Polera

Chapter 6: "Ruin Jumping"


“Ruin Jumping”

Planet: Puroc (Ruins)

Location: Enclosed Bridge over Canyon


I


A shallow stream wound its way between canyon walls. Across the canyon balanced a monorail bridge with a few rail cars still rusted to its track. Inside the covered bridge, four souls crept through the shadows hoping to find their friend. Paul Cole shuffled around the cars in the darkness at the front of the group. Behind him, moving from car to car, Catherine shined a light in one hand and held her pistol tightly with the other. The doctor and his new friend, Tim, brought up the rear. Each of them were cautious. Each of them hoping the aliens had spared their victim.

The doctor stopped at a crack in the bridge floor. The cement had given way letting in some light from below and a view of the canyon. He could just see sunlight reflecting from the stream at the bottom. Graham looked at the fractures in the walls around him, took a breath of dusty air, and stepped across the crack.

Catherine shined her light into a rail car, but movement to her left caught her eye. She flicked off her light. The only sounds she could hear were Graham and Tim some distance behind.

Between several crates stacked in disarray, a serpentine alien stepped out of the darkness. Slender hands opened up one of the containers. It’s body was shaped into a rough letter “S” with four legs clattering on the floor and two arms rummaging for something in the box. Its skin sparkled a glossy, purple sheen.

Catherine held her breath. There was no sign of Paul. The creature pulled an object out of the crate that ended in a disk facing outwards. It held the device like a gun and twisted its head in Catherine’s direction. She tried to slink back into the shadows, but it was too late.

The alien hissed and fired its weapon. From the end of the disk, a ball of energy coalesced and crackled before hurling itself through the darkness. Cat jumped through the door of the nearby rail car. The sphere slammed into the side of the car and erupted in a hail of blue energy.

Graham and Tim peppered the crates near the creature with bullets. Another ball of energy twisted towards the two men. The doctor leapt behind a car, but Tim was not so lucky. The blue sphere shattered next to him, sending the poor man hurtling lifelessly through the air. Cement keeping the bridge several hundred feet above the canyon split open. A 20 meter section of the span, including a rail car, snapped loose. Tons of cement and metal broke free. Graham lost his footing and slid out the fissure. His feet dangled in the daylight. The broken section finally splashed into the shallow stream below. The doctor tossed his pistol and grabbed anything within reach. His feet scrambled to find purchase. Catherine’s hand appeared over the edge and grabbed him tightly. The slender woman used all her strength to pull the man away from the edge. The pair lay next to each another, catching their breath.

“Thanks.”

“It’s what I do. What about Tim?”

The doctor shook his head.

The alien waited behind the crates for a clear shot. Suddenly, Paul popped out between two cars and showered the alien with a dozen rounds. It squealed and stumbled backwards. He watched the creature bleed out for several moments with a grin of satisfaction, until a second alien bolted out of the darkness. Its weapon fired repeated bursts of particles in a frantic pattern.

Paul ducked behind cover and yelled, “A little help?”

Catherine got to her knees and fired shot after shot from her pistol before finally bringing down the second alien. It crumpled to the ground in a mess of stringy purple strands and leathery flesh. She nodded to Paul and smiled until the bridge began to shake.

Paul searched around the alien’s crates and found a net made of metal bolted to the floor. Trapped within lay the woman they sought, Angela Loret. She was terrified, but in good health. He pulled out a knife and cut her free.

“You’re okay. You’re with friends now.”

The doctor and Catherine knelt over Tim’s corpse.

“What do we do?” Graham asked.

Catherine thought for a moment and said, “Give him a burial at sea.”

She reached down and pushed the body off the broken bridge. It tumbled through the air before slamming into the shallow stream. The doctor looked stunned.

Support beams groaned and buckled. The cement cracked under foot. The floor snapped loose and another massive section of bridge and rusted car plunged into the canyon. The alien ship attached to the superstructure plummeted. Section after section of the bridge gave way. Everyone fled across the span as it fell behind them. A thunderous roar filled the entire hillside.

When the destruction subsided, Angela and the crew were safely on the other side of the canyon. Dust and a few feet of bridge jutting from the cliff were all that was left.

Dr. Graham looked down at the stream trickling past all the rubble and said, “That’s quite the burial at sea.”


II

Planet: Puroc (Ruins)

Location: Wooded Hills


The crew walked Angela through the forested hills back towards their ship. They had traveled only a few miles when dozens of people descended upon them. These refuges living in the hills and in their makeshift towns had enough of spaceships and the destruction of their lives. The outsiders from space were the cause of all their trouble. The mob had the crew vastly outnumbered and nearly surrounded. Catherine’s attempt to speak with them ended only in the exchange of bullets and a wild chase through the trees.

The crew ran to their ship only to find that Bill had critical engine components spread about in a field. Polera was exposed and vulnerable with nearly forty armed locals rushing at her. Cole was ready to strangle the old engineer, but had bigger problems to deal with. He and Catherine took cover and laid down suppressive fire. The mob surrounded the ship while Bill put the engine back together. Amidst rifle rifle, the crew ran into the ship none too soon.

Polera blew clear of the field, and, as a parting gesture, Paul buzzed the xenophobic town with engines roaring. The ship flew clear of the planet and folded back to Grey Union space.

Back at the nearest station in civilized space, Angela thanked the doctor and the rest of the crew for coming to her rescue. She hugged Graham and walked away to start a new life.

Catherine downloaded the latest package to catch up on any news or work to be found. A cryptic message from Phillip Newsome popped up giving the location of the criminal Don Mattle. Cole suggested they pass on tracking down the man responsible for the Isonen incident and instead, focus on finding a replacement shuttle.

Catherine’s associate, Niche was contacted once more. He gave details about a shuttle that was trapped somewhere in the Ruins. It was of high quality and excellent condition, but required a special computer GSI interface to get it free. In exchange for the information, the crew agreed to pick up Niche’s associate, Olivia Dawson. She was a mercenary in need of retrieval at a specified time just inside the Ruins. Once she was recovered, Olivia would pass along the location of the GSI interface.

With reluctance, Polera fired up her engines and returned to the edge of the Ruins.


III

Planet: Harbit (Ruins)

Location: Orbit


Folding near the planet Harbit, Polera’s crew were jumpy and looking for trouble. Lights on the ship started to flicker as soon as they arrived. Everyone cursed at their engineer, who began tearing out wires to fix the problem. Issues with the ship right after a fold had become commonplace, but power fluctuations in the Ruins were nothing to joke about.

While the repairs were underway, a small vessel jammed with sensors appeared in the distance. The craft closed in on Polera and hailed them. Graham turned on the communications console to hear what they wanted, but was greeted by sickening static that almost deafened him.

He pushed away from the console and said, “Oh, God. We’re infected.”

“Blast that damn ship apart,” Cole said to the doctor.

Graham left the bridge and climbed up a ladder to the turret atop the transport. He spun the weapon around tracking for the AI craft.

Cole grabbed one of the few remaining AI cartridges, ripped it free from its packaging, and slammed it into a port on the communications console. The screen went black. A single light on the cartridge blinked red. Paul waited.

Graham cut loose with the turret. Its flak shells, designed to takeout missiles, erupted around the closing ship. The vessel did not alter course. It fired no weapon. It closed in, desperate to physically connect with Polera, desperate to infect her again. More shells erupted from the turret, and the small craft exploded into chunks of metal.

“We’re clear,” the doctor called down.

Paul watched the light on the cartridge turn green and sighed. The communications console came back to life.

“Same here.”

Polera flew away from the debris of the virus ship and entered the atmosphere of Harbit moments later. She soared across a baked landscape of cracked earth and mesas. The coordinates given to pick up the mercenary, Olivia, were along a section of old highway that stretched across the clay ground. The crew waited for several hours looking out the ship’s windows and keeping an eye on the sensors until a trail of dust appeared on the horizon.

An old car sped down the highway kicking up a plume. Two trucks chased behind in close pursuit. Men from the trucks blasted away with their guns until the car lost control and spun out.

Not knowing what was going, Polera fired up her engines and circled the fight. Cole banked the ship severely as she turned so that the turret up top had a perfect field of fire. Shells exploded around one of the trucks turning it into a fiery blaze. The second truck sped off.

The ship settled down next to the car covered in bullet holes. A door creaked opened, and a women stepped out of the car with two assault rifles slung over her shoulders and duffel bag in her hand.

“It’s about time you all showed up,” she said. “I believe you’re my ticket out a here.”

Olivia Dawson was brought aboard and given a room to stow her gear. When asked about her business on Harbit or the contents of her bag, she tossed out a veiled threat, smiled, and found a reason to be elsewhere. During the journey back, Catherine served up some food for the mercenary and asked her a few questions.

“Our part of the bargain is taking you back to the Grey Union, so what about your end? Where do we find this GSI interface?”

“Oh, I know just where your little toy is at,” Olivia said, “but I’m not sayin’ nothin’. Not until I’m back home. Don’t want to find myself pushed out an airlock or somethin’.”

Polera arrived back in the Grey Union attempting to land in a busy starport. A naval ship intercepted her under the pretense of tracking down contraband. Worried that a GU commanding officer could decide most anything on board was illicit, let alone whatever Olivia brought with her, Cole offered up a sizable amount of credits as soon as the navy men came aboard. While such a bribe might be considered a crime in the Confederacy, it was a standard part of a junior officer’s salary in the Grey Union. The GU ship took the credits, some minor trinkets lying about, and departed.

The old transport finally settled down in a major city. Polera was due for an overhaul, and the crew were exhausted. Their passenger grabbed her gear, thanked them for the ride, and headed for the door.

“That computer you’re looking for,” Olivia said. “It’s at a rundown military compound. Crazies live there now. I don’t think they even realize they have it. Should be interesting meeting up with those people.”

“Which planet is it on?” asked Catherine.

Olivia smiled and said, “It’s back on Harbit. Find that highway you picked me up on and follow it in to town.”

“Back again? At the Ruins?” Paul asked. “Son of a bitch.”

“Well, good luck, and thanks for the ride.”

The crew climbed back aboard their transport. The engines themselves started reluctantly. Clear of the planet, the fold drive spooled up. Paul punched the coordinates into the astrogation computer. The ship snapped out of Grey Union space.

Seven days later…

Paul looked out the huge window of the bridge to see stars and a planet take shape. Polera folded back into the Ruins. A power gauge on his console showed a massive spike. The lights throughout the ship flickered and then went out. Every system indicator showed total power failure: electrical, propulsion, emergency power, even life support. Paul leaned back in his chair and sighed.

“Hope we don’t run into another little infected ship again.”

Just beyond view from the bridge, pulled up alongside the ship, lay another vessel that dwarfed the Polera several times over. The two ships drifted side by side, with the crew unaware that they were not alone.

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