The weightless crew of the Gorion floated in the dim lift tube, planning their next move. Above them loomed the scarred and battered pressure door leading up to the depressurized B Deck. It was the last obstacle between them and the Helios’s bridge, and it was a formidable one.
All eyes were on Bran as the rest of the crew waited for him to explain the next stage of his plan. The scrutiny didn’t faze the captain of this ragtag bunch at all. He’d been in worse situations in his life, albeit ones that made a bit more sense than being perused by a horde of zombies.
Bran was about to begin when the Gorion’s constant color commentator piped up. Eyebrow cocked, Imoen asked, “Alright bro, we’re here. I can blow this hatch, no problem, but I think poor Maz might have a wee bit of a problem with that plan.”
“Please, stop calling me Maz, Imoen. I don’t particular like it,” answered the Yolandan captain, glaring at her. Then, turning back to Bran, she shrugged and added, “However, she does have a valid point.”
“I’ve taken that into consideration, Mazzy,” answered Bran. “Here’s how it all lays out. What we’re going to do is repressurize the B Deck lift tube and use it as a pressure column to get to A Deck.”
“Access to the pressure door controls for B Deck are completely cut off from this deck,” countered Mazzy. “I told you that.”
“I know. This is why we’re going to have to send in a team to reseal the B Deck tube and repair any damage there might be.”
Imoen rolled her head back and groaned.
“Thanks for volunteering, sis,” Bran fired off cheerfully.
“Oh, you’re soooo welcome,” Imoen’s words nearly drowned in the sarcasm.
“Anytime, sis. Anytime,” Bran replied with a half grin. Moving to keep his sister from complaining any more, he turned to his XO and continued, “Jaheira, you and Imoen are going to be doing the EVA work. Seal the tube as quickly as you can, repressurize and start working on the A Deck pressure doors. We’ll be following behind you.”
“Understood. I take it you and the others will set up in the C Deck Broadway?” replied Jaheira.
“Right. The rest of us will set up and hope the deaders don’t find us. But considering our luck so far, I don’t give us more than a few minutes before they start throwing troops at us. It’s not going to be an easy position to hold, so we’re going to be counting on you to get done quickly.”
“Of course,” replied Jaheira. “But what if they didn’t just open the pressure doors but blasted the tubes as well?”
“Then we’ll have to hold longer. But I’d bet even money that they did use some explosives. Just to be sure. Depressurizing the deck and cutting the control circuits seem like a last ditch effort to build a moat, and maybe they tried to blow it deep.”
Jaheira nodded. “And what if this tube is too damaged to repair?”
“Then try this tube’s pair. One of these two has to be repairable.”
“One would hope,” replied Jaheira dryly.
“I figure the most they did was cut the command circuits. Seems unlikely they’d completely destroy the tubes. They would have risked breaching the C or A decks.”
“Never underestimate the foolishness of desperate people,” Jaheira reminded him.
Having seen enough desperate situations to know it as truth, Bran shrugged in agreement. “True enough. They could have blown all the tubes. But we have to gamble. We need a safe place to plan. We need information. And the fact that the bridge is cut off from the rest of the ship makes me think there has to be something there.”
Already having come to the same conclusion, Jaheira nodded. Still, there was an aura of desperation about this plan as well. Unable to banish all of the concern from her voice, she answered, “Hopefully your gamble will be correct.”
“I hope so too,” Bran replied, returning his bronze haired X.O.’s nod. “Good luck, Jaheira.”
“I have a feeling it is you who will need the luck,” she said a little too stiffly.
Bran cracked a trademark grin to try to disperse some of the gloom. “Jaheira baby, I don’t need luck. I’ve got Minsc and Larry.”
Off to his right, Minsc proudly boomed, “With Minsc and Boo and Larry at mighty Captain Bran’s side, we will go through Evil like Boo goes through fresh crackers!”
Bran’s grin only widened at his gunner’s enthusiastic proclamation. “See, what did I tell you?”
“I stand corrected,” replied Jaheira. Suddenly, a wry grin stole across her lips. “You will need a miracle.”
“Good thing I’m a miracle of modern killing!! And I’m feeling godlike today! So let’s get crackin! Time’s a waistin!!” chortled the homicidal field artillery piece.
The crew of the Gorion shared a collective sigh. Shaking his head, Bran said, “Well, for once, that insane heap of transistors actually has it right.”
“Indeed,” answered Jaheira with the appropriate roll of her eyes.
Quickly turning his attention to the others, Bran quickly laid out his deployment. “V-Man, you’re taking point. Check the corridor and make sure it’s clear. Then take up position in the alcove on the far side. I’ll follow to the same side. Minsc, you the Doc and Fentan will cover the near side. Understood?”
A chorus of quick acknowledgements went up. Bran reached down and flipped off the safety on his Bladesinger. “Good. Let’s move it people.”
Valygar pushed his way over to the C Deck door and ran a few discreet scans, searching for any signs of the enemy. As he did so, Bran switched over to a private command channel. “You watch yourself up there, Jah.”
“You as well, Bran. I would be most put out if one of these unnatural creatures injured you,” replied Jaheira dryly.
“I can feel the passion from here. Someone hold me before I’m swept away,” chuckled Bran.
Eyebrow fully cocked, Jaheira deadpanned, “I’m serious. I would not appreciate someone damaging my property. Well, any more than it already is.”
Shaking his head, he laughed, “Well, at least you’re concerned. That’s a start.”
Jaheira pulled herself closer and brought one armored hand up to Bran’s faceplate. The guile and humor had left her face and only concern shone through. “Just promise me you’ll be careful.”
A retort died on his lips as Bran felt his own grin melt into just the slightest smile. It was impossible to joke when she looked at him like that, the emerald portals to her soul flung open like that. In a voice huskier than he had intended, he leaned in closer and pressed his faceplate against hers. “I promise Jah.”
A familiar voice cut on in on the common band. “Captain, the corridor is clear. We are ready to go on your order,” reported Valygar crisply, but Bran thought he could hear just the slightest undercurrent of amusement in his navigator’s voice.
Bran swept off an imaginary hat with great flourish before proclaiming, “Duty calls, my dear.”
Jaheira simply snorted.
Grinning beatifically as if Jaheira’s snort was the highest compliment, Bran raised his Bladesinger in a textbook perfect rifle salute. Stealing the smile he wanted, Bran returned it with an earnest one before turning towards his waiting boarding crew.
As he made his way over to the hatch, he saw Valygar studying him with one thin eyebrow arched. Bran returned his navigator’s stare with a dramatically exaggerated one of his own. The dark skinned man rolled his eyes and shook his head in dismay. “Are we quite done strutting for the ladies?”
“An odd question coming from you, V-Man.”
The eyebrow arched once more. “Perhaps. But I have better timing.” Valygar paused for a moment before adding, “And much better style.”
Bran snorted. “This coming from the guy who thought orange leather pants were going to be the next ‘big thing’.”
Valygar replied with a knowing smile. “Perhaps. But they did get rave reviews.”
“I remember. I thought the bulkheads were thicker than that.”
“Once again, sir. Better timing and better style.”
Knowing he was losing this battle of words, he decided to apply overwhelming force. “What can I say? Valygar: Fashion guru, erudite wit… Ladies Man.”
Valygar groaned from the familiar pain of that well-worn joke. “I’ll just go out and see if the coast is clear then? Perhaps someone will be waiting to end my misery.”
It was Bran’s turn to smile. “Good idea. Why don’t you do that.”
“As you command,” answered the dark skinned navigator. Quickly, he reholstered one of his Katana’s while flipping the safety off of the other. Finger resting on the trigger, he punched the door release with his free hand.
With a groan of long neglected machinery, the hatch door to C Deck slid open, allowing dim and fitful light to spill into the tube lift. As soon as the doors opened wide enough to allow it, Valygar pushed his way through. The man moved with superb grace, making sure his feet were perfectly in place to steady him as he returned to normal gravity.
Feet now solidly on the deck, he dropped into a fighting crouch and ran his eyes over the deck, scanning both fore and aft. He saw nothing but a battered, empty deck. Katana cradled in both hands, he checked one last time, hunting for any tell tale sign of enemy presence. Finding none, he darted for the other side of the corridor, eating the short distance rapidly and keeping low
As Valygar tucked himself into the protection of the lift tube alcove on opposite side of the corridor, Bran stepped out onto C Deck. He blinked hard, fighting off the wave of disorientation caused by the rapid transition from a zero G to normal G environment. Years of training allowed him to quickly drive away the stomach twisting sensations and focus his mind on the task at hand.
Bladesinger ready, he swept the barrel of the phase rifle across the width of C Deck’s Broadway. His eyes sought enemy threats and hunted for signs of zombie presence. There was none, not even the fallen corpses the Yolandan captain reported. The way apparently clear, he hunkered down and raced across the open deck to the other side of the lift alcove, taking up a position facing aft. Seeing no threat, he signaled the all clear.
From the open lift tube, the three other members of the deck crew boiled out onto Broadway. Minsc and Lilarcor took up their position opposite Valygar as it gave the big gunner the best cover and the maximum range of fire for his maniacal disruptor cannon. Fentan took to other side, her almost oversized neutron carbine joining Bran’s phase rifle in covering the aft of the corridor. The doctor cradled her light rifle and pressed herself into the alcove where she could quickly move to aid either the Yolandan or the huge gunner if necessary while staying out of the line of fire.
She was the one that first truly observed the condition of the corridor. The others were too busy searching for threats to notice its general appearance. Hand reflexively flying to her face, she gasped, “For the loving mercy of the Faenya!”
Bran blinked at the doctor’s outburst, finally seeing what she had. The corridor bore the signs of a furious battle. Burn marks and blast craters from small arms fire scarred the entirety of the corridor, from the wall panels to the ceiling and deck plates. In some places, buckled wall panels jutted out where weapons fire or exploding circuits managed to cut through the tough metal. Adding to the eerie air, strange light patterns danced across damaged metal as light bars valiantly soldiered on despite damage and age.
The battle damage alone, while spectacular, was not particularly noteworthy. The brown stains that covered every surface were. Deep in his heart, Bran wished that they were the telltales of exposure and corrosion, the breakdown of the ship’s metallic structure from age. However, all the wishing could not change what even the untrained eye could tell. The deck plates were thick with it; the metal caked with dried, cracked pools of it. Brown spattered the walls where blood had fountained from torn flesh. Perhaps the most chilling example was emblazoned on an access panel by his head. A perfect handprint covered it where some combatant had slapped desperately at the controls.
“A great battle was fought here,” uttered the gunner more quietly than usual.
“Minsc,” replied Bran as he tried to drag his eyes away from the dried print. “I think that just might be the understatement of the day. And considering today, that’s saying a hell of a lot.”
“Where are all the bodies?” interjected a mystified Mazzy as she looked back and forth.
Blinking at the question, Bran managed, “What?”
“The bodies,” Mazzy exclaimed, free hand sweeping across to encompass the battered deck. “This deck was littered with bodies!”
“But those were just frozen zombies. Zombiesicles,” Bran replied calmly, not exactly sure where the diminutive former prisoner was going. “You and your crew grabbed two of them and it woke up, and when the environmental systems kicked back on, the others must have as well. They probably just lurched off somewhere else.”
“But not all of the fallen were zombies. It would have been impossible! What about the ones the defenders killed? Where are those?” Mazzy fired back, her voice becoming more strident.
“Look, Fentan, maybe they weren’t destroyed.” Bran took effort to keep his voice level. “Maybe the ones you saw were the ones trying to figure out a way onto the bridge.”
Fentan turned towards him, her eyes hard. “Look, I fully comprehend that you’re trying to be logical, but I was here, remember? There were bodies that had definitely taken head shots. And there were… well.. bits. Floating about. I want to know where they went!”
Bran shrugged. “No clue. Maybe the deaders got tired of the smell. Or maybe they just dragged them away.”
“They never have before,” Fentan quickly fired back. “The ones I’ve killed have just been left there to rot. So why move these ones?”
“I don’t know.” Bran hardened his voice and fixed her with a stare. “But right now, it doesn’t matter. What matters now is holding this position long enough for Jaheira and Imoen to get us onto that bridge. Then we can play twenty questions, alright?”
Valygar darkly added, “And I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.”
Arching an eyebrow as he turned his attention fully towards the corridor he was watching, he asked, “That your usual optimistic self or do you have something?”
“Wunderbar,” griped Bran as he flipped off the Bladesinger’s safety. “What you got?”
“Intermittent contact on the motion scanner. Roughly forty meters out. What ever it is, it’s moving very slowly and very carefully.”
“Do you have visual?”
“No,” he replied, snoopers straining in the gloom. “Wait… I think I see something.” He smoothly lifted the snub nosed Katana and sighted in. “Yes. I have a target. Single zombie, armed and wearing light armor.”
“Do you have a clean shot?” queried Bran.
Valygar made a slight adjustment, lining the crosshairs of the sight firmly between the formerly Seldarian zombie’s eyes. “I have the shot.”
The scout couldn’t get any closer and be allowed to get a good look at their defensive positions. On the other hand, killing it might tip off the zombies to their presence on C Deck, but that was inevitable anyway. Shouldering his own rifle, Bran gave the order.
“Take the shot.”
The sharp retort of Valygar’s Katana was quickly followed by the soft thump of a body hitting the deck. In his ear, he heard the workmanlike satisfaction of a job well done as Valygar reported, “Target down. One in the X ring.”
“Good shooting, V,” replied Bran. More grimly he added, “Alright people, I don’t know how long it will take, but from experience, I doubt it will be long before they find out their scout is dead. So, free up your spare magazines and dig in. They’ll be coming along shortly.”
“And Minsc and Larry and Boo will be waiting for them. We will kick them squarely in the Crotch of Evil with the Boots of Righteousness,” proclaimed Minsc.
It took Bran a moment to come up with the appropriate response to this particular Minsc proclamation. Shaking his head to clear it of the image, Bran managed, “Right you are big guy. Right you are.” Then, he decided to add one last admonishment. “Just be careful Minsc. We don’t want to vent the compartment.”
“Of course Captain Bran! I will save Larry’s buttkicking powers for Evil zombies!” the big gunner reassured him. As he spoke, the corridor began to fill with the low thrum of the Lilarcor 900’s main capacitors charging to full power.
Bran simply listened to the power crescendo and tightened his grip on his Bladesinger. It was a race now, and he had to hope that Jaheira and Imoen would get finished before the zombies could truly apply pressure to their precarious position.
A Space Odyssey Chapter 20
No replies to this topic
0 user(s) are reading this topic
0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users