The Equinox approached Vindale VI, a gas giant with a mass of roughly 1.6 octillion kg. Their one working engine and most of the thrusters never stopped firing as they neared the atmosphere.
They never actually reached the atmosphere, but the loose cloud of debris pelted the shield as they whipped around it. The ship groaned as the gravitational forces adjusted their trajectory. A loud snap and a few cracks sounded from the hull. The gauss turret that hadn’t retracted abruptly snapped off, flying off toward the atmosphere.
“Well, there goes that turret.” said Cian.
Another loud snap sounded.
“Oh, hell.” said Vanna.
“Uh, what? Are we okay?” asked Cian.
“We’re good, don’t worry about it.” snapped Vanna quickly as she continued to make minor adjustments in their course.
Another loud crack could be heard. Their sensors were off and they were flying blind, but Cian could have sworn he saw a piece of something else fly off toward the atmosphere. He was pressed against his seat and was starting to feel light headed.
“Okay, setting up the AI routine to adjust our course on the upswing. We’ll probably black out. We probably won’t die. Your nanites can heal brain damage, right?” said Vanna.
“Wait, brain damage?” asked Cian.
“We’ll be pulling a lot of Gs for the whole maneuver. Could prevent blood flow to the brain for a while. We’ll probably be okay.” said Vanna.
“I am so very reassured by your confidence.” said Cian.
Vanna blacked our first. Cian pushed his endurance up and hung on for a few more seconds, monitoring the course adjustments as best he could. The program that Vanna had set up was working. Finally Cian blacked out.
Cian woke up a few minutes later. He was light headed, but his health still showed full. Did his health number track brain damage? He checked their course. They were headed almost exactly where they had aimed. The cruiser had lined up to be directly in their path, and there wasn’t any avoiding it.
Vanna woke up shortly after. “Whoo! I did it!”
“You did it? Don’t you mean we did it?” said Cian.
“Eh, you helped. Whoo!” said Vanna, pumping her arms in the air.
“Whoo. The cruiser is directly in our path now.” said Cian.
“Pah, you gotta ruin it by lookin’ at the bad news. We just survived a near light-speed slingshot around a gas giant with only one engine, shifting our trajectory by over 45 degrees, and downright nailed it on the targeting. We’re not even a thousandth of a degree off! Whoo!” said Vanna, pumping her arms in the air again.
Cian laughed and joined in. “Whoo!”
“Okay. Now we can look at the other news. We’ll be flying right by ‘em again, but we’ll only be in missile range for a minute. We just gotta take one volley. But they only got half their launchers, and thanks to you we got more than half our turrets. Easy. See? Not bad news at all.” said Vanna.
“Okay. You’re right, we can do this.” said Cian.
“Thirty minutes to missile range. Then two hours to jump.” said Vanna.
“Say, didn’t we have a door there?” asked Cian, pointing at the sensor reading he had pulled up. The boarding ramp, which doubled as the outer door to the hold of the ship, was gone. A chunk of the hull where it attached was missing too.
“Oof. That’s gonna be an expensive fix. I don’t think it needs sayin’ but we don’t got a spare boarding ramp. Well, the cargo bay’s still pressurized. Bright side!” said Vanna.
Cian laughed. “Hey, if we’re alive at the end of this, that’s all the bright side I need.”
“Aye aye, captain. No getting us killed, order confirmed. Scrapping the plans that involved us going out in a blaze of glory.” said Vanna, saluting Cian crisply from her chair.
Cian laughed. “Are you always like this in stressful situations?”
Vanna looked thoughtful for a moment. “Yep. You got a problem with it?”
“Oh, no. I like it. Carry on, First Officer Voidsail.” said Cian.
“Aye aye, Captain Kemp.” said Vanna, saluting him again.
Thirty minutes later they approached the cruiser.
“Ten seconds to missile range. Arming point defense system.” said Vanna.
Their gauss turrets folded out, preparing to fire.
The cruiser fired a volley. Twenty three missiles streaked toward them.
“Crap. They fixed three of their launch tubes.” said Cian.
“Mmmhmm.” acknowledged Vanna. She was focused on the combat computer readout and the helm.
The missiles maneuvered to intercept them. They were going nearly as fast as the missiles were. The missiles were accelerating, lining themselves up to be where they would be in thirty seconds.
“This is gonna be close.” said Vanna.
The point defense turrets opened up and began firing. Only half of them were destroyed before they closed.
Right as they closed, Vanna spun the ship and fired most of the thrusters. The flare and chaff systems engaged. One missile swerved, going for a flare. The ship flipped and lurched to the side, dodging another one of the missiles by less than a meter.
The proximity sensor on the missile tripped, but at the relative speed they were moving they gained enough range in the several milliseconds of activation to mostly avoid the blast. Their shield took the brunt of it before failing and they narrowly skirted the other missiles.
The missiles accelerated to catch them.
The gauss turrets were dropping the missiles quickly. Nine. Seven. Six. Four. Two. The ETA readout said 0:03. One left… The last missile exploded right at their tail. The shockwave hit them hard.
The ship rocked and cracked. A loud snap and a small secondary explosion spun them again.
“Damn. I was afraid o’ that.” said Vanna.
The ship slowly spun end over end. A large shape came into view, drifting lazily away from them.
“Uhhh, is that what I think it is?” asked Cian.
“That would be our starboard engine.” said Vanna flatly.
“What? How? Why? What?” asked Cian incredulously.
“Yeah, so… This ship has aftermarket engines, and they’re secured into the hull with a series of struts and straps. It’s meant for straight burns, not high G maneuvers. We been busting engine struts for a bit now. Just lost the last one on the starboard side. I didn’t wanna alarm you and was planning on fixin’ it on the other side of the jump. But. Well. I can still fix the other engine. If it’s still drifting out here when we get back we might be able to salvage that one, it’ll drift out past the edge of the system and swing back in on a lazy orbit in a couple weeks.” said Vanna.
“Aren’t they going to catch us now?” asked Cian.
“Nah. They lost too much speed moving to intercept us at this angle instead of doing the same maneuver around the gas giant. By the time they match our speed, we’ll be at the jump.” said Vanna.
“Okay. Uh. How do we slow down to jump?” asked Cian.
“Oh, that’s easy. We don’t.” said Vanna.
“What? I thought we had to stop to initiate the Weave jump?” said Cian.
“Well, it’s highly recommended, but if you got your calculations just right, you can do it at speed. Only a teensy chance of horrific death. Twenty, maybe thirty ‘cent chance we go off in a fireball or disappear forever.” supplied Vanna enthusiastically.
Cian facepalmed hard. He stayed like that for about half a minute, with Vanna staring at him quietly.
“On the plus side, we survived the missiles! Whoo!” said Vanna, pumping her arms.
“Whoo.” said Cian apathetically.
They spent the next two hours carefully calculating and recalculating their Weave jump. They had to engage the drive at just the right time in order for it to warm up and activate right as they passed through the area where the threads of the weave were strongest, and their calculations had to be extremely exacting in order to adjust for their velocity and prevent it from displacing their Weave entry too much. No one actually knew what happened to ships that displaced too far, but they weren’t ever seen again.They managed to maneuver with their thrusters a bit so that they would stay on the threads for slightly longer, but it still amounted to a 0.129 second window.
They finally stopped working two minutes before the jump window.
“Whew. My head hurts. Think we got it?” said Cian.
“Gonna find out real soon! Hold on, there’s gonna be a bit of a bump!” said Vanna as she punched in the final commands. She had programmed the ship to activate the drive at exactly the right moment, not trusting her own reflexes.
The jump drive began charging. Sixty seconds. Thirty. Ten. Five… JUMP!
The ship jerked and both of them passed out again.
Cian woke up an indeterminate amount of time later. His head felt like he had drank a couple bottles of whiskey and then survived a plane crash. He sat there for a few minutes before he realized they were in the weave. They zoomed along the threads. The eerie blue fog and distant lights never looked so inviting.
“Whoo!” yelled Cian, pumping his arms in the air.
Vanna woke up. “Owww, my head.”
“We made it! We’re in the weave! Whoo!” said Cian.
“Whoo!” yelled Vanna, pumping her arms in the air.
“Whoo!” they both yelled again.
“Okay. Can we stop now? My head feels like I drank a liter of starship fuel and went sky boarding without a gravboard.” said Vanna.
Cian laughed, then used Mend on both of them. It quickly cleared up the headaches.
“Ooh, nice. Gotta remember that for aftercare, if we ever make it to somewhere with some decent drinks. That deserves another one. Whoo!” said Vanna, pumping her arms again.
Cian whooped with her, then laughed louder until Vanna joined in. They laughed for a solid minute before finally stopping, out of breath.
“So what now? Can we get started fixing the ship?” asked Cian.
“Oh, not in the Weave. Stuff works differently here, it’s best to avoid any kinda welding or metal work. Not a good idea to open the engine up, either. Fumes that the life support system would filter right out could be fatal in here.” said Vanna.
“Oh. Weird.” said Cian.
“Yep. Now we relax.” said Vanna.
“How long is the jump between Vindale and… uh, what system are we jumping to?” asked Cian.
“Not a clue. Weave jumps are unstable out here. They tend to fluctuate. There one day, gone the next. Back again some time. Without some kinda map with exact coordinates of all the jump points, you never know where you might end up. There’s at least a few dozen systems linked to Vindale.” said Vanna.
“Whoa. You don’t have anything mapped out?” asked Cian.
“Nope! Only been in the Wastes once before, and I only kept record of the one I jumped in from. If we end up in a binary system of yellow stars orbiting each other and a lush jungle moon orbiting a ringed gas giant on the third orbit, I can tell you exactly where to go to get to Yienna system. Or if we’re ever in Yienna, I can get us back there. Otherwise? I got no clue. No biggie though, we just gotta mark where we exit at and make sure to enter again at the same spot. If our thread disappears we just gotta wait it out till it pops back up.” said Vanna.
“No one has mapped it?” asked Cian.
“Oh, a few folk have. Lotta knowledge of individual systems linked from Yienna, Vindale, and Xias. The Drom don’t allow jumps to it through Vim system, but they probably have some of it mapped. Not much of what’s deeper. Worlds in there are hell and half the ships that go in don’t come out, so there aint a lot of push to map the place. There’s a mapping society based out of Xias where they send ships in to explore, but they keep the knowledge to themselves. The Heralds probably know the most about it, since they’ve been hiding out in there for the last few years.” said Vanna.
“Ah. I kind of remember this stuff from the info that other humans share, but they know the place as Fleshreaver Space. Some of the guilds are supposed to have mapped routes through it.” said Cian.
“Weird name for the place. Only way I ever heard it referred to was the Wastes or the Wasteland.” said Vanna. She began working at her console again.
“Yeah. I never really looked into it much. I wish I still had access to the forum.” said Cian.
“Damn.” remarked Vanna.
“What’s wrong now?” asked Cian.
“Grav gen on the fritz. I hate cooking in zero G.” said Vanna.
“Crap, do we even have the money to fix this ship?” said Cian.
“Prolly not. Gonna have to ditch it anyway to get Dumbo off the trail. Easy come, easy go. I’m gonna go make some food.” said Vanna.
Cian chuckled at her mention of ‘Dumbo’ as he checked his console. “Okay, I’ll join you in a bit. Gonna see what else is broken.” said Cian.
Vanna gave him a thumbs up and kicked off her chair, sailing out of the bridge and down the hall.
Cian looked over the ship’s self-scans and damage report. It didn’t look good. There were several structural faults in the primary hull beams. They were missing two point defense turrets, the external cargo door, their entire starboard engine, and a strip of armor plating on the belly about mid-ship. The whole ship was dinged and dented, with small holes in various places – including one that pierced the magazine for one of the gauss turrets. Their port engine was burned out. The gravity generator was throwing a K87162 error, whatever that meant. And… the electrical system in the mess was flashing in red, showing a failure?
“DAMN!” came Vanna’s voice echoing down the hall.
An hour later, Cian and Vanna were back in the bridge eating freeze-dried emergency rations.
“These aren’t half bad. Better than Paiai leaves, right?” said Cian.
Vanna glared at him and continued chewing.
“Oh come on, you were so positive before. We survived! Whoo!” said Cian.
“That was when I could look forward to a hot meal at the end of it. Not a week or more sitting in zero G eating freeze dried mystery meat with freeze dried… watermelon jerky? Who the hell freeze dries watermelon?” grumbled Vanna.
“It’s actually pretty good. Sweet.” said Cian.
Vanna grunted and took a sip from her water bag.
The next two days passed by uneventfully. They ate emergency rations and played cards using clips and holders meant for zero G playing. Cian even managed to win his first game of Trader’s Fortune. Vanna cheered up a bit and started doing zero G acrobatics after the first day, zipping and flipping around the ship.
The third day Cian found something unusual on the sensors. “Uh, Vanna? Can you come in here?”
“Comin’!” she said, then flew in from the hall at high speed, grabbed a handrail and did a flip, and landed in the copilot seat. “What’s up?”
“Uh, I think there’s a ship behind us. It’s smaller than we are, but moving fast. I can’t get a clear reading.” said Cian.
Vanna punched a few buttons and looked at the readout. “Dang. Looks like some kinda shuttle. Never seen a Weave capable ship that small. No shielding. Engaging active sensor to ping it.”
The sensors pinged the ship and a signal came up on screen.
“Holy hell. Look at that signature. They must have stuck the cruiser’s damaged jump drive on a boarding shuttle.” said Vanna.
“They’re coming straight at us! I think they’re going to try to board us!” said Cian.
“They’re gonna get us all killed!” said Vanna.
“Can we shoot them down?” asked Cian.
“We can try. Those shuttles are made to take a beating. Activating point defense system and setting them as a target.” said Vanna.
“Wait, do we even have armor? Weapons?” said Cian.
“I patched up your suit, it’s in the armory. No armor for me, didn’t have time to pick up a set. We got some gauss rifles that came with the ship. I did maintenance on ‘em last week, so they’ll shoot.” said Vanna.
“Good. We better arm up.” said Cian.
The two of them went to the armory. Vanna helped Cian get into his armor, and the two of them each picked up a gauss rifle, an extra battery, and some extra clips.
Cian looked over the status of his gear.
Gauss Rifle – Advanced magnetic coilgun, fires ferrous slugs at 1,000 m/s. Damage: 150. +50% against shielding. Selective fire: 5 rps auto or semi auto. Uses 8mm ferrous slugs and class M energy cells, 40 charge per shot. Effective range: 200 meters. Maximum range: 4000 meters. Clip: 50/50. Charge: 4000/4000. Durability: 89/100.
Class VII Armored Pressure Suit – Pressure suit with Class 7 armor, capable of blocking small arms fire and resisting laser and larger caliber rounds. Capable of automatic sealant of leaks to maintain pressure in vacuum. Max Absorb: 40U, Armor Max: 700, Durability: 84/100, Size: L.
The gauss turrets opened up while they were on the way back to the bridge. The rounds were pelting the boarding shuttle, but didn’t seem to be doing anything more than superficial damage. It was closing fast.
“Weave shield holding. I don’t know if it’ll survive the impact.” said Vanna.
“What happens if it fails?” asked Cian.
“Well, if we repel ‘em quick and I can manage to get it back up I might have a chance. Otherwise I die. You might be okay with your Weaveborn bull. They sure seem to be. Flew all the way to us without a shield, and I betcha they’re all ready to board us still.” said Vanna.
“Okay. Looks like they’re aiming at the cargo hold. The inner door won’t hold them long, but it will probably depressurize when they break into it. I’ll strap in behind some boxes, you should stay in the hall since you don’t have armor. If they get in we can fall back to the hall and try to hold them there.” said Cian.
“Worth a shot.” said Vanna.
The two of them went down toward the hold. Vanna folded a panel out of the wall and secured it. It covered three quarters of the hall and went from floor to ceiling. It was several inches thick and had small sliding hatches that let you open small horizontal loopholes to see and shoot through at intervals, made to accommodate a variety of heights.
“Nice, I didn’t know we had that. Maybe we should both start behind it?” asked Cian.
“Nah, your original plan is good. They can skirt the edge of the hold and come right through the hall if we’re both here. Better to make ‘em pay for every inch. I can target the center from here while you keep ‘em from approaching from the sides.” said Vanna.
“Right.” said Cian.
Vanna secured herself to the security wall with some quick release hooks, positioning herself where she could aim through the center loophole.
Vanna pulled out her tablet and started working on it, “Got one more trick for us. Remember how I made you install custom firmware on our comms?”
“Yeah?” said Cian.
“Well, most people don’t. And I have a nice little exploit for the mass produced stuff. If it works, we may get an ear into their team comms. I’ll set it to deploy as soon as they’re in range. Might give us a bit of an edge.” said Vanna.
“Nice. That might help.” said Cian.
Cian took position next to the door to the cargo bay, strapping down to cargo latches with quick release straps.
Grinding noises came through the hull as the shuttle’s grapplers snagged the ship and started winching them closer together.
“Ha! Got it! Wait, no no no no… oh hell.” said Vanna.
“What? Did you lose the comm?” said Cian.
“Worse. I cracked twenty comms. Even if they all got lax security, we got at least twenty marines headed our way.” said Vanna.
BANG. The boarding shuttle slammed flush against the flimsy cargo door.
The cracked comms activated. It was Gumbo. “Are you ready?”
“Yes sir!” came a chorus of at least twenty men.
“Aces high! Deploying breaching charge!” finished Gumbo as the cracked comms went silent.
“Oh.” said Cian.