychov missed the door, and jammed the canister into the side of the ship. Swearing at himself, he backed off and tried again. This time he was closer, but in his hurry it caught the side of the door. The canister dropped into the entrance as it was jolted from the claws' grasp.
     When Mychov tried to back the lifter out the claws caught on something. With more cursing he tried to move forwards again, to loosen them, but without success. He backed again, using all the lifter's power. It did not budge.
     The claws had broken through the interior wall, and had caught on a reinforcing strut by the door. Arrachachak tried pulling and pushing from the inside, and had no success either.
     A voice suddenly boomed out over some loudspeaker in the landing bay. "Ten minutes to destruction."
     Mychov abandoned the lifter and climbed into the ship, having to squeeze between the loading manipulators he had wedged there.
     Arrachachak was joined by several other people, but there were still unsuccessful in freeing the lifter until Mu turned up with a laser cutter.
     "Where did you get that?" Mychov demanded.
     "The hold. This ship hasn't had all its finishing touches completed, remember?"
     "Sod that," Arrachachak snapped. "Get to work."
     It only took a few minutes for the powerful cutter to separate the claws from the rest. With a huge heave Arrachachak managed to push the rest of the lifter out of the doorway.
     "Get to the bridge and tell them to shut the door," he ordered Mychov.
     The door started to move, then slowed and stopped with an unpleasant grinding noise and the scream of overloaded motors.
     "Five minutes to destruction," rang out the speaker.
     Again Arrachachak pushed, this time at the door. There was a sharp snap, and it slid shut.
     "We're clear!" he shouted back in the direction of the bridge.
     "We might have compromised air tightness," Garath noted. "We'd best get out of this section."
     On the bridge, Aeyris was sitting in the command chair. Kirrik was standing by the doorway, mumbling complaints about pirates.
     When they heard Arrachachak's shout Aeyris gave the launching clearance code. The engines were already running properly, and there was only a slight drop as the bay's docking clamps released them and its gravity vanished. On the main screen the read view showed the doors opening.
     Without waiting for another order, Silsi backed the ship out. Once clear of the confines of the bay she turned the ship around, and the main drives moved them away.
     Several ships were visible on the edge of the scanner, moving slowly away from the base.
     "Intercept them," ordered Aeyris.
     The Constrictor closed with the other ships quickly. The were revealed to be the ships from the listening post - a transport of some kind, and the sixth Vipers and two others in close formation around it. As they closed the message "Incoming transmission" flashed on the main screen.
     "Acknowledge," Aeyris called out to the computer.
     "Follow us if you will," announced the voice of the post's alien commander. "I will transmit our jump destination when we are ready to depart."
     "Why not jump now?"
     "The Schriy can trace our jumps from this range. I do not want them to."
     "Oh, but you trust us now?"
     "More than them. There are four ships approaching. They will need all of them to attack the base, giving us time to escape."
     "So you hope. Aeyris out."
     "You want to go with them?" Kirrik asked him curiously.
     "We've nowhere else to go," Aeyris shrugged.
     The Constrictor fell in behind the transport, and they flew on for three hours without further communication. Eventually an impatient Aeyris hailed the evacuee's ship.
     "How long until we can jump?" he demanded.
     "Uncertain. One enemy vessel is closing on our position."


For the benefit of those ignorant people who think Elite is defined by Frontier, the lifter in this story is nothing to do with the Lifter in Frontier.
Part 16
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