Chapter Three: Vrehx

Vrehx

Alarms blared around us. On the screen, all I could see were swirls of colors swallowing the Xathi.

The captain shouted orders to the rest of the crew, but his voice was distorted. It was changing—high-pitched then low and deep, fast then robotic, child-like then old, clear and loud, then soft and unintelligible.

Looking around the bridge, some of the colors were vibrant, glowing, and bright. Others were non-existent, as if all color had been drained, leaving behind various shades of gray.

Karzin’s face twisted, melting down toward his midsection. I wanted to vomit, but Karzin’s bird-like voice was chirping at me.

“TURN! IT! OFF!”

I turned my attention back to my control panel, just to see it swirl around and fade. The screen was so bright, my eyes burned. The letters seemed to be dancing an old Skotan wedding march.

Looking up at the screen, the Xathi ship was ripped apart by the swirling vortex—no, it wasn’t a vortex.

It was just a hole. Then it was a rip.

The only thing that stayed the same were the colors. Purple, white, and red streaks of color were covering the Xathi ship and reaching out for us.

The part of the Xathi ship already inside the rip was separating, coming apart at the seams. I could see part of the Xathi crew floating in space, then shredded by the force of the rip.

And we were getting closer to it.

I heard Rouhr’s voice yelling out commands, for the engine room to go full speed ahead and drive the Xathi ship further into the rip.

It made sense. If the rip was doing this kind of damage to the “top” half, then it should destroy the rest of it as well. If we went with it, so be it.

The engines kicked in, and we were rocked forward as we crashed the Vengeance into the Xathi ziggurat. Our momentum pushed the Xathi ship further into the rip, and I watched as more and more of their vessels were ripped and disintegrated. It was only a few short breaths before the Vengeance herself began to fall through.

The energy inside her was incredible. The air carried a charge that made my scales tighten and my hair stand on end. Every color I had ever seen exploded in my eyes, bringing me a level of pain I had never felt before.

My mouth opened to scream, but no sound came out. It was as if my throat was burning and ripping in half vertically. I felt my skin and scales peel away from my body, exposing my muscles and bones to the emptiness of the void.

My eyelids, clamped as tight as I could hold them, broke apart and fell away, slowly exposing my eyes to the grayness of the void we had entered.

The bridge of the Vengeance was a bright gray, and everything else was varying shades of gray, getting darker and darker.

I looked at Rouhr to see his body falling apart like sand. He was yelling at us, but there was no sound.

That’s when I realized that there was no sound at all. There wasn’t a single solitary noise. Was the rip in space this quiet or had my ears been destroyed?

I moved my hand to touch my ear and stared in wonder at the stump at the end of my arm. I looked down, and my fingers were on my lap.

I wanted to retch. I wanted to die. I wanted to close my damn eyes.

I looked up at the screen to see the ziggurat, at least the second half that we were attached to, reconstitute itself.  It was rebuilding!

Then we were rebuilding, and the first of my senses to return was feeling. The pain was so much that I should have blacked out, except my eyelids weren’t there.

When they finally returned, and I blinked for the first time, tears fell down my face. Finally, sound came back with an explosion of noise.

“…the hell is happening?”

“…are we?”

“Damage reports!”

“…off the damn switch.”

“…switch, Vrehx!”

It felt as though forever was passing before my mind caught on to what they were wanting. I looked at my control panel and flipped the switch to the weapon. The void ended, and the alarms were back.

“Where the hell are we?” Rouhr asked.

“I’m not sure, Captain!” Sk’lar answered.

“Scan the—” Rouhr was interrupted as the ship shook violently, knocking most of us from our seats. “By all that is holy, what was that?”

Engineer Thribb’s voice came on over the intercom. “We’re losing engines, Captain. Partial power only. We’ve been caught by a gravitational field of some sort.”

“What is generating the field?”

“I’m not sure, sir. My systems are inoperative.”

“Sk’lar!”

“On it!” Sk’lar checked his system, letting out a curse that the translator didn’t bother to translate. There was no need. “We’re above a planet. Unfortunately, we are falling toward it.”

He tried to keep his voice calm, but the slight vibrato betrayed his emotions.

The Vengeance wasn’t built for the atmosphere of a planet. Our thrusters wouldn’t work. If we fell into the atmosphere of a planet, we’d fall until we impacted with the ground, and it would be a very hard landing.

“Sir! The Xathi!” I called out, pointing at the screen.

The Xathi ziggurat was tilting, as if it were falling as well. Outside scanners adjusted and brought the full picture into view.

The planet was covered in green and blue, and above it, the Xathi ship tilted ever more as it fell.

“What planet is this, and where are the Xathi going to land?” Rouhr asked.

I brought up our positioning and the star maps in our database. “Sir, this is uncharted space for us. We don’t have this planet or this system in our database.”

Rouhr nodded, absorbing the information. “Crash site?”

Sk’lar turned to look at me, then at Rouhr. The look on his face was silent resignation that something bad was going to happen.

“There appear to be seven main points of population on the planet. The Xathi are going to crash into the biggest concentration,” Sk’lar said.

“Estimated survival?”

“Not good.  Easily half of their city will be destroyed, killing thousands.”

“And what of the Xathi? Will they survive the crash?”

“I’m not sure, sir. I’m not sure what the interior makeup of their vessel is, so I couldn’t give you an accurate guess,” Sk’lar replied, refusing to look at Rouhr as he stared at the computer.

“Engineer Thribb?”

“Captain?”

“Any chance of us breaking free and not crashing on the planet below?”

“Less than three percent, sir.”

“Well, groop.” We all looked at Rouhr in shock. “Any way to get us away from civilization?”

“Easily, as long as our engines don’t finish cutting out on the way down.”

“Then keep us away from any population centers. The rest of you, brace for impact!”

We watched the Xathi ziggurat crash into the center city, the largest city, as we strapped ourselves into our seats.

The cloud of dust and flame took out half of our sensors as we entered the atmosphere. We gained speed and tilted forward, and I could feel the pressure of the straps trying to hold me up as gravity pulled me downward.

It was a struggle to breathe. The pull of gravity was forcing us downward, while the atmosphere tried to resist our penetration. I tried to lift my arm to my console to push the button for the retro rockets in order to level us out and slow us down, but I couldn’t lift my arm high enough.

The ground rushed at us, and I closed my eyes.

I’ll be back with you soon, my family, I thought. My only hope was that we took those bastards with us.

My head snapped forward as the Vengeance crashed into the ground.

There was no way that death could possibly hurt this much.

I looked to my left to see Karzin slowly and gingerly lifting his head. Just past him, S’toz’s head hung forward, his chin on his chest. To my right, Sk’lar was moaning in pain, trying to reach his arm up to his head.

I slowly—oh, so, so slowly reached up to unbuckle my straps. Now free from my restraints—and oh so grateful for them, as well—I gingerly got to my feet, waiting for the blast of pain to overwhelm my senses.

“Location?” I asked.

Sk’lar answered after a short coughing fit. “We’re planet-side. That’s all I know. Last thing I remember seeing was that we were heading for a large forest.”

That’s when it finally hit me. The computers were down.

“Captain?”

A groan from behind Sk’lar answered us. Rouhr’s straps had snapped, and he ended up being flung around.

“I’m still alive. Vrehx?” He pulled himself to a sitting position on the floor, his right arm dangling, blood flowing from his cheek, and his left arm clutching his ribs.

“Sir?” My left arm hurt, and it was hard to breathe, I might have cracked a rib or six. I had a headache from the depths of destruction, and I was struggling to maintain weight on my right ankle.

“Get the commanders and your teams together. Find out where we are and if we’re in danger. Thribb and I will handle the ship.”

I knew better than to argue with him.

I made my way to the lift, but the doors wouldn’t open.

I moved three steps to my left and opened the maintenance hatch.  Looking down, it was surprisingly clear.

Time to climb, I thought.

At least it was downward.

***

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