Friday, September 07, 2007

Hell in Zero-G

"That's the last of them, Darrus."

Maya was not at all used to this new communication system. Of course, she wasn't used to any part of this huge, robotic war machine surrounding her flesh, fused to her nervous system and acting as if it were part of her body. All she had to do is think and the Basilisk responded. Sometimes, she didn't even have to think.

The strangely agile mechanic monster was seemingly prescient, moving at times before she had completed her instructions for the action. When a shrapnel canister from one of the bombs on the Ithorian breed ship had come loose and started to drift away, the Basilisk's right arm had extended and caught it before she was consciously aware of the need to do so. Part of her was grateful for the droid; it was the only way they had been able to get here in time to disarm all these explosives.

The rest of her was utterly terrified.

Maya was a medic, a healer both in training and in spirit. All her life, she had been raised and educated to understand the body and its functions. She knew muscle, bone, blood and tissue. She was comfortable with the myriad forms of life in the universe. From big to small, organic existence was endlessly fascinating to her.

This... this machine was not alive, yet it acted in every way as if it was. The Basilisk was more than just a droid. It was something more, something beyond its metal and composites. Something beyond even the cerebral link that melded its operating systems to her brain.

This thing was not a mere tool or a weapon. It was not just a siege engine or war machine. It was...

...a companion.

An alien, nigh-incomprehensible companion to be sure, but like having a Rancor for a lap dog. It was loyal, faithful, unquestioningly obedient while being apocalyptic and unbelievably destructive at the same time.

And in the end, it was hers. Or she was its. Maya really couldn't be sure.

"Darrus, did you hear me? That was the last of them. The bombs are disabled."

She waited again, drifting in space near the gargantuan Ithorian vessel. Held in place by glowing blue thrusters, Maya was able to move in any direction and rocket forth with as much speed as she desired. Right now she was just hovering near the connection site of the final ion charge, holding its disengaged power core.

But Darrus wasn't answering her. Instantly, the engine cores along the back of her Basilisk fired up and sent her hurtling towards where he had last been, where his locator showed him to be right now. She didn't will them to do so; the droid just started moving on its own.

In this case, she didn't not mind at all. Panic was already starting to grip her senses. When the ex-Jedi stopped talking, she started worrying.

She darted like a shark through a sea of darkness, flying up over the glimmering transparent dome of the breed ship. Below, the arboreal floating city, encased in silver metal and softly glowing crystal, rested like a timeless forest among the stars. It was beautiful, breathtaking really, and if she wasn't so frantic to get to Darrus she would have admired it longer.

As it was, the city was no longer in danger of being blown apart and dropped onto Tatooine in a fiery rain of death and destruction. That was good enough for now. The ship was safe. Now all that mattered was finding Jeht and making sure he was okay too.

He had to be all right. He just had to!

She finally found him, but only because of the internal sensors of the Basilisk. It was linked to Darrus' own war droid, allowing her to track him anywhere within a parsec of open space. This was good, because the black finish of the basilisks made them virtually invisible in space.

She hovered close, watching him closely, not getting within reach in case something was seriously wrong. Darrus was just floating there, engines barely blazing. Through the shadowy cockpit, she could see him staring down at his droid's instrument panels, dark eyes wide and expressionless.

"What is it?" she sent again. She knew he could here; there was no way to quiet the mental channel between these two droids. He was hearing every word. He just wasn't responding. "Darrus, what is it?"

"I know why we are here."

His voice was ashen, the exact tone she was afraid she'd hear. That was Darrus' cold voice, the sound of imminent death. Usually someone else's. Somehow, she suspected he wasn't talking about someone else this time.

"To save the Ithorians," she said hopefully, upset at how flat it sounded. "Right?"

She could see him shaking his head, the visor of his armored helm reflecting the lights of the screens inside his canopy. "No. I mean why we were sent here."

She thought she knew that answer as well. "To plant the final bombs."

"That's what they told us... but that's not why we were sent."

She came a little closer, easing her Basilisk beside his. "Why then?"

The main arms of his droid came up, holding open the bomb he'd been given to mount onto the Ithorian ship. It was open, its shrapnel cases exposed, and its timer wired into one of the computer ports of the Basilisk. "This thing was set to explode as soon as it was turned on. The timer was a fake."

She narrowed her eyes. "They sent us up here to die? Why? Did they figure out who we were?"

Darrus shook his masked face again. "No. It's bigger than that." He reached into the bomb with a secondary servo arm attached to the droid's right battle claw and withdrew a fragmentary canister. "Look at this." With that, he crushed the cylinder open, bursting it and scattering its contents.

Maya looked at the drifting metal shards uncomprehendingly. "It's anti-personnel shrapnel. I've seen it before."

"Look closer."

She shrugged, not really understanding, but did so. Some of the pieces were painted, others weren't. A few even had lettering or symbols, in whole or in part, but she still did not see their significance. It was shrapnel, something usually made by grinding up salvage just like this seemed to be. Nothing out of the ordinary.

"What am I supposed to see, Darrus?"

His tone was still cold and dead still, the sort of thing she hated to hear. "It's Mandalorian iron."

She blinked again. "Some of it?"

"All of it."

That made no sense. Anti-personnel weapons were typically packed with random material; in any given bomb there could be a dozen different alloys present. She'd seen the terrible effect of these weapons on their intended victims. 'Soft targets', the military called them. She called them people, usually people in several small bags once exposed to this kind of hideous munition.

"Wait... Why was the Scarlet Wake using a shrapnel mine on a starship?"

Jeht looked up inside his cockpit and nodded. "That was meant for us. The other bombs are, I'm sure, much more appropriate for the task of destroying the hive vessel."

"But..." Her mind was reeling. "Why Mandalorian iron? Are these Basilisks that tough?" Mandalorian iron was generally regarded as one of the strongest metals in the galaxy, capable of being forged into superheavy armor or weapons of surpassing sharpness.

"No. A mine of this size and power could have torn us both apart with Jawa scrap. The Mandalorian iron is there for another purpose." His tone was still grave, still dire. Her stomach sank as his suspicions started forming in her own mind.

"Mandalorian armor, Mandalorian shrapnel, Mandalorian battle droids..." She murmured this, doing the math in her head. The clues were painting an unfortunate picture, one she was sure Jeht had already seen in its entirely.

Below, along one arc of the planet's atmosphere, Maya could see more than a dozen ships moving this way. Planetary security ships, likely Rebel starfighters and transports on loan from the main fleet and here for repairs and refueling, had already been dispatched to their location. No doubt this was all prearranged by the Scarlet Wake; all that was missing was the demolition charges that would have given them something to investigate.

"No, Maya. There's something else missing."

She looked into his eyes, suddenly wishing there wasn't so much armor plate and glass between them. "What, Darrus? We saved the ship. There won't be a massacre today." Again, she was trying to have hope. Again, it sounded so bitterly flat.

"The Scarlet Wake, or more accurately the power behind the Wake, wants a war." Darrus closed his black void-eyes. "And every war needs two sides."

Maya sighed, understanding at last. She pointed with one servo-claw to the incoming Rebel ships. "There's one... but where's the other?"

Darrus didn't answer. He just turned his Basilisk to regard the empty depths of space beyond the Ithorian ship. Moments later, the glimmer of hyperspace anomalies began to form.

"I can only assume, Maya, that this plan had two halves. We stopped our half but if the other succeeded..."

The glimmers resolved into several military transports and a huge battle carrier. Its gun ports were glowing bright and fully open, its hull proudly bearing the symbol of Mandalore. Sections of the carrier were badly damaged but it was still in fighting shape, despite one of its command desks being gutted and trailing smoke.

Maya looked first at the arriving armada and then at the Rebel squadron. "This..."

Jeht finished the sentence, his voice colder than ever. "...isn't going to end well."


Zay Berkana Eve said...

Stop.. stopping, like that!

erisraven said...

No, Zay, that one made sense to stop where it did. Otherwise our writer would still not have slept. I recognize the precipice of slippery slope of scene when I see it. :D

Excellent work.

Zay Berkana Eve said...

Bah, he was up another 3 hours after that!

He just likes making people wait, the fiend. ;)

August said...

I r fiend.

Tarek said...

Well, well well.

Definitely a deep plot here.