Serial Post: Earthrise, Episode 16

Welcome back to Earthrise! We are now on our regular schedule, free on Tuesdays, with Thursday and Saturday available if donations or subscriptions that week go over $15 per episode. You can catch up on existing episodes, donate, or set up a subscription here! And now, on to the story:

Earthrise
Her Instruments, Book 1

Episode 16

      Sascha fired the engines and the Earthrise lurched to one side.
      “Are you heading for that asteroid?” Reese asked.
      “Boss if you can’t handle the view, get off the obdeck.”
      “Right,” Reese said, and clutched at side of the station. Now she was getting worried.
      “They’ve seen us!” Kis’eh’t said. “They’re both changing course to follow.”
      “Let them,” Sascha said. “We’re heading for the mid-belt, where the asteroids are small enough to cluster and big enough to kill us.”
      “Joy,” Reese muttered. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
      “As long as I know just a little more than they do we’re in business.”
      “Just try to keep our repair bill manageable,” Reese said, clenching her teeth as a rock flew past, narrowly missing.
      The intercom chimed and Kis’eh’t flicked it on.
      “Lowerdeck. Am not getting much done with you sending me shooting across the deck on feathers.”
      “Sorry about that,” Kis’eh’t said. “We’re trying to out-fly two raiders they’ve sent for us. I recommend strapping down.”
      “Thanks for the not-warning. Will get back to work.” The comm shut down.
      “At least he doesn’t have the screaming shakes,” Reese said.
      “Kis’eh’t, find me the densest bit of this band.”
      “Head further sunward. There’s a pack of asteroids ahead.”
      “Thanks.”
      Irine sidled over until her side was pressed against Reese’s. For once, Reese didn’t care; usually she discouraged the twins from coming near since their hugs tended to turn into cuddling. It seemed like a crime to die without having a good cuddle though, at least with someone who wasn’t practically a plant, like Allacazam.
      “Are we going to die?” Irine whispered.
      “Don’t think things like that,” Reese said.
      “Seriously,” Irine said. “Because I think I’d rather live as someone’s pleasure slave than die free.”
      Reese glanced at her, was just a little surprised to discover the tigraine was serious. Homeworld-bred Harat-Shar could be very strange. From experience, Reese knew better than to try to explain that she and Kis’eh’t and Bryer and certainly Hirianthial would probably have a much more difficult time spending their lives in captivity, so instead she said, “What if you don’t wind up a pleasure slave? What if they put you to work mining ore or something?”
      “No one forces slaves to do manual labor,” Irine whispered. “Machines are faster and last longer.”
      “What if they send you to the Chatcaavan Empire? I hear they torture their slaves.”
      “A little pain is a good thing,” Irine said. Added, “Sometimes a lot of pain.”
      Which was more than Reese wanted to know. She winced as an asteroid whacked the side of the ship, sending a quiver through the deck plates. Finally she said, “What if they don’t want another Harat-Shar slave? What if they kill you and use your pelt as a throw rug?”
      That paled the skin inside Irine’s ears. “Do you really believe there’s a sapient fur trade?”
      “I didn’t believe there was a slave trade either,” Reese said.
      Irine wrapped her arms around Reese’s waist and shuddered. “I don’t want to be someone’s rug!”
      “And I don’t want to be someone’s harem girl, so let’s just hope your brother knows what he’s doing.”
      The ship shivered again. “You’ll want to avoid the rocks, Sascha.”
      “That wasn’t a rock,” Kis’eh’t said. “They’re firing at us. Ranging shots, looks like.”
      “Let them try to keep a bead on us,” Sascha growled. “Hang on, ariisen.”
      The Earthrise banked so sharply to the side an alarm went off. Reese slapped a hand against one ear and crawled to the other side of the bridge to find the source. One of her panels had gone red and was flashing ‘Structural Stress Overload’ and ‘Gantry Separation Imminent.’ “Blood and Freedom, Sascha, there are things threatening to separate from this ship I didn’t even know were on it!”
      “Not now, boss,” Sascha said tightly.
      Reese chanced a look out the rear windows and froze. She’d spent an appreciable amount of her adulthood in space and was accustomed to the distances—”near” in spacer terms wasn’t eyeshot, which meant she should not, under any circumstances, be able to see that pirate there that was flying around the asteroid that Sascha must have been swerving to miss. Now was not the time to vomit, but her stomach flexed in her middle anyway.
      The second raider appeared on the first one’s heels and the Earthrise bucked so violently Reese lost her hold on the board and smacked sideways into a crate.
      “They missed us!” Kis’eh’t cried.
      “That was a miss?” Irine asked.
      “Rocks separated from the asteroid they nicked instead,” Kis’eh’t said. “Hurt us but just cosmetically.”
      Just as Reese righted herself, the Earthrise dove to the other side, introducing her upper back to the corner of the station. Acceleration pressed her into it hard enough that she couldn’t find a way to get up. “Saaascha!”
      “Almost done—GOT ‘EM!
      In the corner of her eye, Reese could see a rock swooping into view behind them and the raider not turning fast enough to avoid it. The explosions that rippled from its side seemed to happen in slow motion.
      “That one is definitely out of the game,” Kis’eh’t said. “The other one’s still coming, though.”
      The alarms from Reese’s board were still whooping. Now that she could turn she did to find new problems bordering the old ones, which were now flashing their distress. “If I lose some part of this ship because of this—”
      “I’m just working on getting the oxygenated part out of this in one piece,” Sascha said. “The rest of it can be replaced.” The ship began leaning to one side again.
      “They’re still tailing us,” Kis’eh’t said.
      “Not after this they won’t be,” Sascha said, and dropped the bridge out from under them. Reese’s mouth filled with burning fluid but she swallowed it back down before it could have any other ideas. Her palms were sweating more than usual. Was the room spinning?
      One of the alarms stopped abruptly. ‘Gantry Separation Imminent’ became ‘Gantry Has Separated. Please check for leaks.’ “Leaks!” Reese exclaimed.
      “I’m not seeing any leaks,” Kis’eh’t said. “What happened?”
      “I think one of the cargo cranes just came off,” Reese said weakly.
      “Dodge that, friend,” Sascha said, and pulled them out of their dive so quickly Reese gave up her watch on the board and dropped onto the floor to fight with her stomach full-time.
      “And—he’s skidded to a stop!” Kis’eh’t said. The Glaseahn squinted at her board, then added, “He’s venting, Sascha. You did something!”
      Sascha hit the intercom button. “Bryer, now would be a good time to tell me we can get the hells out of this system.”
      “Can do. Vector away.”
      Sascha crowed. “We’re out of here!”
      Irine and Kis’eh’t cheered. Reese would have joined them but wasn’t sure opening her mouth would have been a good idea.
      From the lift, a baritone said, “So is it safe to come out now?”
      “Hey, Hirianthial! Looks like we made it out alive!”
      “Good to hear. And here is my runaway.”
      Reese stared at the man’s gray leather boots and hated them. Did they have to be so finely polished? They weren’t even scuffed. Even the pewter buckles were unmarred. The Eldritch crouched over her and the open concern in his eyes irritated her as much as it worried her.
      “I hope you don’t mind if I take you back to your hammock,” Hirianthial said so softly he must have intended only her to hear.
      “Preparing to Well away,” Sascha said.
      Reese licked her upper lip and chanced a few words. “Think I could handle that.”
      The Earthrise shook so hard Reese flew forward into Hirianthial, who caught her before sliding back against the lift.
      “What was that!” Kis’eh’t shouted.
      “A parting blow,” Sascha said. “Their weapons still work, I guess. Doesn’t matter because… three, two, one, we’re gone!”
      The smooth hum beneath her thinned away until the Well Drive’s nigh silence took over. Reese waited long enough to ensure they’d made it into folded-space before vomiting onto Hirianthial’s brocade tunic and fainting completely away.

***

      “How far are we from Starbase Kappa?” Hirianthial asked, running a hand over Reese’s chest. The black knot over her had become so thorny sensing it brought tears to the corners of his eyes. He wished fervently for a real medical scanner, one capable of penetrating to the tissue level he needed. It could be that she was worsening but not in danger yet… or she could be dying. Reading her aura wouldn’t give him the specifics he needed to make surgical decisions.
      Of course, he had no operating room to fix any surgical problems, so perhaps it was for the best.
      “We’re about six hours out,” Sascha said.
      “Can we get there faster?”
      Irine unharnessed herself and crawled over. “What’s wrong?”
      “She needs medical attention,” Hirianthial said. “Soon.”
      “Aren’t you medical attention?” Irine asked. Her brother glanced over the back of his chair and added, “How soon?”
      “Now would be best,” Hirianthial said. “And while I appreciate your confidence, a doctor without tools isn’t much use in a situation like this.”
      “Well, we’re not going to be able to get there now,” Sascha said. “The best I can do is shave an hour or two off the total.”
      Hirianthial said, “That would not be a poor idea. In the mean, I’ll try to keep her stable until we arrive.”
      “Try?” Sascha asked, eyes round.
      “This isn’t a broken bone,” Hirianthial said, slipping an arm beneath Reese’s shoulders… carefully, so very carefully. Her entire body was a tangle so taut he feared aggravating it.
      “We can push the drive,” Sascha said. “Cut it down to four hours.”
      “That might also blow out the drive,” Kis’eh’t said. “Bad enough that we lost the cargo crane and probably something else in that last shot. But to lose the Well Drive? It won’t matter if Reese survives whatever’s wrong with her, she’ll blow up from new stress the moment she finds out.”
      Hirianthial put his other arm beneath Reese’s knees and lifted her into his arms. He hadn’t paid much attention to the bouncing and jerking of the ride, but it had taken a toll. Getting to one knee made him realize his joints were not those of a youth’s anymore.
      It didn’t hurt as much as Reese’s body was hurting.
      “Look, how serious is this?” Kis’eh’t asked, feathered ears fanned closed. “I thought she just had some sort of ulcer.”
      “She does,” Hirianthial said. “The problem is she has more ulcer than esophagus, and it might be rupturing.”
      “Might?” Kis’eh’t said.
      “Without a real scanner I can’t be sure,” Hirianthial said. “But I would guess that if it’s not rupturing it’s very close.”
      “That sounds serious,” Irine said, her eyes as wide as her brother’s.
      “It is serious,” Hirianthial said. He couldn’t quite bring himself to frighten them beyond that. “I’d appreciate being able to deliver her to appropriate facilities as quickly as possible.”
      Sascha searched his face, then turned in his seat. “Right. We’re pushing the drive.”

***

Oh no! Did we save the ship only to lose the captain?? >.>

Also, thanks to aggressive donations we’re already 1/3rd of the way toward Saturday’s episode. :)


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