It was a good fifty feet to the Vagabond. Fifty feet where they could be shot at. Nothing for it.
Ven dashed over to the Vagabond, hearing more than one bullet whoosh past him or ping off the deck much too close to his feet. But he’d made it, now for the next part. He found the terminal on the side of the ship and opened the cargo hatch and boarded.
“What weapons do you have?” asked McLean, boarding the bridge.
“A machine gun mounted on top next to a light turret.”
“Is that it?”
“The Vagabond ain’t exactly a warship!” snapped Ven, bringing his ship to life. “And we’re out of ammo on both counts, too.”
“Bloody hell, we are gonna need to retrofit the shit out of this thing if you wanna join the resistance,” muttered McLean, assuming the copilot’s seat.
“That’s a big if,” answered Ven.
The Vagabond’s system lights blinked green and Ven fired up the thrusters. The ship scraped across the hangar, absorbing gunfire until it collided against the bulkhead, its cargo door facing the hallway.
“How much gunfire can your armor withstand?” asked McLean.
“Armor?” asked Ven. “Merchant ship remember?”
“Right. More upgrades.”
“We’re on board, captain!” said Raleigh through the intercom.
“Right, close the hatch.”
“Already done,” Raleigh patted the sealed door.
The Vagabond lurched as it rose and headed out the hangar. The firing stopped and the vacuum of space greeted them.
Suddenly, the bridge was oddly crowded with Ven, Sam, Raleigh, McLean, Brander, and Eva within it.
“Head to the rendezvous point,” said Brander.
“Right and—crap,” muttered Ven.
“What?” said McLean.
“See those blips on the ladar? They’ve scrambled fighters after us.”
“Why doesn’t your bloody ship have any guns?” moaned McLean.
“Can we outrun them?” asked Brander.
“The superlight’s shot but I could try to reroute power to the primary thrusters,” said Raleigh.
“Sam, gimme a hand?”
Raleigh and Sam left the bridge and jogged down to the engine room.
“Alright, now what?” asked Sam.
“Simple, we disconnect the power conduit harness from the superlight and add it and a coupler to the primary thrusters’ hookup. We’ll have to disconnect the thrusters’ main power so we’ll be running on auxiliary for a bit. Faster we do this the less time we’ll be coping on auxiliary.”
“And that’s simple?”
“Get the coupler, it’s on the rack over there,” ordered Raleigh, “also grab a rho- and a tau-class adapter. Why all these cables can’t have a universal jack is beyond me.”
“Probably so you don’t stick the wrong one in the wrong place?” Sam grabbed the coupler off its shelf and began digging around in the compartment underneath the word ‘adapters’ written in marker on a piece of tape. “Couldn’t sort it any better?” She drew out an adapter, examined it, and replaced it.
“It’s clear enough, isn’t it? We don’t exactly plan on being shot at in pursuit on a regular basis!”
“I’m sure there’s some solution,” Sam finally found the second adapter and headed over to Raleigh. The younger woman had detached the superlight’s harness and immediately started attaching the plugs to the adapter.
“Captain,” said Raleigh into the intercom, “I’m switching the power to auxiliary so we can make the switch. Stand by.”
Raleigh accessed a switchboard and, after flipping a few switches, pulled down a lever to her right. The growl of the thrusters faded for a moment before returning. Sam was already unhooking the thruster’s main power.
Once both conduits were connected to the adapter and couplers and Sam was hooking it up, Raleigh was back on the intercom.
“Switching back over.”
“Fast as I can, Captain.”
The flick of a few switches and a pull of a lever later and the Vagabond shuddered as the thruster’s power returned stronger than before.
Not by a lot, though, Raleigh mused. The superlight only diverted a minimum of power when the thrusters was engaged. One pretty much never used both at the same time, the difference was that small. Guess they needed all the help they could get.
Or Ven just wanted to clear the bridge.
“Sam, get everyone strapped in! Things could head south soon! Raleigh, I want you on the bridge.”
“Gotcha!” said Raleigh, already leading the way to the kiosk. Definitely get people off the bridge.
Brander and Eva were already in the kiosk. Sam reached into the recesses in the couch and helped buckle them in, checking the straps before securing herself.
Raleigh took her place in the co-pilot’s chair. McLean was in the navigator’s post, Sam’s usual spot. A quick glance at the display in front of her was all Raleigh needed to know.
“Alright Captain, plan?”
“Three fighters after us and that’s your plan?” asked McLean, “It’s a frigging miracle you’re still alive.”
“They’re Whiplashes, they can’t follow us into atmo,” said Raleigh, “oh wait, stabilizer. Well, crap.”
“Don’t think we have much of a choice,” said Ven, “unless, hang on, we could … No, we couldn’t, never mind.”
“At least the fighters are following us and not the other transports. We must’ve really pissed Tanako off.”
“Is this seriously how you people deal with situations?” demanded McLean, “you’re all mad!”
“Right, let’s try and land. See if we can wait until the Judge Shall Come leaves orbit,” said Ven, changing course.
“They could just send a landing party,” McLean argued, “or not move. Or provisions could run out.”
“If one of those fighters’ cannons punctures the hull, our atmosphere will be gone before you know it,” said Ven, “that means no air, no heat, no nothing.”
“We wanna take our chances back on that moon’s what we’re saying,” said Raleigh.
“Right. Yeah. Let’s head back to Gael.”
“Trying to,” said Ven, forcing the thrusters forward for all they were worth. Gael slowly grew larger through the windows. Any minute now they’d hit atmo.…
The Vagabond shook violently and a light on the control panel began to flash and beep.
“Well, crap,” said Ven flatly.
“What happened?” shouted McLean.
“Nothing major,” said Raleigh, scrolling through a screen, “a round finished up what was rest of our starboard stabilizer. Shrapnel hit something in the engine room and various sensor equipment up top. We’ll be fine.”
“You two are far too calm.”
The ship shook again. Ven pulled up on the yoke just as the red flames begun to lick the ship. They were back on Gael, out of reach of the fighters.
Whether or not they’d be able to go somewhere else was the new issue.
As was landing.
Upon entering the atmosphere Ven fought to stabilize the Vagabond’s descent by using a minimal amount of thrust from the port thruster, hoping that the working stabilizer would offset the starboard thruster and keep them on relatively steadily course.
“Well, that didn’t work,” said Ven as the Vagabond began to spiral towards the ground.
“Engaging ventral thrusters,” said Raleigh, “for whatever good it’ll do.”
“Adjusting primary thrusters,” said Ven. “This might be our worse landing yet.”
“We’d have to beat that incident back on Jotunn. Remember that?”
“I’m pretty sure we’ll beat it. Lowering landing gear.”
“Because that will definitely break our descent.”
“Ya never know.”
“We are going to die!” exclaimed McLean from his chair, “and you are all insane!”
“Oh shut up,” snapped Raleigh.
Their descent slowed somewhat and the relentless spiral became more of a slow gyration, but they were still more or less out of control. The air rushed loudly outside.
“We’ll make it,” Ven said soft enough that McLean couldn’t hear him, “we’ll make it.”
“Yeah we will, Captain,” said Raleigh, her voice wavering only slightly, “of course.”
Ven reached out and gripped her hand. Her nails dug into his skin.
Trees crashed and splintered beneath them and scratched against the windshield. The ship quaked violently and burrowed into the earth. And all went dark.