Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Trial by Fire

His first conscious thought was of heat. He'd been dreaming of Geonosis, the desert arena where so many of his friends had fallen. In his mind's eye he was there again, caught in the throat by a droid's stray blaster shot. The fire... the pain.

And just like then, he woke up to feel that same pain, that dull ache that had taken most of his voice that fateful day. Even now, all he could manage was a raspy whisper, a voice barely loud enough to be heard in the best of circumstances. His armor had been fitted with an amplifier for field command, something he'd prefered to the alternative of cybernetic reconstruction. An amp in his gorget was something he could take off. A piece of metal in his neck was there for life.

Only now, he wasn't lying on his back in one of the corridors of the arena, looking up at a shadowy figure with a hand on his throat. He was staring at broken light panels again, a large steel girder across his chest. This time, the bridge wasn't as dark. In fact, there seemed to be a great deal of light coming from the front of the room. Groggily, still drained from earlier, he turned his head to see where all the illumination was coming from.

"Oh joy," he whispered to himself. "The bridge is on fire."

A few seconds later, the first wave of panic hit. His people, he'd come to learn, were pyrophobic. Some of that came from the fact that his eyes were so light-sensitive that fire was physically painful to look upon. The rest was probably just because fire really, really hurt.

In any case, he had to move and it had to be now. One of the fires was near his legs, appendages he could still only barely feel. In another few minutes, his robes would likely catch and then he'd see how much sensation was left in them. That wasn't the sort of nervous system test he relished going through. "Have... to... get out of here," he groaned as he levered himself up onto his arms. The girder rolled off and clanged away.

Walking, he immediately realized, was not an option. "When we can't walk," he grumbled, "we crawl." It took all the strength he had to push off the deck in front of his command chair. The one foot fall to the bridge's main floor felt like a lot farther, sending shocks of pain up his chest.

"Broken ribs," he noted with a sardonic half-smile. "Lovely."

Each time he made himself move forward, his ribs let him know about it. The sharp, stabbing pains told him that indeed, three of them were cracked and one was fully broken. There were other aches as well. One of the cracked ribs was right behind where the assassin, Ventress, has stabbed him with her saber. That rib had never regrown properly to begin with; he wasn't surprised it was one of the ones to go. The scar tissue over it throbbed dully.

"At least I know I'm still alive." He pushed back the wave of guilt that came at the thought of what his survival had cost his men. Clone Troopers were expected to die for their commander; somehow, he doubted this particular demise was anything they'd been warned about. Remorse had its place, but he couldn't afford to lend it eny energy right now. he needed all his strength to escape the Maelstrom's bridge before he roasted alive.

Already the steel-lined chamber felt like an oven. The air, what was left of it, rippled with heat and hurt to breathe. Darrus could see the smoke billowing across the ceiling. From its density and dark color, he doubted it would be long before the cloud descended and took what little oxygen he had left with it. He was running out of time.

Darrus focused on the task at hand- crawling. He made it around the bridge's command dais and wedged himself into the starbord walkway between his chair and the lift door. Looking towards the way out, his heart sank. A line of fire, likely a burning power conduit, lay across the corridor. To get to the only way out, he would have to cross it.

Despite the searing pain, Darrus breathed deeply. He steeled his resolve, stared straight ahead, and forced his arms to start moving. One lurching foot at a time, he moved down the gantry. There was nothing else to do. The choice was either crawl through the flames or wait to die.

In truth, he'd likely have laid down and welcomed death if he hadn't seen what became of his men. His plan had been to die with them by destroying the Shadowblade and flying through the time rift. Now, after witnessing what his powers had done to those loyal clones, he knew he could not just sacrifice himself now. They'd given their lives to preserve his. Dying now would render their final service useless. One way or another, he had to live. He had to.

Then he hit the edge of the flames. He felt the heat on his face and moved as quickly as he could to get over the burning line. The fire was roughly eight inches wide and had eaten completely through the deck. He managed to get his head and shoulders past the blaze before having to stop again.

Instantly, the flames became to sear across his armor and up his sides. Biting back a scream, he pushed again and slide another foot. The fire passed to his stomach, sizzling as it started to melt his body suit. Again, he fought the urge to cry out, saving that intensity for the effort of continuing forward. He pushed.

And pushed.

And pushed again, finally passing the flames and the glowing steel of the rent deckplates. He was burned, perhaps severely in a few places, but he was alive. It couldn't possibly hurt this much to be dead. Glancing down, he could see red flesh and ashen clothing down his chest and legs. He could not tell how serious the damage was but not being able to feel some of the burned sections of skin worried him.

Still, one thing at a time. The fire was behind him but a closed door that likely had no power to open was ahead. He had to get past it if he was going to escape this pressure cooker of a room. Already the air was more oppressively hot than when he'd awakened. At this rate, he had less than ten minutes of air, he estimated.

Jeht crawled to the door, smacked the open button with a piece of fallen steel, and was not surprised when it failed to open. Dropping the metal beam, he sighed and reached for his lightsaber.

Then he cussed.

In Hutt, because it sounded ruder.

"No saber. No power. No time to waste complaining about either."

With a resigned breath, he closed his eyes and reached out to the Force again. There was something there this time, but it was very faint. Very weak. He joked painfully with himself that after his brush with the Dark Side, the Force was now afraid to get anywhere near him. Even if it was, he didn't have time to try and court its favor again. There would be time for atonement later.

Reaching out, he seized what dim energy he could sense and drew it to him. He would need everything he could get for this. The Force responded, sluggish at first but then obeying his command. Power flowed through his tired arms and out into the blast door barring his way. He needed it to move, willed it to move. If this attempt failed, he would not survive this boiler room of a bridge long enough for another.

The first sign of the power working was a sound of metal creaking under his hand. Then the lift door shuddered. A long pause followed, almost long enough for Darrus to lose hope. Just as he was about to give up and let go of the Force, the plate steel buckled and tore out of the doorway, ripping in half as it slammed into the back of the lift like it had been charged by a rancor.

Darrus blinked. He hadn't thought there to be enough Force energy in him to accomplish something that powerful. Then, as the sound of slagging metal dripped dangerously nearby, he returned his focus to leaving this place. He levered forward and rolled into the lift, avoiding the jagged shards of the its former door. The air in the lift was only slightly cooler but it was an immense relief to the Jedi's tortured skin.

"Now... I just have to get this lift car away from here." Groaning at what he would have to do next, Darrus allowed himself a few seconds of indulgent rest, laying back against the cold metal of the car's floor. He couldn't stop for long, but he needed a second to clear his head and plan his next move.

Looking at the wall, he was suddenly glad he'd paid attention when his technical officer described the lift's emergency operations. He knew that below the lift's control pannel, there was a sealed access plate with a manual crank. Though tough to operate, it would let him move the car up or down if he could get to it. That part, at least, was easy.

Darrus reached for his lightsaber.

And cussed. In Hutt.

Ten minutes later found Darrus leaning against the side of the tube, his right hand bloody from having punched open the panel. Though sealed, the panel was fairly thin. Even he, with his relatively poor physical strength, had been able to batter it off its rivets with enough persistence. His hand hurt and wasn't working very well now but the damned thing was open. That's all that mattered right now.

He closed his left hand on the folding level inside the compartment. Moving it into position was easy; actually cranking it was not. It felt like trying to stir half-dried concrete. The handle moved, but only barely and only with extreme effort. Darrus felt certain he'd throw his shoulder out before he reached the next floor down.

By the time the car travelled far enough, inch by inch, to get to the secondary bridge, his shoulder was the least of his concerns. One of his ribs, the fully broken one, had shifted from all his effort. It was pressing into his lung now, making it hard to breathe. Darrus was acutely aware of what would happen if the bone spar perforated anything down there. He'd either drown on his own blood or die instantly from an impaled heart.

"This just gets better and better."

Another level opened the door to the secondary bridge one inch at a time. The room beyond was dark but the air billowing into the lift was almost arctic. Darrus just let it blow past his face, drinking in the desperately needed shift in temperature. His extremely effective night vision, another trait of his species and the reason for his completely black eyes, showed him that while the room beyond had no power, it was intact and, even better, not on fire.

Darrus crawled out of the lift and into the chamber, resting against a cool metal bulkhead. From here, he would be able to get to an access hatch and into the superstructure of the ship. He would have to crawl all the way to the hanger but he could do that. He was concerned for his rib but there was nothing else to do.

With caution and slow going, the crawl to the flight deck would take about an hour. Resting any more would just make the trip longer.

With a weary groan, he teetered back onto his arms and started the journey.

Hand over hand... one at a time...

1 comment:

Zay said...

Why do you always STOP like that!