Thursday, March 10, 2016
August 28, estimated (part 2)
I finished recording all my goodbyes. Another long period of inactivity followed. I couldn’t find a comfortable way to sit or lie down. I played a game with myself to help me get through the endless time stretching into forever. I promised my back I would take my half-tab of painkiller in five minutes. Then I counted the seconds off, concentrating on my breathing as I did so. When the five minutes were up, I told myself I could handle another five minutes. I’d learned this trick with Oses when we’d been imprisoned by the Little Creep. Meditation became my refuge, my only means of escape. I noted Resan doing similar breathing exercises.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when my com went off. “Hello?” I nearly screamed, both from being startled and hope. Resan was at my side in an instant.
“Good. You’re all right,” came Oses’ relieved voice. “Anrel is fine too.”
I whooshed a relieved breath. “I’m okay in that I’m no worse than the last time we talked. Dramok Resan too. What’s happening?”
“I’ll make this quick because I’ve got to get back to the bridge. We had to go to full engagement for several minutes because one of the destroyers lost weapons.”
I felt ill. “Are we down to just one destroyer?”
“No, they got their systems back online, thank the ancestors. We got pounded though. The damage is significant. Some of your section has fallen to pieces. The end opposite the direction you’d go to reach Medical is now impassable.”
I glanced up at the big crack in the ceiling. “Yeah, we’ve got structural issues in here too. Another hit and Resan and I will become pancakes.”
Oses cursed once and then recovered. “Shalia, reinforcements from the Empire are coming at full speed, but they’re still hours away. Every man I’ve got is needed for defense. All rescue efforts have been halted for now.”
I exchanged a look with Resan. Help was not coming in the near future. We would survive or we would not. It was that simple.
I told Oses, “We’ll hold out as best we can. Give ‘em hell, big guy. Keep those other women and Anrel safe.”
We signed off and I put my com on my belt. I'd barely finished that when the air boomed and the room rocked. Fighting was on again. I hunkered down low to the floor, side by side with Resan. We stared at each other, our gazes grim as we bumped into each other over and over.
Another sound filled the room, louder than anything that had come before. It sounded as if the heavens themselves were splintering apart, a series of earsplitting cracks. Resan glanced up.
“The ceiling’s coming down!”
He suddenly leapt upward, a strange frog-hop that ended with him landing on top of me. My back shrieked with momentous agony as he came down. The lights went out, and all was black and heaviness and thunder. Then a split second of pain shot lightning through my skull. Then a deeper black descended, along with blessed silence.
I have no idea how long I was out. When I woke, I was on my stomach, face to the floor. I blinked to see debris lying around me, pieces of gray stuff not made of lighting panel. Computer segments. Conduits vomiting wiring.
The lights were back on, but dimmer than before. My head pounded, and I dizzily wondered how many knocks on the skull I could take before my head caved in.
That reminded me of the ceiling. The rubble I stared at was obviously the fragmented remains. I shifted to one side to look up.
Sure enough, the ceiling was now missing. Heavy metallic ducts hung down like industrial party streamers from a sheet of steel that I assumed was all that separated this room from the one a level above. The sky had fallen.
I had taken a hit on the noggin, but otherwise I was no worse off than I had been before. Resan had jumped on me at the last second, shielding me from the crashing ceiling.
I rolled over to look on my opposite side. Once the room stopped rocking, I saw that Resan lay there, looking up at me. His face was masked with blood. For that matter, most of him was covered in blood.
He scowled up at me. “Of all the last views of this life I could have had, your face was at the bottom of the list.”
“Yeah, you’re a hell of a beauty yourself,” I tossed back, but I wasn’t feeling the usual rancor. Resan was hurt bad. Really bad. “What’s the story?”
“I can’t feel my legs.” Stated in a flat, uncaring tone.
“Fuck.” I looked him over. “You’re bleeding like a stuck pig too. Let me see if Oses is still in range.”
I yanked my com off my belt, where it had mercifully remained during this last onslaught. I clicked the frequency. “Come on, Oses. Talk to me,” I muttered.
“You heard what he said before. He couldn’t spare anyone to rescue us before. He sure as hell can’t now. Do you hear that alarm going off?”
I did hear it, a distant claxon repeating a pattern I’d heard once before. “We’ve been boarded,” I said.
Resan sighed. “No one is coming. And I think I’m going into shock.”
I looked into his eyes. They were dilated and his breathing was rapid and irregular. “Shit. What can I do?” I asked.
“Be quiet so I don’t have to listen to you whine for a change. Let me die in peace.” He blinked and shook his head a little, as if clearing cobwebs from his brain. “Find the first aid kit. There is stimulant in it that will help ward off shock.”
He was right. I’d noted it when we’d inventoried our supplies. Since I felt a little dizzy, I elected to crawl over to where I’d last seen the survival case. It was still there, buried under a bunch of trash. I hurried to uncover it and dragged it over to Resan.
He snatched the first aid kit out of my hands and pawed through the contents. He took two of the stim tabs. I shook out the blanket and covered him with it. I made a mental note that if I got out of this mess alive, I needed emergency first aid training added to my repertoire.
“What else?” I asked.
“Shut up and leave me alone.”
I stood up, ignoring the wave of faintness that made my sight go dark for a moment. I looked around the heaped rubble for something safe to elevate his head, to do anything to keep alive the sorry son of a bitch who’d probably saved my life. “Even on the way out, you are such a—”
I broke off, seeing the door. I hadn’t been able to view it while on my hands and knees, but now I was on my feet, able to look over mounds of rubble. The doorway was still in the shape of an hourglass, but it had shifted, widening at the bottom. Better yet, the door itself had slid over halfway back into the wall. It would be a hell of a squeeze, but I thought I might be able to get out.
“Don’t pack it in quite yet. I think I can get out of the room,” I said. “The door is partially open.”
“Even with the frame bent so badly?”
“It shifted too.” I started to pick my way towards it and reconsidered. I hurt like hell, full blown pain. It made me awkward since nothing wanted to move right. I stooped down to the first aid kit again and grabbed some pain tabs. I dissolved two on my tongue. Resan watched, but he didn’t say anything.
I stood again, not waiting for the meds to take effect. I’d be good to run a marathon in a couple of minutes, but Resan might not have a couple of extra minutes. It was time to move.
I stepped through the wreckage as carefully as I could. It wasn't easy since my balance kept shifting on me. Fortunately the ceiling parts weren’t as sharp as the lighting panel fragments. It was still a dangerous proposition to make my way to the door. Worse still, the lighting panel pieces were uncovered in places, and I had to watch my step to avoid accidentally slicing my feet open.
I got to the door. Yes, I was sure I could get through if I moved some newly fallen debris out of the way. I worked to do that.
“Still awake?” I called to Resan.
“Yes. How does it look for your escape?”
“It will be tight, but I think I’ll fit. I’m going to sure as hell try. Want me to pick you up anything while I’m out?”
His tone was forbidding at my brief attempt at humor. So terribly Resan. “You’re not funny. If you can leave, then do so.”
I tossed the last bit of rubbish out of the way. “Try not to die. No one will believe I didn’t kill you.”
“The day you can take me out, even with my legs not working, I deserve to die.”
“Now that’s a goal you should have given me at the start of my training. I’m going.”
“Good. Do you have your knife, stupid girl? It would be just like you to go out unarmed and immediately run into whatever has boarded the ship.”
I knew I had my blade because I’d already checked. Since Resan was a master of shattering my confidence, I checked my belt anyway. “Thanks for wishing me luck, dickhead.”
With that, I dropped to my knees. The pain relief tabs had worked their magic, leaving me with only a twinge or two as I snuggled my belly to the floor. Pushing with my toes and pulling with my fingertips, I crept through the small opening to the corridor beyond.
As I got my first look at the world beyond the training room, I bit my lips together. The corridor wasn’t quite as shattered as where I’d been trapped for so long, but it was a mess. Lighting panels and bits of the ceiling had fallen here and there, making it as hazardous a place as where I’d come from. I was damned lucky the area around the door was still intact. I ignored the obstacle course I’d have to navigate for the moment, concentrating on getting through the doorway.
I thought I was in trouble when my ass proved to be a bit bigger than I thought it was. With visions of being found later by rescuers, ignominiously pinned in place because of my tuckus and Resan dead because of my rump, I dug my elbows into the floor and heaved mightily to get through. I lost my shorts and panties on the way through, but I got out. Hooray.
As I grabbed my clothes, I took the opportunity to yell to Resan. “I’m out.”
“Can you get to another part of the ship?”
“I’m not sure. It’s a mess out here, but I’ll do my best.”
I didn’t wait for a reply. It was not the time to chatter, not if Resan was going to live to make me miserable again. I pulled my panties and shorts back on, glad there was no one around to see me with my stuff out and about.
Butt covered, I stood up. I had to wait again for my surroundings to stop swaying before I was able to take a good look around. The ship’s alarms were louder out here. They sounded in the distance in the direction I would take to get to Medical. Last I had heard, that area was still functioning. The klaxons gave me hope it had come through this last attack more or less intact. Resan’s life depended on that being true. I set off.
It was slow going. The section of the ship where training and practice rooms were located was wrecked. There were stretches where the lights were completely out, leaving me in dim pools where I could barely see my hands in front of my face. This was a big problem as I had to navigate around, through, and over heaps of debris, some of it as dangerous as what I’d dealt with in the training room. I was forced to crawl a couple of times in tight places. Darn if I didn’t snag my shorts, nearly losing them a second time. I ended up with plenty of scratches, some of which bled quite a bit. My balance did not want to straighten out. I had no choice but to keep going.
The armory office was the signal that I’d reached the end of this particular section. Up ahead was the physical rehab section. The passage between the two areas was nearly blocked off, but I saw I had enough room to walk through. I’d be able to keep my shorts on this time. Yippee.
First, I stepped into the armory. Almost every section has one, a measure for just such a situation as the one the transport found itself in now. If the ship was boarded by an enemy, the crew and any soldiers they were transporting would be able to get their hands on plenty of firepower and ammo no matter where they were. I was amazed to see this one had escaped most of the damage prevalent in the rest of the section.
Between my jaunt in physical rehab and then training with Oses, Resan, and Idow, I was familiar with the armory officers who worked this particular station. I knew the guys’ shifts almost as well as Oses’ by now. My best guess at how much time had elapsed made me think it was either morning or afternoon shift. As I walked into the front part known as Acquisition and Surrender, I called out, “Second Subcommander Amot?”
I wasn’t surprised to not get an answer. No doubt Nobek Amot was off fighting whoever or whatever had gotten on board the ship. The training section had been utterly deserted as far as I had been able to note. I wondered how many trapped people I’d passed in closed-off rooms as I made my way through the maze of wreckage. I wondered how many were dead. The thought occurred to me that some of the piles of debris I’d climbed over might have lay on top of people I knew. The thought was chilling.
I didn’t have time to consider it though. I jumped up on the counter that Amot would have normally been standing behind, checking weapons in and out as needed. He wasn’t lying dead behind it. He wasn’t in the back room either, where rows upon rows of weapons and ammo were stored.
Amot being missing gave me some hope for escape. He was too big to have gone in the direction I’d come from. No way he’d have evacuated through those heaps of debris where I’d almost been too big to fit through. He must have found some way to get to Medical. But had that been early on, after the first attack? Or later, after the second or third? I had to hope for later, that the way out he’d gotten out was not blocked.
I considered snagging a percussion blaster and thought better of it. Medical was classified a must-guard area, so there would be a bunch of warriors protecting it with invaders on board. If I burst into the section, they might see the blaster first and fire before noting who held it. I actually have more faith in my friendly neighborhood Nobeks than that, but why take chances? They were on high alert, and stupid shit happens when bad stuff is going down.
I was heading to where I would be among friends. So I jumped over the counter again and went back to the corridor.