Planet: Askalade (Ruins)
Location: Underground Cariet Station
A chunk of tile smashed against Paul’s face knocking him to the ground. He dropped his end of the blanket and wiped blood away from his face.
“Are you all right?” Dr. Graham asked holding the other end of the makeshift litter.
From down the walkway, twenty or so citizens charged after the crew of the Polera. The mob wielded crude weapons and threw more debris in their rage. They were not about to let the body of their prophet, the Wheeler, be taken away by the outsiders.
“I’m fine. Let’s get this idiot to the Polera,” Paul said picking up his end of the blanket.
The two men carried between them the unconscious body of Lawrence Wheeler, former religious icon of the Cariet. Coordinate De’assario and Catherine led the way towards the open plaza frantically searching for any more signs of trouble. Within moments, the group was out into the plaza, a section of scrubbed tiles and open space between massive sections of apartment buildings.
Catherine looked behind and said, “There’s no time. They’re right on us.”
De’assario stayed behind and waved on the others to continue. The crew hustled across the plaza and plunged into another narrow alley towards the docking area. The mob ran to their leader, the Coordinate, who did his best to calm them down. He yelled out to get their attention and pleaded with them for reason. All he accomplished was slowing the mob down for a few moments, before they pressed on.
“How much further to ship?” Graham asked. The weight of the body in the blanket was taking its toll.
Suddenly, a young man jumped out of a tight alley at Paul Cole shouting that the outsiders couldn’t take the prophet. The youth grasped at Paul with murderous intent. Cole had no choice but to grab the man and toss him over his hip. The man hit the ground hard yet started to get up again.
Paul waved a finger at him and simply said, “Don’t.”
The crew finally made their way to the open expanse of the docking area. It was several square miles of white scrubbed tiles spotted with the occasional pool of inch deep water. At the far end of the field of tiles, the Polera waited for takeoff. The entire space was carved deep underground and brightly lit up.
In an effort to quickly cover the distance to the ship, they dragged the body in the blanket towards a nearby car. Just as they reached the vehicle, some of the locals stormed out and blocked their path. One woman in particular, named Reejel, aimed her pistol at Paul’s chest. It was the second time she had threatened him that day.
“You killed him,” she cried out. “You hurt our people. You killed the Wheeler. I wont let you take him from us.”
Paul ignored her and tried to push past. She fired her weapon grazing him in the shoulder. Looking in her eyes, he watched her tremble having realized what she had done. Reejel looked away and let him pass.
The crew finally arrived at their ship and prepared to get underway. Outside, the throng of locals gathered and demanded the body of the Wheeler be returned to them. Paul and Catherine devised a plan to simulate the cremation of Laurence Wheeler by gathering whatever organic material they could find aboard Polera.
Thrusters atop the ship were fired in some attempt to appear ceremonious. Doctor Graham burned up the organic material in his medical bay, poured it into a sake bottle, and left it outside the ship’s airlock. The locals claimed what they believed to be their religious icon’s remains and left without another word.
Inside the ship, Wheeler was doped up with drugs to keep him unconscious for days. Polera lifted off and ascended the vertical tunnel leading straight up to the surface of the planet. After a brief communication with Cariet Control, the locals in charge of the massive hatch went through their protocols to free the ship of Cariet.
Paul swung the small freighter around and found Wheeler’s ship hidden near the tunnel entrance. It was a small rocket with room for a single person and some cargo. Clamps underneath Polera latched onto the ship before the crew took to the stars. Once in fold space, Graham identified hazardous amounts of radiation coming from Wheeler’s rocket. The doctor pumped the fallen prophet full of drugs to jolt him back to consciousness. Wheeler did his best to work out a deal where the crew would set him free, but they were having none of it. Graham took the man to the medical bay in the depths of the ship and gave him a thorough examination.
“I’m afraid you have a year to live. 16 months at the most.”
Wheeler took the news hard and became surprisingly contemplative. The conman approached the crew and pleaded for his release in a somber tone. Paul, Catherine, and Dr. Graham sat down in the ship’s galley to decide his fate. After some deliberation, it was decided to sell his rocket, give him some of the money, and drop him off at a nearby planet of his choosing.
“Fine, we’ll let him go, but we have to talk about another problem,” Catherine said before taking a deep breath. “Bill has to go. He’s been pulling us down for too long. And he threw me on a live grenade to protect himself. It’s either him or me, but I’m not working with the man anymore.”
Catherine left the galley and let the two owners of Polera talk over her ultimatum. She closed the door behind her and let the men discuss the issue for as long as they needed.
Graham looked at Cole. Cole looked at Graham.
“Bill’s out a’ here.”
“Good. Now let’s talk about the real issue that’s been out there for a while now. Catherine’s a paid employee of our ship.”
“And she does a good job of it too.”
“That’s what I’m sayin’. I think it’s time we make her a full partner. Split everything three-ways.”
“Well, I’m not eager to just give money away, but you’re right. She’s earned it. All right. Polera has a new owner.”
The pilot and doctor passed on the good news to Catherine whose shoulders raised and smile brightened. Not only was she now part owner of the ship, but once they arrived planetside her first order of business was to fire Bill herself.
At the next system where Polera docked, Catherine was determined to sell Wheeler’s rocket. She drifted between dealers, brokers, and commodities lists with such ease and comfort. Before the afternoon had finished, a small trading outfit had purchased the rocket for far more than they had wanted, leaving Catherine with thousands of credits of her pocket. After giving some of the earnings to Wheeler, the doomed man was dropped off where he had some family. The prophet who was responsible for the deaths of almost twenty people walked away to live out his remaining days.
While leaving the system, a starliner was found sending out a distress signal not too far away. Polera closed the distance and offered her assistance, but the liner’s crew said the situation was well in hand. Paul moved his ship away but the distress call changed to a coded text message asking for the Polera to return. Paul stopped the ship and watched the star liner for some other signs of trouble.
“Hmmm. I don’t know what to do about their distress call,” Paul said. “Catherine, anything else you can pick up in that message? Catherine? Catherine?”
With a glazed look in her eyes, Catherine’s attention wandered to the other ship. Something was there. Her eyes focused on the blinking lights of the console in front of her. Something was pulling her. Something dark. She could hear Paul’s voice. Catherine shook her head to free her thoughts.
“I don’t like this,” she said. “Something’s wrong about that ship.”
After talking about the situation and failing to get any answers from the star liner’s crew, Polera turned around and reluctantly took off. The ship’s next stop was an orbital station around the planet Tonion. Several warships, including the Hind, were setup in a defensive perimeter around this trading station. Paul tried to figure out what the situation was but decided it was best not to get involved. The transport docked, and Bill was sent off to amuse himself for a while.
While the cranky engineer was gone, the crew interviewed several technicians looking to replace Bill as Polera’s new mechanic. The first was highly qualified but came off as too prissy for the work Polera handled. The second engineer knew the ship well enough, but was so high he could barely stand up. The third engineer, a young man named Tim Niko, had never worked on a ship the size of Polera, but had a positive attitude the crew found refreshing.
Suddenly, warning klaxons blared throughout Tonion station. The communications console lit up with the sounds of frantic radio traffic. Military forces patrolling the system were under attack by multiple Atlantic ships. A battle was taking shape just minutes away, and the situation was getting critical.
Graham climbed up into Polera’s upper turret and strapped himself in. Cole yelled at Bill over the radio to get himself back to the ship, while Catherine stuffed the new engineer into the nearest sleeping quarters.
“If a dirty man with bad breath asks, you’re a passenger,” Catherine said in a hurry to get the ship underway. “Stay here. Don’t do anything. Oh, and you’re hired.”
“My name’s Niko,” the young man quietly said as she ran off.
With Bill aboard, Polera undocked from the station and swept her sensors across the system. The Hind was locked in a long distance battle with an enemy destroyer. The sparkling purple ship was clearly Atlantic and had already launched half a dozen fighters. Beams of energy arced across the miles separating the two warships while their fighters engaged one another.
Paul tapped his fingers on the controls watching the unfolding battle. His days of diving into the middle of chaos as a Grey Union fighter pilot came back in a flash, but he wasn’t in command of a military ship any more. Polera’s maneuvering thrusters turned her around, and she blasted off in the opposite direction from the fight. The transport moved away from the conflict while the desperate pilots fighting the aliens called for help over the radio. A nearby hauler, captained by Thompsky, also requested aid, but his ship was destroyed by the alien threat.
Paul kept his gaze dead ahead. His fingers tapped on the controls. In the turret, Graham watched for any signs of trouble. Catherine listened to the communications and watched the pilot. Paul bit his lip and spun the ship around.
Firing up her engines even more, Polera raced back towards the station and beyond towards the battle. Tonion station whipped past as the transport raced to meet the enemy.
“Picking something up,” Catherine said watching the sensors. “Missiles. Five of them, and they’re heading straight at the space station.”
Paul turned abruptly and aimed the ship at the incoming missiles. He put the ship just under the warheads as they flew past. Graham fired a barrage of exploding shells from the anti-missile turret that was Polera’s main weapon. One of the missiles exploded into hundreds of pieces.
Polera rotated 180 degrees and fired her thrusters to give chase to the remaining missiles. Graham let loose with round after round of fire, but the ship could barely keep up. One more missile erupted just a few miles from the station, but the remaining three sped on.
“That’s it. We’re too close!” Paul said.
Polera banked away from the orbital facility and sped off as fast as she could. Moments later, the first warheads slammed into the station. The explosion ripped away several tons of metal and set off several smaller explosions. Then the second and third missiles struck. Hundreds of lives were lost as the facility broke apart in a fiery mass of twisted metal.The crew sat in silence as their transport moved away from the battle. Paul tapped his fingers on the controls. He finally slid his seat over to the astrogation computer and punched in a new course. Polera folded.