Chapter One: Qal

Things had been good…boring, maybe a little frustrating, but good.

It had been a few days since we left Katzul, as we aimlessly travelled through a part of space that wasn’t generally patrolled by anyone. I’d poured over every text I had, pulled every random bit of navigational knowledge out of the corners of my mind trying to solve the puzzle of those five odd symbols.

Glyphs. They had a meaning, but it stayed hidden.

Still, working on the puzzle was a nice distraction while we waited for Captain Dejar and Aavat to decide on our next move.

Then anything remotely related to boring changed three minutes ago.

Three minutes ago, the forwards sensors went crazy and proximity alarms began blaring.

“What’s going on?” Captain Dejar blurted out.

I held up my left hand, a single finger extended as I waited for the sensor readings to clarify. “Meteor storm. Brace yourselves!” I yelled back.

Lightning quick reflexes, superior flying ability, and an analytical mind that could predict where each meteor was going to be…I had at least two of those.

“What in the nine rings of Thron is going on?!” Itair yelled as he ran onto the bridge.

“Not now!” Aavat yelled.

“This isn’t what I bargained for!” Itair moaned. “You were supposed to keep me safe!”

“If you don’t stop making a fuss, we’ll all be dead and you can make your bargain with our ghosts!” Dejar yelled back.

I allowed myself a brief smile before going back to my controls.

Now, if the Rogue Star had been a much smaller ship with a much smaller crew, I would have been able to fly her through the meteor storm with ease. While she wasn’t a large ship, she wasn’t a personal shuttle either.

We weren’t going to make it out unscathed.

Ignoring Dejar and Aavat as they yelled out instructions to everyone else, I used instinct and the ship’s sensors to twist, pull, turn, dive, and dodge my way through. The first meteor to hit us was small, bounced us around a little…the next one sent the ship careening sideways into the path of another.

I hit the orbiting thrusters to push us straight up, then the port side thrusters to shove us to the right. I finished off my brilliant maneuver by plowing straight through a smaller meteor in order to avoid the two ship-killers next to it.

When all was said and done, we had been hit a few dozen times, mostly by small ones that hadn’t done much damage. The three larger ones, however, those had hurt us, badly. Nearly catastrophically.

Dejar and Aavat were yelling out for damage reports, calling out orders, and demanding to know how we could have been caught in that without warning.

“You can’t predict or monitor meteor showers, sirs, not when a vast majority of the sensors are searching for that umbba dark ship.”  I shrugged and grinned. “At least the Terror didn’t find us, right?”

Dejar didn’t like the grin. I knew he thought I counted most of this as a joke, but I didn’t. It was just how I coped with things.

We had survived, that was something worth smiling about.

As reports started flying in, I turned back to my console and tried to figure out what I could do. My instrument panels were strangely sluggish, they weren’t responding to my touch the way they should.

Kout.

That meant that we had been damaged much more than I had hoped. I half-turned an ear towards the reports coming in.

Orrin’s voice, with Maris yelling in the background, was currently the one of focus. “Engines are struggling, Captain. One of the meteors made direct contact in bay two, crumpled the side and broke apart several of the drive shafts. Fuel reserves are fine, but we’re limping until we can get some repair work done. We’re lucky we don’t have a leak, yet.”

“Kout,” Dejar swore. “Alright, do the best you can, Orrin. Lynna, report.”

Lynna’s voice came back over the comm, shaken, but powerful. “I don’t have a complete report, but there are nearly a dozen people in here right now. I’m positive we’ll have more soon.”

“Understood,” Dejar flicked off the comm and looked at me. “Tell me something.”

I knew I shouldn’t have turned around. I took a deep breath. “My own control panel is compromised as well. I don’t believe Orrin has had an opportunity to see the full extent of the engine damage, sir. We’ve lost over forty-percent maneuverability, nearly thirty-percent of our thrust capabilities, and if our sensors are right, about half of our outer sensors are destroyed.”

Before he could respond, Orrin came back on the comm. “Sir?”

“What is it, Orrin?” Dejar answered.

“Damage to the engines is much worse than I originally anticipated. My team is telling me that we’re going to lose everything in a matter of hours if we don’t get these lines fixed.”

“What do you mean ‘everything’?” Aavat asked.

Orrin’s voice sounded hollow, almost resigned. “Everything, sir. Engines, life support, all of it. We might be able to get enough of a repair done to keep life support and marginal propulsion, but we wouldn’t be able to outrun a Katzulian slug, sir.”

“Do what you can,” Dejar ordered, then looked at me, again. “Is there anything we can do?”

I thought about it for a brief second, then turned back to my console. I brought up my pride and joy, a highly intricate, expansive star map that was more complete than any other I’d seen. Even Captain Dejar’s personal map.

Also, I could project my map holographically in deeper detail than he could his own. Not that I ever mentioned it or anything.

It was one of the little things I’d learned he didn’t appreciate.

As I projected the map in the middle of the bridge, I stood and studied it. “Well?” Aavat’s voice entered my brain like an ice pick. I motioned for him to have a moment of patience as I interacted with the view, considering possibilities.

“Okay,” I started. I had come to like that Terran word, ‘okay.’ It was a simple way of beginning a sentence, ending one, or however you wanted to use it. You could ask about someone’s well-being. You could answer a question. You could even use it to describe something that was neither good, nor bad. I loved the word.

“We’re roughly in this area here,” I pointed to a portion of the map that glowed. The glow showed our position. I knew exactly where we were but didn’t want to sound presumptuous or anything. “Orrin?”

“He’s busy,” Maris snapped at me over the comm. She was a delight to have on the ship, she really was. Funny, assertive, and more than willing to tell you exactly what she thought, even if you hadn’t asked her to. “What do you want?”

“How much power do we have? Exactly?”

With a loud huff, followed by several agonizing seconds of silence, Maris finally came back. “Why?”

“I think I may have found a place for us to go, but I’m not sure if we have enough juice to get there. Do you think we have enough left in the engines for a few short bursts of power to push us where we need to go?”

“How many bursts?” she asked me.

I did a quick calculation in my head, simply to verify the calculations I had already done before this conversation had started. “At least five…and I’ll need enough left for the retro-rockets in order to land us in one piece.”

“You want to land in atmo?”

“Affirmative,” I answered.

“Then you got enough for three small bursts. I can’t promise any more than that.”

“I’ll make it work. Thank you, Maris.” I turned to Dejar and Aavat. I pointed to a bright blue spot on my holo-map. “There’s a small planet here…more of a moon, really, but it’s inhabited.”

“By who?” Aavat asked.

“It’s a, um…” I stumbled for the right words, then simply just answered the question. “It’s a small haven for pirates and outlaws. They might not be terribly happy to see us, but it’s the only chance we have of getting somewhere that might be able to help us, and not drop us into the lap of the Dominion.”

“How do you know about this place?” Aavat asked.

I shrugged. “I haven’t always been your pilot, sir.” I didn’t bother to hide my semi-sheepish grin.

“Do it. If you think you can get us there, safely, then do it. We don’t have much choice,” Dejar said.

I nodded and turned back to my console. I tapped in the coordinates of the moon, dropped the map, and ever so slowly directed us towards it. The first burst of energy from the engines turned us, the second got us heading there. I would have to save the final burst to slow us down as we entered the atmosphere.

Reports kept coming in. Luckily, the worst of the injuries was a broken ankle from one of the men, the rest were bumps, bruises, a few concussions, and a swollen eye.

Valtic’s voice came on, but I wasn’t paying much attention anymore. I was doing my best to keep an eye on the sensors to make sure nothing else was headed our way, not that we could have done much about it.

So, it wasn’t a surprise to me that I jumped in surprise when Dejar put his hand on my shoulder. “Good flying back there.”

Okay, that was different. He never complimented me quietly, with a hand on my shoulder, or a look of honest-to-my-ancestors pride on his face.

I questioned it. “Sir?”

“The meteor shower…good flying,” he repeated with a pat on my shoulder. “You got us through the worst of it with ease. You somehow managed to minimize the damage that could have happened to the ship. It was good work.”

Well, I hadn’t expected that, or the swell of pride in my chest either. “Thank you, sir. Just wish I had done better.”

“Well, hopefully we won’t have the need to try it again.”

“Good point,” I nodded as he returned to his chair. I jutted out my lips a bit as I tried to figure out what had just happened.

Within an hour, we were approaching the moon. I sent out a short-wave broadcast towards the moon, letting them know we were approaching, heavily damaged, and unable to turn away. Just in case they decided to be hostile.

Not that we could do much about it in our state.

Just before we hit atmo, I used the last burst to slow us down, then fired up the retro-rockets. We were still coming in a lot faster than I wanted. “BRACE!” I yelled out as the ground flew up to meet us. We touched down on the surface of the planet, on what looked to be a beach close to the water, as gentle as a boulder crashing through a house.

My head hurt.

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