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Old February 26 2014, 07:32 PM   #77
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Re: The Star Eagle Adventures V: Shadows in the Haze

Day Ten: Storm Warning

- I -

It had taken them the better part of the day just to install the antiquated thruster module into the innards of Nebuchadrezzar and then just as much time to get its systems to accept the alien part as one of its own. But in the end, it had seemingly all worked out. They didn’t have the time to run comprehensive tests but those they had carried out all showed the same, encouraging results. The module would allow them to lift off and produce sufficient thrust to clear the rogue planetoid’s gravity. By all indications they’d even be able to clear orbit and set a course back towards Eagle. It would take them too long to reach the ship without a working impulse engine but with any luck it might take them just far enough to be back in communications range.

“I say it’s as good as it gets,” said Leva after he finished the latest simulation with Deen and Xylion standing behind him and observing the results.

“I would prefer another round of tests,” said Deen but then turned her head to look towards the back of the ship where she knew Srena still lay unconscious in a bunk, her vital signs slowly fading. “But I’d rather not take the chance.”

“It is agreed then,” said Xylion. “You will depart immediately and attempt to return to Eagle.”

Leva rose from his chair. “And you are sure we can’t change your mind about this.”

“The Vulcan settlers require my help,” he said.

“You’ve got people back on the ship who’ll need you.”

Xylion shook his head fractionally. “The difference I might be able to make here is far more significant. My capacity on Eagle has been limited, especially now since my duties as a first officer are no longer required and the need for a science officer has become nearly superfluous. However these settlers show clear signs of slowly devolving in such a manner which could put them at significant risk and cause them sufficient harm to destroy themselves,” he said and then headed to the back of the runabout.

Leva glanced at Deen. “So we’re just leaving him behind?”

“Unless you want to stun him and drag him off this planet against his will, I’m not quite sure we have a choice,” she said as she looked after him.

“This doesn’t feel right,” he said shaking his head. “We’ve already lost Commander Edison. Wenera left us and now him, too.”

Deen had nothing to offer to this. She understood that life meant change, more so during time of war when every tomorrow was uncertain. Perhaps, she wondered, they had been lucky that the crew had been together for as long as they had. She’d always felt that the senior officers on Eagle, for the most part, had considered their assignments as more than just a stepping-stone in their careers. They had become friends over the years and with a desire to stay together and make Eagle their home. It was the reason why she had never seriously attempted to get promoted out of her post or onto another starship even if her true passion had been science and not operations. She had simply become too comfortable on Eagle and surrounded with the people there.

She knew of many other ships where officers came and went as they climbed through the ranks but then she also knew of those where the senior staff had stayed almost unchanged for years. Then there were ships which attracted tragedy like a magnet and involuntary crew rotations were the norm. She couldn’t help but wonder if Eagle wasn’t becoming one of those ships.

When Xylion returned not two minutes later, he was carrying a duffel bag around his shoulder. He had packed light for what very well may have been a long stay away from the rest of the galaxy.

He raised his hand in the traditional Vulcan fashion. “It was an honor to serve with you both,” he said. “May you live long and prosper.”

But Deen resolutely shook her head. “Oh no, you’re not getting away that easily,” she said and then quickly stepped up to him and before he could even brace himself, she quickly hugged him tightly. She felt tears in her eyes at having to say goodbye to the second friend in the same week. “I’ll miss you, Xyl. It won’t be the same without you and your jokes.”

He gave her a curious look, raising one of his eyebrows in true Vulcan fashion after she had let him go and she uttered a little laugh at his dumbfounded expression.

Leva stepped up next to her. He wasn’t a hugger but he did hold out his hand and Xylion, to his credit, didn’t hesitate to shake it. “You watch out for yourself, Commander.”

He offered a quick nod and then after looking both his fellow officers in the eye one last time, turned towards the airlock and left the ship.

Deen could see Tela waiting for him through the lateral viewports. She seemed genuinely pleased to see him coming her way. “Someone’s loss is somebody else’s gain,” she said quietly.

Leva had already sat down in the co-pilot’s chair. “We better get started,” he said. “The longer we delay the less chance Ensign Srena has.”

She nodded quickly and took her seat next to him. But before she began the pre-flight preparations, she glanced at the half-Romulan at her side. “You think he’s going to be alright?”

“Who Xylion?” he said and then looked out of the viewport where he could see him standing next to the young Vulcan woman, watching the runabout. “I’m sure he’s going to be just fine considering his new company.”

Deen frowned. “You don’t think that’s the reason he decided to stay. For her?”

He continued to look their way, not missing how close the two Vulcans stood to each other. “I’m not sure. The attraction seems undeniable, especially from her. And if he were any other man I’d say that it must have played a part in his decision.”

“But not Xylion. He’s as pragmatic as a Vulcan can be.”

“Maybe not quite as much as we thought,” he said and then turned back to his instruments.

Deen did the same even if she wasn’t quite able to keep it completely out of her mind.

“Engaging thrusters.”

The runabout rocked slightly as it tried to free itself from the ground it had been wedged into for the last few days. It was a short battle and one which the small starship eventually won. It lifted off shakily at first, like a bird which had only just learned to defy gravity.

“Increasing power to thrusters,” she said and activated the corresponding panels.

The ship stabilized about five meters above ground.

“So far so good,” said the tactical officer. “Let’s take her up.”

“Activating aft propulsion,” she said as she shifted power from the ventral thrusters designed to allow them to lift off, to the much more powerful engines at the back of the ship.

They kicked in with surprising power, pushing both pilots into their seat as they quickly accelerated to multiple speeds of sound. Deen angled the nose upwards in time to avoid a rather unfortunate and likely fatal encounter with the mountain range which had surrounded them since they had crashed on the planet, and the Nebuchadrezzar hurled towards the skies like she’d been shot out of a cannon.

“Artificial gravity, life support and inertial dampers are all working at minimal power but hopefully will last long enough to get us back to Eagle.”

“Or rather Eagle come to us,” said Deen, fully aware that they were not going to make it under their own power.

“Clearing the atmosphere now.”

Her eyes grew wider when they had broken through the deceptively gray and white sky to reveal the nebula hidden beyond it. But they were greeted by far more than the beautiful spectrum of colors which made up Aphrodite. “I forgot about those.”

“Evasive actions!”

Deen’s fingers were already on the right controls and she rolled Nebuchadrezzar sharply to the starboard, feeling it respond much more slowly and sluggishly now that its primary thrusters were controlled by outdated technology. She was also painfully aware that she wasn’t nearly as fast or imaginative controlling the ship as Srena may have been. It was however, just enough to avoid a lightning bolt like energy discharge to make direct contact with the ship. In their weakened state and without functional shields, she was pretty sure they would not have survived the hit.

“Is it just me or did that seem like it was aiming for us?”

“Another one. Look out!” Leva cried.

They both held on to their consoles for dear life as Deen managed to dive underneath another incoming strike. She had the foresight, or perhaps it was luck, to bring the Nebuchadrezzar back on a heading towards the planet itself. The sudden pull of gravity was fortuitous because it caused another lighting attack to miss the runabout by what appeared to be a hair’s width. Deen managed to redirect their thrust just in time to avoid a fiery reentry into the atmosphere and instead the ship bounced off the planet’s outer atmosphere and pushed away from its gravity well like a slingshot. Two more bolts of angry, white energy zapped through the space around the Nebuchadrezzar but failed to hit the ship on both occasions, just before it dived back into the apparent safety of the thick crimson-glowing nebula surrounding the rogue planet.

Leva let go a heavy sigh as if he had held his breath. “That was entirely too close.”

“Call me crazy but it almost felt as if those things were trying to keep us from getting away from that planet in one piece,” she said as he collected her wits again after the near-death experience. She would have liked to ascribe their miraculous escape to her flying skills but she knew that it had been sheer luck. She wasn’t that good and the ship not that maneuverable.

“Let’s contemplate that once we get back to Eagle.”

She agreed with the sentiment whole-heartedly, however another problem seemed to be developing. Her status board was rapidly turning from amber, indicating systems operating at non-optimal condition, to a glowing red, advising of imminent failures.

Leva saw it too. “What’s happening? Where we hit?”

Deen shook her head. “No, not according to sensor but all systems are shutting down one by one.”

“I don’t understand,” he said and desperately began to work his controls in an attempt to stop or at least slow down the cascade failures. “Maybe the energy discharges somehow affected the ship by their proximity.”

“I can’t see how,” she said. “None of the systems registered any kind of spikes. No, I think this may be unrelated.”

“Then why are our systems shutting down?”

She had no idea. “Can you determine the source?”

“It looks like the first system to fail was…” he stopped and looked at her. “The thruster control module.”

Her eyes grew a little wider. “Was it faulty?”

“I don’t think so. At least there was no sign of a malfunction. And even if that’s the case, why would it affect all other systems?”

The lights dimmed at first before they completely went out. The hum of the engines went next. Then every single console shut down and the runabout began to drift.

“I don’t think we’re going to get answers to any of that soon,” she said. “We’re dead in the water.”

“Without life support we only have maybe eight to ten hours of breathable air left.”

She left her seat and headed for one of the aft stations. “I wouldn’t worry about that. We’ll freeze to death much sooner than that.”

He looked after her. “That’s what I love about you, Dee. You’re an eternal optimist.”

She offered him one of her trademark smiles. “Somebody has to be,” she said and then removed a hatch underneath the console. “Also, before it gets to any of that, I was hoping we could try and get communications working again.”

After a couple of minutes of working on the innards of the runabout, Leva’s console came back to life. It flickered noticeably and remained dimmer than when it operated normally but at least it was operational.

“You did it,” he said and began to work.

She stood with a satisfied smile and walked over to him. Her sense of accomplishment quickly waned when she noticed his frustrated frown.

“Damn, not enough power to send a message. Best I can do is a low frequency pulse. But in this soup, by the time it gets to Eagle, it be nothing more than static.”

She considered that for a moment. “Then we have to make sure that they’ll be able to recognize whatever we send.”

“Easier said than done. We have only one shot at this. After that we’re out of power.”

She nodded. “Okay, let’s think about this. We can’t send clear text or a recognizable voice message. What does that leave us?”

“We could try a series of tones. If we’re lucky they might receive those.”

Deen smirked again. “I think I know just the thing.”
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