Sunday, December 07, 2008

Fleeting Doubts

It had not been an easy voyage so far. The first ship to fail was the one they all expected to go, the Sorador. She had been a rickety transport from the day she'd rolled off the line and the years had not been kind. Low on maintenance when the station disaster hit, she was only barely spaceworthy to start with. In a way, it was a minor miracle the Sorador had achieved hyperspace at all.

When her motivators finally blew, no one was surprised. Her own engineering staff had been taking bets on how many jumps she was going to make before it happened. Dead in space, all they could do was strip her for parts and transfer her passengers and crew to the other two ships in the fleet.

That had not been especially uncomfortable. The fleet's remaining vessels had the room and with the Sorador gutted, the supplies to keep going. That was critical. They were off the main travel lanes now; refits were impossible. There were no colony worlds out this far.

Two days and more space flight later, they were deep into the Outer Rim. Gone were the usual beacons and markers, the normal means of tracking and navigation. They were well and truly into smuggler territory now, using start charts and astromech droids just to keep from jumping into the hearts of stars or out of the galaxy altogether.

It was the worst possible time for another breakdown.

So when the power grid for the Arbiter suffered an ion backlash and shorted out, no one was particularly surprised either. It was irreparable, though the ship's crew tried valiantly to get critical systems restored. Life support and deckworks, including the power to open doors and run the lifts, were brought back online but non one was confident how long they would last.

It was a tough decision to abandon the Arbiter in space but there was no other choice to make. With several thousand people surviving on wisps of air from the intermittent recyclers, the call to bring them aboard the fleet's only functional ship was unavoidable.

It took four hours to complete the evacuation and that was almost too long. The last shuttle had only just cleared the Arbiter's dorsal bay when the grid failed completely. Another few minutes and that last flight of survivors would have been cast into deep space. Far too close for comfort...

Comfort was a forgotten concept now. The loss of the Sorador has been unfortunate but the Arbiter had been there to help bear the load. Without it the Ird-Adora, the fleet's only remaining vessel, was now terribly overloaded.

Some of the Ird-Adora's hallways had to be cordoned off and turned into sleeping space. There were wounded on every level and life support was running well beyond maximum capacity. The most generous engineering estimate was six days until atmospheric failure. Not that six days was a meaningful number, since food and water supplies would be depleted within four.

Yet still they pressed on, jumping deeper and deeper into the rim. The progression forward did not stop or eve cease once the Arbiter was left behind. Star by star, the Ird-Adora made her way onward, never looking back.

Never, that was, until she came to the point of no return. Stopping to take astrogation data for the jump that would take them past their supply ability to return to normal space should they turn around, the vessel needed one hour to collect telemetry. It was not a long window of opportunity, but it was all Tymor needed...

The steel door to the small auxiliary room slid open with a soft chime. Darrus looked up at the sound, nodding as he watched his second in command step inside. Waving him in, Darrus gestured to a seat he knew would be ignored.

True to form, the Mandalorian strode over to the chair and remained standing, practically at attention. Darrus know it was pointless to tell the man to relax. He was not honestly sure Tymor was capable of relaxing. Darrus knew what the man was here for but politeness dictated he start the conversation. "What can I do for you, Alayt?"

Darrus was becoming quickly familiar with the language of the Mandalore. In their tongue, Alayt was a word and a rank, both meaning "next". In the Republic Navy, back when there was a Republic Navy, it would have been equivalent to a First Mate.

"Captain, permission to speak?" Tymor snapped a salute, letter perfect. Darrus was secretly glad that the half face helm he had taken to wearing when he was out of his quarters, when he was 'on duty'. The helm's mirrored visor meant Tymor did not see him roll his eyes at the formality. So much like the Clones, so much...

"Granted, Tymor. Granted."

"Sir, I feel I need to make sure you have been apprised of our situation."

Darrus sighed. He knew this was coming. The crew had been loyal to a fault, coming this far with him without the slightest question but now, on the eve of the jump that would kill them all if nothing waited on the other side, someone had to speak up.

He was honestly glad to see it happen. This was how the Mandalorians differed from the Clones. Most of the clone troopers he knew would have blindly marched into oblivion if ordered to do so. At least his Mandalorian crew had some sense of self, some preservation instinct that would keep them from being so unthinking.

Perhaps the Mandalorians would not betray him like the Clones had...

No matter. Darrus banished the dark thoughts. Tymor deserved an answer.

"I do not need the report, Alayt. I know the gravity of our situation." He hoped that would be sufficient. With a Clone, it would have been.

"Sir, with all due respect, we have several thousand people aboard now and rations are already down to one third. Even the bridge crew are starting to show the fatigue." Tymor pitched his voice lower, showing his concern. "I do not know how much longer we can keep going."

Darrus turned his chair towards the forward window, looking out over the thinning stars. The Ird-Adora was very near the edge of the Rim now, the very outer boundaries of the galaxy. "We do not have much farther to journey. I promise."

"I..." Tymor began a sentence, then stopped it. This was a matter of loyalty and of trust. He had both for his new Captain. If the Silverlord said to press on, they would press on. "Thank you, sir. Are the current heading orders correct?"

Darrus had been expecting that question as well. "Yes, Tymor." Slight smile. "We really are heading into the Vashoud Abyssal."

Tymor's apprehension was understandable. The Vashoud Abyssal was one of the galaxy's many navigational hazards, a nebula so thick that even basic visibility was impossible. With all scanners useless in the Abyssal, ships avoided it like a space-borne plague. With debris and half-formed planetoids scattered throughout the nebula, those that ventured inside had their flights cut brutally short.

"There is a plan then, sir?"

Darrus nodded. "There is, indeed. I gave helm a transponder code. Have them start scanning for it after we are at the five minute mark inside the Abyssal. That transponder will provide the next code to search out."

Tymor nodded in sudden understanding. "Stepping stones?"

"Just so, Alayt. They will lead us to our destination." Darrus pressed the button that started the shutters closing over all the windows in his room. "Give the command to jump. It's time for us to go."

"Sir yes sir!" Snapped salute.

Darrus watched him go, waiting until the door was closed again to take off his helmet and rub his temples. He had been the height of confident with Tymor but inwardly, he has just as many doubts... perhaps more.

Was he leading them to their deaths?

Leaning forward, face in his hands, Darrus lost himself in thought even as the ship's engines trembled and catapulted them all through space towards their fate...

Towards Sanctora.

4 comments:

Eyrezer said...

Hi August,

I'm an editor on the Wookieepedia, and I was hoping to ask you a few questions about Darrus Jeht and your Living Force stories. Do you have an email address I write to you at?

~ Dan

Tarek said...

Well well well... a safeworld? It'll be interesting to see if anything's left there.

erisraven said...

I've been dying to know what happened to Sanctora.... really looking forward to the next story!

A Man of Earth said...

It's Two Thousand Ten (2010). A new year, with new highs and new lows. I'm hopeful...are you...