The breaching charge went off, blowing an 8’x8’ square out of the cargo door. A door to the boarding pod could be seen behind it – it had created a seal against the cargo door.
A swirling vortex of color spun out of the smoke, coalescing into a beautiful prism. Before anyone could react, it exploded.
Cian lost motor control. He floated, his senses going haywire. Time itself seemed to slow, the debris bouncing around the room coming to a stop.
Moans and shouts of pain came through the cracked comms.
Cian saw a beautiful song drifting through the hull. He heard colors that he had never heard before. He reached out and touched a thread. It was impossibly soft and thrummed with power. It tasted rich and full of life.
Cian shook his head. The vision partly faded, but still an eerily beautiful song pervaded the ship. Wisps of colors that Cian couldn’t even identify floated past. What was going on? “Vanna, you seeing this?” He looked back. He couldn’t see Vanna through the loophole.
Cian unhooked his safety clip and pushed back into the hall.
Vanna was floating on her back, her eyes rolled back in her head. An ugly black bruise was forming across her face. A blood blister was raised on her cheek.
“No!” said Cian, flying to her side. He put his hands on her and channeled his nanites, focusing on Mending the damage.
Instead of the usual silver, a kaleidoscope of color rushed out of Cian’s hands and surrounded Vanna in seconds. It was almost effortless as he pushed Mend into Vanna with even more power than he had ever done before.
Still, the damage was extensive. After a few minutes, he had relieved the pressure on her brain and reduced the scarring in her lungs and heart. It had stopped beating three times in the last few minutes. Her blood was coagulating in her veins.
The cracked comms came to life “The hell was that? Some kinda mental attack?” said a voice Cian didn’t recognize.
“That’s why this guy’s got the big bounty. He’s a hacker!” said another.
“How can we fight a hacker? We lost a dozen guys in one attack, before the door even finished blowing! They’re just off like a light” said a third.
“Shut it. They’re just logged out.” said Gumbo, “A Hacker he may be, but the Admins sent us on this mission. They will see us prevail. Move out!”
“I can’t log out!” said the first voice again.
“Oh man, me either!” said another.
“Stop trying to log out! We got a mission to accomplish!” said Gumbo
“Dude, this isn’t what I signed up for. This is freaky shit. What if this guy can do stuff to our real bodies? You’re not supposed to be able to stop someone from logging out!” said a voice Cian swore he recognized… Jolan?
“Stop! Move out now or I’ll shoot you myself!” said Gumbo.
Magnetic boots sounded out, clacking against the cargo room floor.
Cian kept healing Vanna for as long as he could. He didn’t stop until they had fanned out and started across the cargo hold.
“The hell did you guys just do to me? I was tasting colors and there is weird glowy shit everywhere!” yelled Cian over his external comms. The room had yet to depressurize, so the sound carried fine.
The advance stopped for a moment. There were nine of them, two loosely spaced lines of four with Gumbo a bit behind.
The cracked comms came alive. “But if he didn’t do it, then how?” said someone
“He’s lying, obviously.” said another.
“But what if…” began a third.
“HUSH!” yelled Gumbo over their internal comms, Then he switched to external comms like Cian had done, “We used no such weapon. You are heavily outnumbered, you may as well surrender to reduce further damage to this space craft. I only want your bounty, I can take you in alive if you cooperate.”
“Really boss? I thought you said…” spoke someone over their cracked comms again.
“Quiet. Of course we’re killing him, but a clean head shot at close range is easier than fighting down a hallway. I don’t know how many crew they might have left.” replied Gumbo.
Cian marveled at the cracked comms, it was paying off already. “Hold up. Bounty? I don’t have any bounty and none of my crew do either. We are a licensed trade ship running a basic supply job. I’ve never engaged in PvP.”
“Immaterial. It is a system bounty that I received when I last looked at you. I know you are the target. Disarm yourself or die.” said Gumbo.
“When you looked at me? Listen, dude, I don’t know you.” said Cian. He swung out to the side of the barrier, in full view, and tapped the shade on his helmet to make it go clear and reveal his face. “Do you see any bounty?” he was gambling on the fact the system didn’t seem to be working for anyone that they wouldn’t get a notice, and if he did hear Jolan he wanted some backup from the other side – 2 vs 8 would be a little more winnable than 1 v 9.
“It’s him! Shoot him, you idiots!” yelled Gumbo over their internal comms.
“But… I don’t see a bounty, boss. You sure we got the right target?” said one of the guys.
“I don’t either. Damnit, was this all a wash?” said another.
“Whoa, hey, CIAN!” said one over the external comms. “Dude! It is you! How’d you get on this doomed boat? We’ve been hunting you for weeks. It’s Jolan dude, man what a bunch of shit luck to have a big guild hunt you down. You had a nice ship too. Guys, this can’t be our target, I know this dude. He’s a newb, I bet he lucked out with some good loot on the Pa’Ran event and got himself a ship. Theres no way he’s got a billion credit bounty.”
“Jolan! Man, it’s good to hear from you. Not so good that my ship’s been blown to hell. I actually lucked out on a bounty hunt for a few million and bought the ship that way.” said Cian.
Suddenly Gumbo’s signature gauss cannon opened fire, pelting his own men in the back and filling the hallway with hot magnetic slugs.
Cian immediately jumped back behind the security panel. It rattled and rang from all of the fire.
“Just. Kill. Him.” said Gumbo over their internal comms, continuing to fire.
“Dude! You killed Vigiro!” said someone.
“You shot me in the back! This armor’s gonna cost a ton to repair.” said another.
“If you don’t get in there and kill him, I’ll shoot you all myself. Are you men or children? Get the job done!” said Gumbo. His magazine clicked empty and he reached for a second.
“You’re freakin’ crazy! There never even was any bounty. Is this some revenge hit that you’re pursuing? Did poor Cian rub one of you guys the wrong way somehow? I know you guys do crap like that!” said Jolan.
He ran up and thrust his sword at Gumbo’s back. A plasma field enveloped the sword, but a glowing personal shield caught it, flickering for a few seconds as the two forces fought.
The blade pushed through just as Gumbo turned and swung the Gauss cannon at Jolan’s head. The plasma blade streaked across Gumbo’s armor, leaving a burning line but not penetrating it fully.
Cian opened fire on Gumbo’s exposed back.
The other men just watched.
Jolan dodged the gauss cannon, but it was a feint. Gumbo tackled Jolan with jump jets built into his armor, flying him across and slamming him into the edge of the hole that had been blown into the cargo bay door. Both of the men’s weapons, gauss cannon and sword, floated back where they had stood before the movement.
Jolan pulled a dagger and tried to stab Gumbo. Gumbo punched him in the chest. As he did so, a pneumatic spike came out of his glove and embedded itself in Jolan’s chest. Jolan spasmed and went limp.
Cian stopped firing at him out of shock. None of his bullets had even penetrated the weaker back armor, and that spike would clearly go right through Cian’s. He was outgunned even if he was only facing Gumbo.
Gumbo threw Jolan back into the boarding pod, then closed the door. He spoke again over their internal comms, “You are here for one job. Kill the target. If you can’t do that, then you’re of no use to me. Get in there and get it done or I’ll add you to the list of targets.”
The six remaining forward troops picked up their weapons and began advancing toward Cian. Gumbo went to get his gauss cannon.
Seven to one and heavily outgunned. What could he do?
Well, for one he had to stop thinking like a Marksman. He had nanites in his head that let him control gravity, and something about this place was amping up his abilities. Maybe he could do that lift and smash thing he had seen the Boundless do before? Or just smash against the back door?
Cian held his hands out and focused, sending a cloud of prismatic dust into the cargo bay. With all the other weird wisps of color in the air, the other guys didn’t even notice.
“Do you give up?” said one over external comms, standing at the cargo door.
Cian pushed with all his strength in a sudden release of power.
Suddenly the entire ship lurched. The damaged hull groaned. Vanna and Cian both slammed into the barrier. Everything in the cargo hold flew toward the door. The straps securing the boxes snapped. Metal bolts were ripped loose. Everything slammed against the far door.
The impact shattered what was left holding the inner door in place. The door, with boarding shuttle still attached, was flung off into the Weave. The room immediately depressurized, sucking everything out.
“Hah. Holy crap.” said Cian. He had expended a lot in that, but didn’t expect the result. There was nothing from the system. No kill messages, no experience. No skills gained. No feedback at all, except for a number going down. Most of the nanites he used had went out with the atmosphere, leaving him with only 18%. His Willpower somehow still showed full.
He bent down and began healing Vanna again. She looked much worse after the minutes that the fight took.
A lone figure flew back into the depressurized cargo bay. He was carrying his signature gauss cannon still.
“Useless. All of them.” Gumbo said to himself over his internal comms.
Cian jerked. That guy was still alive?! He peeked out the loophole and saw him walking jerkily across the now-empty hold using magnetic boots.
The gun was useless, it wouldn’t penetrate Gumbo’s armor. Cian checked his armor’s pockets. He still had an old Pa’Ran spearhead tucked into one of the compartments. The ‘fuel’ gauge was at 0, but it showed 147/500 charge. That was over two minutes of use. Nasty things must use a bit of power while not being used, this one was hungry.
Gumbo was at the door now.
Cian enhanced all of his physical attributes and rushed out at him, screaming soundlessly into the depressurized room.
Gumbo opened fire right as Cian tackled him. A few pellets hit Cian, but his armor took them. Gauss pellets flew in all directions as Gumbo refused to release the trigger while they grappled. Gumbo’s magnetic boots failed and the pair floated back into the cargo hold.
Cian wrapped himself around Gumbo and jammed the Pa’Ran knife in Gumbo’s back repeatedly. “Just… Die!”
Gumbo tried to maneuver the Gauss weapon to respond and swung around like a drunk as they floated in the middle of the cargo hold. He finally stopped firing and dropped it when Cian got a cut through his thick back armor. He tried to get a solid grip on Cian, but one of his arms was held between Cian’s legs and the bones in his other hand were broken. He had already expended the spike in that gauntlet, too. All he could do was punch fruitlessly at Cian’s head, which didn’t even slow the stabbing.
Cian’s repeated stabbing had made a hole and he jammed the knife in deep. Blood gushed and droplets sprayed into the hold, drifting off in an arc. He twisted it and kept his legs and body squeezed down tight around Gumbo as blood gushed from Gumbo’s back.
After a few more seconds of struggle, Gumbo went limp. Liters of blood were floating around the hold, and they were both covered in it. The knife had found Gumbo’s heart and sliced through his aorta.
Cian pulled the gruesome knife out of Gumbo’s back and kicked off of him. The momentum imparted from the kick sent Cian back toward the door and Gumbo out toward open space.
Cian wiped the blood off of his visor and pulled himself into the hall. He shook off the knife and stuffed it back into a compartment in his armor. He closed the cargo hold and went back to healing Vanna. He didn’t know if he could save her, but he would damn well try.
He woke up a bit later, drifting in the hall. He had passed out at some point. His O2 meter was flashing orange. He kicked himself back over to Vanna. She was still dying. Was this just torturing her? He had to find a way to get the shield back up. His suit’s O2 started flashing red… He had to get part of the ship repressurized too.
Cian kicked off to the bridge and checked into the ship’s status. There was a lot of extra damage. The whole ship was depressurized. The rooms that had been sealed off from the main hall had taken on holes from Gumbo’s wild firing. To make matters worse, both the primary and secondary life support were offline. He grabbed a couple of O2 bottles from the cabinet in the bridge and took a minute to refill his and Vanna’s tanks.
That done, he moved into the mechanical room that contained the ship’s primary life support and other systems. Nothing in the room had power. He used the tablet to pull up the ship’s electrical systems. He wished Vanna was awake – he had no idea how to diagnose electrical problems on a starship.
He looked up electrical diagrams and painstakingly traced power using a meter that he located. By opening up panels and examining conduits. It was slow going, and there wasn’t enough access to get a good look. He couldn’t even tell for sure which ones were which, as they all looked the same. A lot of the conduits had no power, but were those new and related to life support, an unused conduit, or related to a problem they flew into the Weave with?
After a few hours of this with no results, he took a break and dug through the system diagnostics and power system again. He wanted to tear his hair out when he finally found the power diagnostic system. There was a chart that showed every single junction on the ship along with which lines on which ones were functioning. Shorts were even detected with approximate locations before the power had cut out.
Using this newfound information, he quickly located the problem with the main life support – the entire main junction going through that room had been hit and was offline. The secondary life support was above the hallway right behind the bridge, and it ended up being a bit easier to work toward.
The detected short was showing as right inside the hall from the cargo bay. Sure enough, there was a small hole in the ceiling from weapons fire in front of the defensive fortification. Cian removed the panel and found the bad cable right away. But… how did you fix starship power cables? He didn’t think electrical tape was going to put this thing back together. He didn’t even know what it was. The cable was about ¼” wide. It was a thick purple metallic core wrapped in a braided white wire, all immersed in some kind of gel. The gauss slug had penetrated the casing and smashed itself through the wire, with only a shred of insulation holding it together. The gel for the line was still oozing out of the hole.
Cian’s oxygen was down to half already.
Cian checked his tablet and went to investigate spare parts compartments. Part of the ship’s spare parts were listed as in the cargo hold, which meant they were free floating in the Weave. Finally he lucked out and found rolled up power cabling of various lengths.
He checked the specifications and found one that matched the right length, then got to work. Twenty minutes later, he plugged in the power and eagerly went back to the bridge to see his progress.
It worked! The emergency life support system was online. It had attempted to pressurize the bridge and failed, and was waiting for input. Cian systematically went through the rooms and watched leaks appear in every single room. He closed the bridge door and tried the bridge again. It started pressurizing. The only room in the ship without a leak was the bridge? He turned it off. It had to have limited air, so no point wasting it. He went and moved Vanna into the bridge, strapping her into the pilot seat. Her suit was still set to use outside air, if available. He brought in medical supplies and hooked an IV bag up to Vanna. He grabbed the last bottle of air and closed the door.
From outside the bridge, he turned the life support back on. He set it to alert him if it detected any leaks, and headed toward the jump drive. Cian was really happy he had spent all that time following Vanna around and tinkering with various ship parts – he would have been way out of his element without her various crash courses and ‘hey, check this out’ lessons.
The power to the jump drive was a mess. His gravity trick to push everything out of the hold had stressed the already damaged hull and shifted a main support beam below the cargo hold, cutting off a whole section of electrical and blocking the direct path between the jump drive and the reactor. To make matters worse, the jump drive was in the belly of the ship below the cargo hold. Way too many gauss pellets had been fired directly into the whole area.
It took Cian the better part of the day to finally figure out the power for it. It required multiple power connections and a specialized junction. Cian wound up pulling the junction out of the damaged wall and routing it across the room and through a different wall. The junction was strapped to the bare wall and a bundle of cables drifted loose across the room, then went into another wall and back through a secondary power route. He ran out of cable before reaching the reactor and had to move a second junction to give him a place to plug them all into. With that done, he used the last of his long replacement cables to finish the route and get everything plugged back in to the main power net.
He was sure Vanna would yell at him for some horrifying mistake he was making, but if she was alive to yell at him he would happily take it.
Cian tried to power the jump drive shield back up, but got an error. The mechanical self-checks were showing green. Jump engines were sealed, so he couldn’t exactly pop it open and see what was wrong. His oxygen red alert started flashing more rapidly. Only 1% remaining. He had used his last bottle.
Cian slammed his fist into the wall in frustration.
He remotely set the bridge to depressurize and went back towards it. After waiting a few minutes for it to show it was depressurized, he opened the door and went in. Once inside, he set it to repressurize. He sat in the copilot seat and checked Vanna’s vitals. She was near death again.
Was she feeling pain? Cian wanted to save his friend, but he didn’t want to torture her. They had never really spoken about what she wanted in a situation like this. Could he even save her? This decay might keep happening even outside the Weave, with her cells so full of the destructive radiation. They still had days in here. What would days of being torn apart by radiation and healed even do to someone? He didn’t know what to do.