Episode 209: Out of the Frying Pan
- Part 2
At the top of the oldest portion of Magellan Agustiae lived the original docking ring. The only major access to this area was the old freight elevator that ran up its center to where the first research outpost's four original docking hard points had converged. It was in this area that the majority of merchants had chosen to set up shop. The area was large, so it allowed for a number of people to come and go throughout the area with ease. What had once been cargo and machinery storage space had now become a marketplace for goods of all sorts.
Each of the four docking hard points had been expanded to create space as well. Two of the four points had old cargo pods from the time of the station's creation permanently welded and supported in place. One contained a garden with trees and grass and some other comforts of the surface world, and the other was additional space for merchants. Another of the points was still functional to allow for the delivery of merchandise to the market place, or to allow some of the planet's more mobile merchants, like G.B. Macy who was currently docked to point three, to come and go as business dictated. This allowed them the mobility to go to some of the more remote outposts on the planet as well, and still make a profit.
In point #4 resided one of the colony's oldest additions. A personal submarine owned by a Swede named Knute Bjornsenn, had docked in point #4 three years earlier. Just about the time the station gained colony status. Knute had taken it upon himself to open his empty cargo bay to the colony as a kind of alternative to the research facility's original, and now overcrowded, mess hall. What had resulted was a gathering place that had come to be known as The Last Chance Saloon. Though the sub was still operational, it had not moved since the last time it had docked three years earlier.
Over the years the large high ceilinged cargo bay of Bjornsenn's sub had taken on a life of it's own. A loft had been added over the entrance to the bay, and behind the real wood bar lived all sorts of memorabilia showing events in the history of the colony. Over the bar were five large vid screens, the audio to which could be accessed by tuning a personal comlink to the frequency of the individual screen. This allowed for a number of events to be shown without the hassle of designating zones for each screen's audio throughout the room.
In other places around the room the décor was made from found items. A table made from an old mooring cleat salvaged from the Leviathan, chairs made from control couches of abandoned or destroyed subs, even lighting from wall sconces made out of exterior illumination devices from abandoned and disassembled modules of the original research station. Lastly over the door to Knute's private area of the sub hung an authentic Viking helmet complete with ram's horns. The place had grown to have a familiar character all of it's own, which is why it was one of the most popular areas in the colony. Sure there were other bars in the ramshackle collection of modules, but none had the history of the Last Chance.
This particular evening the Last Chance Saloon was very busy. The storm had effectively snowed in most of the average working men and women of the colony. With their ability to export ore indefinitely suspended, most of the mining companies of the colony had closed up shop till shipping resumed. There were also a large number of landing pad types like Rogers who rarely saw this much time off in a row except when the platform was in storage.
Falstaff had arrived shortly after the bulk of the crowd. He'd come partly because he knew that this would be the rowdiest place in the colony right now, and that he might be needed. He'd also come because he needed a drink, and that this would be the rowdiest place in the colony tonight.
He slowly drank his beer as he watched the crowd. Behind the bar the vid screens were showing a variety of entertainments from old movies to highlights of past World Cup tournaments. It was a good thing the Knute kept a large library of that sort of stuff. In a transmission blackout like the one imposed by the storm, people could go stir crazy very quickly without some sort of diversion to take the place of word from home.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw a very distressed looking Carl Jenkins enter the large main hatch of the bar. He looked around the room once and made eye contact with the marshal. When Jenkins started to make his way across the room people began to turn and look.
Barton had spread the story about the docking bay pretty well. The rumor mill had just cranked the level of the story up a few notches in the retelling. The most recent incarnation of the story had Carl levitating into the bay in a psychic bubble of air surrounding both Carl and the sub and damaging the bay doors with the force of his psychic power. By now nobody believed the stories, but everybody was curious about the man behind the story.
Falstaff motioned to Knute behind the bar that he wanted another beer, and had it waiting for Carl when he arrived to sit down next to the marshal. "Carl," said Falstaff with a friendly grin, "Welcome to the Last Chance. This is Knute Bjornsenn, owner and operator."
Jenkins reached out and shook the man's hand. "A pleasure to meet you Mr. Bjornsenn," said Jenkins. It was obvious to Falstaff that he was distracted and that his thoughts were focused on things more important.
"Please," said Knute, not noticing Carl's strange behavior, "while you are in my house you should call me Knute. Mr. Bjornsenn is buried on earth next to my mother."
Jenkins smiled and accepted the beer but did not drink. He turned back to face Falstaff. "Marshal, I need to contact my people and get off planet. The longer I stay, the greater a danger I might be to you and your people."
The marshal frowned. This conversation did not sound like it was going in a good direction. Quickly he tried to steer the conversation toward a lighter mood. "You know Carl, with this storm overhead, nothing comes or goes from the planet," said Falstaff. "Not even communications. I'm sorry to tell you that you can't leave or even talk with your people, but it's a fact I can't change, no matter how much I want to. To tell you the truth, unless you're carrying a bomb inside of you that didn't show up on your x rays, this colony may be the safest place in the universe for you to be right now."
For a moment Jenkins stared at him intently then a look of puzzled confusion passed across his face for the briefest of seconds. Falstaff wondered for a moment what had passed through the SICON man's mind, and was about to ask when Jenkins spoke.
"I had to try Marshal," Jenkins said. "If I hadn't, I couldn't have said that I tried all avenues available to me for securing transport off planet. SICON policy."
Falstaff wasn't entirely sure that was the truth, but didn't' feel like picking a fight over something so trivial. The truth was that while the storm raged overhead, they really were in one of the most secure places in the universe.
"That's alright," he said returning to his drink. "You're the second person I've had to deny departure for that reason today. Besides I wanted to talk with you about how you brought in that damaged sub this morning.
"From what the techs have told me, a flash current hit you that should have been big enough to see coming on the sonar. About the only way you could have been hit by it was if you purposely didn't try to avoid it, or if you were disabled by a smaller one before the big one. So what happened?"
Jenkins shifted in his chair, and turned away from the marshal. "I really don't remember much because of the concussion. Just bad luck I guess," shrugged Jenkins flatly.
"In any case," Falstaff continued, "we've managed to seal Bay 37 where your sub crashed and pump it clear of water, so if you need to get any personal things from the wreckage, you should be able to, just let me know."
At that moment Tasha entered the last chance. She didn't look around too much as she tuned her comlink to a vid frequency and took a seat at a table made from some of the local volcanic crystal that poured from some of the planet's fumaroles. The light reflecting off of the crystal played tricks with her rusty hued hair. He was so distracted by her that he nearly jumped out of his skin when Jenkins leaned close and spoke to him.
"So, why don't you go talk to her?" asked Jenkins.
"You sound like you've been talking to Salty," said Falstaff.
"He mentioned a thing or two about where a certain stubborn Marshal might be hiding from the woman he secretly loved," said Jenkins, "but I told him I wouldn't know anything about it."
Falstaff regarded the slim man silently. "It would be inappropriate for me to pursue a relationship with her," he said. "I'm in a position of a authority. It could be considered harassment."
"Oh, please," said Jenkins. "You sound like my friend did ten years ago. It's obvious that there's chemistry between you two, and I don't have to be a Psychic to see that. Just go talk to her. Life is too short to not take the chance at happiness." The psychic smiled at Falstaff for the first time that evening and it gave Falstaff some confidence. "Good things only come along once in a while marshal. What have you got to lose?"
Falstaff smiled and finished his beer. "If I go over there could you do me a favor?" He asked as he signaled salty for two more.
"I'll try," said Carl.
"Put a block in Salty's head that keeps him from bothering me about this ever again," the marshal said with a grin.
Jenkins laughed out loud as the marshal took the two pints of beer that Knute had so quickly supplied and made his way to the corner table where Tasha was sitting.
Carl watched the marshal make his way across the crowded bar towards Dr. Quinn. He stared into the crowd for a few moments while he reflected on his current situation.
He had tried to scan the Marshal to see if there was any other way off the planet, but had met with a wall of resistance. This had puzzled Carl. Only a Psychic could erect such barriers, but Falstaff marveled at Carl's abilities as though they were something he could never accomplish himself. It was possible that Falstaff had a latent talent that could be trained for use as a tool in the defense of the planet. But right now there wasn't the time, and he didn't even think the marshal was aware of his own hidden ability. For now it still left Carl trapped beneath the surface of a giant alien ocean.
Maybe the marshal was right. Maybe they were safe for now. As long as the storm was overhead, Freeman couldn't send any of his agents to come searching for the secret Carl had found. For a moment that thought buoyed Carl's hopes, but those hopes just as quickly died when he realized that as long as he stayed here the chance of Freeman locating him and having forces waiting when the storm cleared grew greater with each passing minute.
Carl looked down at his untouched beer. The blueness of it was off putting, but he took a sip anyway. It was surprisingly good for being based on a local kelp. He wondered if this was the only low cost brew they carried here, or if they imported another brand. Then it struck him. Falstaff had said that Carl was the second person he'd had to refuse today. That meant that there was another person who might know of a different, albeit less than legal, way off the planet, or someone, who at the very least might have a ship.
He looked up at the bartender. "Excuse me," he said. "It was Knute right?" The bartender nodded as he poured up a Hydoran Sunset for one of the waitresses. "Marshal Falstaff mentioned there was someone else who was stranded here by the storm. I was wondering if you might know where I could find him. I was hoping to swap stories with him. Kind of a support group for travelers thing." He said smiling sheepishly.
Knute snorted a laugh at the feeble joke, and pointed to the dark end of the bar where an unshaven man in a leather jacket was talking to another very disinterested looking patron. "His name's Jack Eddington," Knute said. "He's with the smuggler's guild. He was only supposed to make a quick drop today, and got in just ahead of the storm this morning. Good luck if you want to talk with him. He's been drinking for the last three hours, but the drinks have been mostly water for about half of that. The guy just won't stop talking."
Carl nodded his thanks and made his way over to the smuggler.
As he approached he took note of the woman to whom Eddington was talking. The dirty looking woman wore the patch of a project manager from one of the local mining corporations. Based on the grime she wore she must be drilling for exploitable resources buried deep within the crust of the planet, which judging by the look on her face was one of the many places she'd rather be than listening to a drunken smuggler.
As Carl approached he touched the woman on the shoulder. "Excuse me," Carl said to the woman, "may I break in here and have a word with your friend for a moment?"
Obviously seizing the moment, the woman gestured emphatically for Carl to have a seat and take Eddington off of her hands. She grabbed her drink and her basket of onion rings and retreated for a group of her peers as quickly as she could.
Carl smiled as he turned back to the smuggler. "Captain Jack Eddington, at your service sir," the drunken man said with extra emphasis on the Jack. "I'm sorry that I can't show myself in a better mood tonight, but if you'd had the week that I just had pal, you'd be in as foul a mood as I am, I'll tell yah what, I don't think anybody in this entire universe, bugs included, could possibly have had a worse week than me, I mean it, since I picked up that shipment of fuel cells on the Chellios V orbital colony I've had nothing but trouble, and that was only seven days ago, boy you wouldn't believe how ignorant the..."
For at least ten more minutes the man went on like that, and even then he only stopped to drink. Carl, was amazed, He hadn't said one word to this man since he sat down, not even to tell him his name. No wonder the woman had felt the need to escape at the first chance. This man was a classic conversational drunk. If only Carl could get a word in edgewise to steer the conversation to the information he was looking for.
Gently Carl reached out to touch the man's mind and restore some clarity to it. Inside the man's head he found that the portion of the man's mind that was normally in control was quite organized and intelligent, but judging by what he had heard from the man regarding his last week, it was no surprise that he had felt the need to let loose the controls while he was indefinitely stranded. Carl psychically nudged the man to yawn, and used the silence as an opportunity to begin steering.
"My name's Carl," He said as Eddington began to yawn. He offered his hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you Captain Eddington. I heard from Knute over there that you and I are in the same boat so to speak." Carl cringed inwardly at his own weak pun, but it was necessary for this man to openly trust him. It would make it easier to bob the details Carl was looking for to the surface of the man's thoughts.
Eddington laughed the loud laugh of a drunk, and clapped Carl on the shoulder. "That's the funniest thing I've heard all day Carl. I like you." He paused to take another draw from his glass. "So you're stranded here too, huh? What happened you land earlier today and stop for something to eat like I did? If I'd know that one meal would have cost me my departure I'd have gone hungry, at least then I could have dropped my last shipment before it expires. Do you know how bad a cargo hold can get to smelling if you don't offload a crate of pineapples before they start to really ripen?"
Carl was losing control of the conversation again. He needed to jump in again. He barked out a laugh at the last comment and blocked Eddington from speaking. "Do I ever," Carl said. "So, How did they corner you here? Was it by keeping you from contacting your ship? That's my problem. I can't call them to let them know I'm all done here."
Eddington frowned and shook his head. "Nooo," he said in an absurdly deep voice. "I got it worse than that." He went on, his voice returning to normal. "My ship was on board their darned landing pad and I was prepping for launch, when this tech named Rogers comes over to the ship grinning like an idiot. He gets on the comlink and tells me that they've been ordered to return the platform to storage depth, and close the port till the storm overhead passes. Can you believe that? There I was almost ready to raise ship, and they tell me that I have to wait to launch. Who do they think I am? That idiot who crashed the sub this morning?"
Carl forced a laugh at the last comment. "Maybe they were just worried that a large freighter might have problems lifting in heavier than normal weather."
"See that's just it," Eddington said leaning closer. "My freighter is in orbit right now. What I have down here is a quick little shuttle craft capable of making tough takeoffs and landings."
Carl saw a light at the end of the tunnel. If this man had a ship in orbit, and a shuttle down here Carl might have found his means of escape. He needed to pry a little further just to be sure. As Eddington went on about how his main craft could be used for landings in more normal environments and the virtues of that, Carl looked into the man's free floating thoughts. Then Carl found what he'd been looking for. The image of Eddington leaving his shuttle prepped for launch in the landing platform crossed his scan, and Carl latched on to it. He double-checked to be sure, but he saw it as though it were his own memory: the tech Rodgers sealing the access port to the landing platform and the shuttle still docked inside.
Almost as soon as he 'saw' this he began forming a plan. It wouldn't do for him to just disappear without explanation. While Eddington jabbered on he reviewed two or three options, and then he found one that was virtually flawless.
Without hesitation Carl reached out as though to offer a friendly slap on the shoulder. Ordinarily Carl shied away from using the darker side of his mind, but in this situation he didn't have many options. As he made light contact with the smuggler's shoulder blade he sent in impulse for the man to sleep. Almost immediately Eddington's eyelids grew heavy, and he slurred the words he was speaking as he slowly lowered his head to the bar and passed out. Carl lightly reached into his memories, and blocked himself from Eddington's thoughts. The man would remember nothing. Now he only had to find a way to leave a message for Rico in case he followed the same lead the artifact had supplied to Carl.
Behind the bar Knute looked in Carl's direction. "Wow, you must lead a charmed life Carl," said the Swede, "I thought that guy'd never shut up."
"Just lucky I guess," said Carl. He offered the bartender his hand. "Thank you for the beer Knute. It's been a pleasure meeting you, but I really have to go now."
As the bartender took his hand he seemed to stagger slightly but quickly regained his balance. "Whoa," aid Knute as he pressed a hand to the side of his head. "Sorry about that Carl, I must have blacked out there for a second. It's good to meet you too. Maybe I'll see you around."
Carl nodded and turned away. He had two more people to see before his plan could be set. He mad his way through the crowded tavern to the table where Quinn and Falstaff sat conversing. They both turned and smiled at his approach.
"Hello Carl, How are your ribs feeling?" asked Quinn.
"Fine," he said offering her a smile, "thanks for asking." He turned to Falstaff "Marshal, you said earlier, that I could access the sub I was piloting this morning."
"Sure Carl, that's no problem at all," he pulled out a note pad and quickly jotted down some numbers and handed it to Carl. "That code should get you past the security lock to bay 37, be careful though. That bay is still not 100% structurally sound."
"Thanks marshal, I'll be as quick as I can," he said. "I just want to see if I have any personal belongings left in there worth salvaging, or if I should buy some things for my stay." He turned to Quinn and touched her hand. She swayed slightly in her chair. "Doctor a pleasure as always. I'll be seeing both of you around."
"Good luck finding your things," said Falstaff as Carl departed.
Once clear of the old upper docking ring Carl made a beeline for the sub he had crashed earlier that morning. He hadn't been lying about needing some things out of the wreckage. That much was true. Inside the sub was a pack of Intel special infiltration gear. Purely standard issue stuff, but potent enough at cracking into places people generally wanted to keep you out of.
When he arrived he found the sub docking bays deserted. He had the place to himself. Quickly he keyed in the security code and the access hatch to bay creaked open. The crash must have damaged the door Carl thought. Inside he could see a dozen places where sheet steel had been welded in place to seal leaks. Some of the patches were pretty shoddy and hastily done. They would suit Carl's needs perfectly.
He reached inside of the sub with his mind and found the satchel containing the Intel gear, as well as a few of his own personal belongings. Once he had them in hand he began checking them for damage while he began to psychically comb the bay for weak points. He was now fully submerged in the power of his talent. It allowed him at times like this to multitask and accomplish things much faster than normally could be done. He checked his chrono and realized his time was running short. The delayed suggestion he'd placed in Quinn would be firing in about ten minutes, by then he would have to be in position to put his plan into effect.
Carl walked around the bay touching several of the welds, placing psychic markers on them. He was effectively 'painting' them much the same way a spotter paints a target for artillery. After he was satisfied that he had enough points he gathered his things and set off for the landing pad placing more markers along the way.
Falstaff would never understand women. One moment he was sitting having a nice quiet conversation with Tasha about the events of the day, when all of a sudden she had looked him in the eye and said 'hey, let's go check and see if Mr. Jenkins needs any help with his sub.' Just out of the blue like that. He had insisted that Carl could handle himself and didn't need any help getting anything, besides what could they possibly help him move that he couldn't with the power of his mind? But she'd been insistent, so Falstaff had caved.
He'd just stepped off the ladder and was helping her down when it occurred to him that he should have gone along with her on this to begin with. There was nobody else down here tonight because the crews were off work, and with any luck Carl had already moved on from the sub bay and was headed to secure a room for the night. He might actually be alone with her.
They stepped into the empty repair bay of the Leviathan and both paused to look around. The only light in the room came from the exterior illumination shining in through the moon pool. It gave the cavernous space a kind of eerie glow.
"I don't think I've ever seen this place when nobody's been here," said Tasha.
"That makes sense," he replied, "The only time you've ever come down here has been either to pick up a shuttle for a house call to one of the outposts, or when there's been an accident and somebody needed you to patch them up."
They walked over to the moon pool. The ocean floor looked purplish blue through the opening. Tasha dipped a hand into the water and pulled it back quickly.
"I always forget how cold the water is at this depth," she said. "It just looks so inviting. Almost good enough to go skinny dipping." She turned to see how he reacted to the statement with a devilish look in her eye, then crossed toward the access corridor to the sub bays.
Falstaff just stared for a moment, then followed after her. "Doctor," he said, "if I didn't know you so well I'd call you a tease." He had just about reached her where she waited by the corridor when all hell broke loose.
There was a screeching sound like metal being torn, and then the entire sub bay shook. The force of it threw them both to the ground. While they tried to regain their footing the surface of the moon pool erupted upward in a geyser that began to flood the bay immediately.
Falstaff hauled himself to his feet and dashed for the nearest access panel scooping up the small woman under his arm as he went. By the time he reached the panel the freezing water in the giant room was already ankle deep, and they were both soaked. He pushed Tasha into a corner. "Stay there," he shouted over the noise of the raging column of water.
"What's going on? Why is this happening?" shouted Tasha over the noise.
Falstaff hurriedly punched security codes into the access panel. "The sub bay must've lost containment somewhere," he shouted. "The only way the moon pool would've lost integrity was if we had a breach and pressure became unequalized."
Around the room access hatchways leading to other parts of the colony slammed closed. The massive doors that sealed the moon pool groaned shut against the pressure of the ocean pouring in, the same doors that just that morning had been closed in case of just such a breach.
Once the main pool doors were closed Falstaff offered his hand to Tasha and pulled her to her feet. "Come on," he said sternly, "We'll be sealed in by the access hatches till we isolate that breach. In the mean time we've got to get you into some dry clothes and me into a powersuit. I need to get outside and figure out what happened. We have to find out if the rest of the colony is in danger."
She nodded in agreement, and they made their way to higher ground.
Aboard the landing pad Carl Jenkins was reaching out with his mind to make sure that the Marshal and the doctor had survived the hull breach he'd caused. When he'd seen that they were a sufficient distance from the moon pool he'd pulled away the welds he had placed markers on in the sub bay. The results had been explosive. The water pouring in had ripped the holes out to much larger sizes in under a second. Within three seconds the door to the bay had been blasted outward by the impact of the water and the explosive decompression of the bay. The sub was swept outside, and the access hatch to the corridor was folded in half by the resulting stress on the entire bay.
Carl watched Quinn and Falstaff in his mind as they climbed the steps to Falstaff's second office in the upper levels of the Leviathan's repair bay. Falstaff had already begun to prep to go outside, and Quinn was searching for warm dry clothes.
Knowing that they were safe he turned his attention back to his plan. He reached out to the safety hatches holding back water from the now flooded bay. Finding his psychic markers he pushed at the heavy doors till they gave way under the natural pressure. The colony shuddered under the impact of the doors giving way. Carl pushed out four more doors the same way. As he began to break down a fifth door he reached out to the landing pad controls in front of him and keyed the release for the ballast tanks of the massive platform. As the safety hatch gave way at the other end of the Leviathan and the colony shuddered, the ballast tanks of the landing pad boomed and the giant craft lifted from the ocean floor.
The force of the great sub rising toward the surface knocked Carl to the floor of the control room. He hadn't been prepared for such instant results. He checked the displays to be sure he would indeed make it all the way to the surface, and he noted that of the six mooring points only three had broken away from the colony cleanly. Two had torn away from the hull of the landing pad, and resulted in definite hull breaches, but were contained, and the other was showing nothing because the sensors had gone dead in that area. He initiated containment procedures for that area just to be sure and then hurried off to the launch bay where Eddington's small shuttlecraft waited.
He would have to be ready as soon as the platform surfaced. He might not have time to try taking off more than once in the storm overhead.
Falstaff pulled on the last bit of his old maintenance powersuit and checked the seals. He hadn't worn the battered safety orange suit since he'd gotten the new military grade unit he normally wore for operating outside of the colony. Part of the reason he'd gotten the new suit in the first place was because this one was such a bad fit. It was too tight in places because it really wasn't made for someone as tall as he was.
"Coming through," he warned as he strode through the locker room where Tasha was pulling on a work coverall that was five sizes too large. Still she looked great he thought. He would seriously have to take Carl's advice and talk to her.
"Thanks for giving a girl some warning," she said as she began scrounging for more layers of clothing to put on.
He offered her a secure comlink, as he fitted his to his ear. "I'm going to use the port side lock to get out and check for the breach," he said. "When you've gotten yourself warmed up I need you to get on the monitors in the office and begin looking through the exterior cameras for debris or air bubbles coming from the docking bays. I need to know if the colony is in any more danger." At that moment the colony shook as a safety bulkhead gave way. Lights began flashing from inside the office.
Tasha looked back at him "You were saying?" she said sounding less concerned than he knew she was.
"I'm going outside," he said as he clanked toward the door. "Stay here, and let me know if you find any thing." He paused in the doorway and turned back toward her. "And Tasha, stay alive."
She met his eyes as she pulled on a jacket that almost fit. "You too Jude," she said as she put the comlink on her ear. "You too."
Falstaff reached the lock and climbed in. He cycled the inner door shut and waited as the small lock filled with water. Another bulkhead gave way, and a tremor shook the colony forcing him to brace himself against the walls of the small room.
The outer hatch opened and Falstaff pulled himself outside. He propelled himself toward the docking bays. Handles had been welded to the surface of the Leviathan for just such a purpose. As he rounded the curve of the great ship another rumble shook the colony nearly causing him to lose his grip.
Determinedly he hung on and pulled himself to where he could walk atop the ring of bays. Quickly he scanned the area for telltale bubbles, but found none. That could be a good sign.
"Jude, I'm not seeing any immediate signs of a breach," said Tasha through the comlink.
"Me either," he replied. "I don't see any bubbles or debris, which means that the security protocols might have isolated the breach for now."
As the words left his mouth another tremor struck putting an exclamation point on the 'for now.'
"Oh no," came Tasha's hushed voice over the comlink. "Oh, please God, no."
Falstaff's heart raced. "What, Tasha?" he asked in a panic, "What is it?"
"Jude, its bay 37," with those words he began to run as best he could through the water to the far end of the ring where 37 was located. "Jude it's gone. It's all gone."
As he crested the rise to the farthest bays in the ring he saw what she meant. There was virtually nothing left. The bay and everything in it had been exploded outward by the force of the decompression. Nothing could have survived. Not even Carl Jenkins.
He stared at the debris of Bay 37 trying to process what had happened for what seemed like an eternity, and then the fifth bulkhead gave way. As the rumble that shook the colony subsided he heard a muffled boom through the water. He turned to see the massive saucer like shape of the landing platform shoot through the water toward the surface trailing three of it's mooring lines behind it. The last tremor must have caused the ballast tanks to blow.
"Tasha put me through to Salty," he said into the comlink. He heard the audible click of the transfer. He spoke before the old man could get on the line. "Salty sober up the techs and the dock workers. Tell them their vacation's been cut short."
The landing platform crossed the half-hour trip to the surface in just under ten minutes. Carl spent the time firing up the engines to Eddington's wedge shaped shuttle, and prepping the landing pad doors to open the minute he surfaced.
The giant submersible leapt from the peace of the water below the surface into the chaos that was the storm. As the massive bay doors irised open to allow the shuttle to lift lightning flashed and Carl caught a glimpse of the monster in all it's fury. The wave that was cresting above the landing pad looked nearly a mile high. As the darkness returned Carl pushed the lift engines to their limit. The small craft was clipped and nearly smashed by the wave as it came crashing down on top of the landing platform.
Carl marveled at the power of the shuttle's engines. Eddington hadn't been bragging when he'd boasted of his small shuttle's ability's. He was almost convinced it would lift him through the storm as though it were in clear skies till it was caught by the harsh wind and batted heavily sideways. There was a loud crack as Carl heard an access panel break free in the cabin behind him and clatter around on the floor.
He glanced over his shoulder to see the extent of the damage. And entire wall of the shuttle was vibrating and a retaining bolt on another access panel was rattling lose. Carl reached out with his mind and tourqued the bolt back into place. Outside lightning flashed again. Carl wrenched the controls to the left to avoid the crest of another wave. It approached like a lumbering giant reaching from the surface of the planet angered that he would try to escape. The maneuver caused warning lights to flash all over the control console. Carl stretched his mind throughout the ship and found the sources of the problems. In the engine compartment Carl stilled rattling fuel lines and tore free a bare lighting cable that had pulled loose and threatened to short circuit the reactor control system.
He increased the forward thrust as he pulled a piece of the outer hull into place that had nearly twisted free from that last maneuver. Behind him sparks flashed as the cabin illumination system shorted out. Lightning flashed again. Carl could see that he was now free of the danger of being clobbered by a wave. He hoped the worst was over when a gust of wind and rain hit that flipped the shuttle end over end and threw Carl against his restraints. His broken ribs spiked pain through his side.
Carl fought to regain control and spread his senses throughout the ship. He could feel hull plates beginning to buckle everywhere. Eddington had been right that this shuttle could handle hard weather, but not weather this hard. Even this sturdy little ship was a death trap. He reached out and began to one by one reinforce the hull plates of the ship willing them to hold. The strain of it was beginning to make Carl sweat. He fought with the winds of Charybdis for control of the small craft.
Behind him Carl heard a clanking, he flashed his mind toward the noise without even checking this time. Almost instantly it stopped. He continued to push the shuttle toward space praying with every passing second that he could just make orbit. If he could make orbit he could dock with Eddington's freighter, and he'd be fine.
Slowly light began to filter through the clouds that obscured the forward view port. Carl reached up and wiped his beaded brow. He couldn't keep this up for much longer. Then as quickly as it had begun he was through the clouds and passed on to the peace of the upper atmosphere. He could see Alcatraz, the more stable of Charybdis twin moons, and the expanse of stars beyond. Carl slowly eased back his hold on the ship breathed a sigh of relief as he guided the ship toward a low orbit. The worst was over.
Carl unbuckled from the control couch and ordered the ship's computer to begin a sensor sweep for Eddington's orbiting freighter, then got up and headed aft to see about repairing some of the ship.
As the shuttle leveled into an orbit around Charybdis it passed from the night side of the water world. First to come into view was the outline of Alcatraz's sister moon Pandora. It was believed that her erratic orbit was the cause of the changing and violent weather patterns on the world below.
Charybdis' sun MK1341 hove into view next. The light from the star lit the cabin of the shuttle and made Carl aware how dark it had been since the interior illumination had shorted. He quickly scanned the ship for any hull breaches or other major problems and finding nothing of immediate interest began repairs on the lights. If you can't see, you can't work Carl though to himself.
He was nearly done rerouting power to the interior lights when darkness fell in the cabin again, and the control console lit up with sensor warnings. Carl rushed to the control couch expecting to see Eddington's freighter blocking out the sun. Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw.
Outside in the emptiness of space, filling the view port and blocking out the stars, was something Carl had hoped never to see again, something that froze the blood in his veins: an Arachnid Transport Bug.
Carl threw himself into the control couch and started to power up the engines to try to make a run for open space when something made him pause. For a brief moment he thought he had heard it call to him. He stared back out the view port. Then he heard it again and he knew.
Carl narrowed his eyes and broadcast his thoughts back to the transport bug, leaned back in the control couch and let his shuttle be drawn in.
Next Episode: 210: The Stone Speaks