Darkness enveloped her. Her companion’s garbled, startled shouts rang in her ears as faceplates went opaque to shield their eyes from the seething blast triggered by Imoen. The only illumination came from the lurid glow of her suit displays, their tracery still visible. Not that they were of much use with the interference from the blast still crackling around them, disrupting the sensors.
It was almost enough to make her laugh. To be blind and yet, to still be able to see, but to see nothing. Part of her said that there was something deeply profound in that realization. In fact, she was certain of it.
However, there was no time for philosophy right now. There was barely even time for recrimination, no matter how richly deserved it was. Comprehension of the dangers had come too late twice. First, she had let hope get in the way of prudence and not warned him soon enough. And then she had allowed his pain to distract her from Imoen’s acts. No matter how great his pain, she should have anticipated what the younger Varnas would have done. But she did not, too wrapped up in Bran to comprehend what Imoen was doing until it was too late.
She silently chided herself. There was no time for self recrimination, and yet she was indulging in it. Bran, her Captain, was incapacitated, leaving her in command. Imoen’s voice was silent over the comm. And they were still standing on the hull of a cursed ship with no contact with the Gorion.
This was certainly not the time for self pity.
“All systems operational,” Valygar replied more taciturnly than usual, most likely to try and hide the quiver of shock in his voice.
“Minsc and Boo and Larry are all okay but we are very confused,” rumbled the oversized gunner.
“My suit readouts are all still in the green,” came the clipped tone of the Yolandan captain.
“I… I’m alright,” the doctor started.
“And Bran?” Jaheira cut in.
“He… he is unconscious, J.. Jaheria. But his suit readouts and biosigns are all in the green,” Aerie replied quickly.
Jaheira cursed her temper. There was no need to cut the doctor off at the knees, yet she’d let her concern for Bran take control. Shaking her head at her own foolishness while feeling relief flood her, she called, “Imoen?”
There was no reply.
Feeling a creeping edge of dread, she turned to face where the young, irrepressible woman had been standing. She half expected to see her grinning face, that telltale smirk beaming back at her. Instead, all that was before her was scorched armor plate and a new blackened hole where the Helios’s comm array had been. There was not a single trace of her.
“Does anyone have a visual on Imoen?” she called out as her eyes flew to her HUD. The sensor picture was still badly muddled but she managed to pick out Imoen’s transponder signal. And as she did, her blood went cold.
Imoen’s signal was ten meters from her location. Ten meters -away- from the hull. A distance that was still increasing. Rapidly. The blast must have overcome her magboots and shredded her tetherlines. Even as her eyes confirmed her assessment, picking out the shredded tetherline drifting from Bran’s suit, she was shouting the universal signal for lost spacer, “DUTCHMAN! DUTCHMAN!!”
“I’ve got visual!” Valygar cut in firmly, his hands holding the other severed half of the line.
As Jaheira turned to try and track Imoen’s suit she saw Valygar toss the trail line of his second tether to Minsc. Before she could say anything else, the mahogany skinned navigator had already kicked free of the hull. Puffs of compressed gas shot from his suit’s limited navigational jets as he shot into the deep.
Tetherline trailed behind him as he accelerated out after the rapidly shrinking figure of Imoen. She queried her wristcomp to analyze their vectors and felt her stomach turn to lead. Valygar’s approach vector was almost perfect, but at their relative velocities he’d run out of tetherline -before- he reached her. And with the correction he’d need to make, his suit thrusters would be nearly drained. To keep any safety margin, he’d never reach her.
And she knew he knew that. And knew exactly what he would do.
He could no more leave her to the Deeps than he could stop breathing.
Undoing her lead tether, she snapped at Minsc, “Valygar’s other tether! Give it to me!”
Minsc rushed to her side with all the speed that he could muster. Without her saying anything, his hands swapped the tethers, claiming the one she’d unhooked from the doctor and attaching Valygar’s tether to her suit. He smiled softly and nodded.
Nodding back, she said quickly, “Watch the others, I’ll be back.”
“Of course! Boo knows you will bring back noble Valygar and little Immy!”
With a final nod, she kicked off and fired her suit thrusters after the rapidly dwindling pair. It still might not be enough to save the both of them, but there was no way that she could not try.
As she accelerated away, she called out, “Valygar! I am coming up behind you!”
“Understood,” Valygar replied, acknowledging Jaheira’s call.
Force feedback controls fired his suit thrusters as he made minor corrections to his course. In his haste, he’d miscalculated his jump slightly. It was no more than a few degrees, a simple thing to do on a jump more eyeballed than calculated. However, it was enough of an error that it could prove final.
He cursed himself for the mistake. He should have taken another moment to confirm his trajectory before jumping. He told himself it was because she was speeding away and was rapidly exiting his acceleration range but he knew better. It was simply that he let emotion overrule his better judgment.
He simply could not let her go. Especially not like this. She couldn’t be lost to the Void. He wouldn’t let it happen. Not even if she was already dead.
A fist tightened around his heart as he allowed himself to consider that thought. Dispassionately, he had to consider that a real possibility. Shrapnel had severed both her tetherlines. The resultant blast had knocked her clear of the ship. And she was still not responding to hails. There was a good chance he was speeding after a…
She had to. This was Imoen, the wild, uncontrolled, unpredictable spawn of the trickster gods. Old Terra’s Coyote probably spent hours rolling in the dirt with laughter when she’d been born. He knew all the tricks and trials she’d put the universe’s sentients through and too thoroughly approved.
Especially those that infuriating little minx had in store for one Valygar Corthala. No, those had to have been of special interest. Even now, he still believed he’d heard the universe chuckle when they’d first met. And he definitely remembered quite a few of the chuckles that come from her antics in regards to his person.
There was no way that same universe would take away their favorite source of entertainment. It wasn’t possible.
He poured on more speed.
She accelerated after Valygar, doing her best to husband her thruster power. Endurance was far more critical than speed. She was the link between her lost crewmates and the very relative safety of the Helios. However, a ship full of the undead was far more appetizing than the slow death of the Deeps. At least there was still hope, at least there was an enemy to fight. The Deeps offered no such luxury, just endless expanse and the slow death of asphyxia or hypothermia.
Or the much faster death of decompression.
Shaking off that chilling image, she flicked her eyes down to her suit readouts. Imoen’s still form still sped into the Deeps but Valygar was closing the distance. His course was straight and true. Still, the wristcomp flashed yellow on the intercept. The only chance he had to reach her with tetherline support required most of his jet power and even then he would be at near maximum tetherline. He would only have a few seconds to grab her, secure her to his line and begin braking before the tetherline would snap taut.
And at the velocities they were traveling, the results of that experience could be quite interesting. The resultant kinetic energy could rip Minsc free from the ship, sending all four of them hurtling into the depths. The pullback could jerk Imoen free of Valygar’s grip, forever lost. However, far more likely would be that Minsc would hold and Valygar would secure her. No, far more likely would be that the competing stresses would meet in the middle.
If that happened, her tethers could break. Or the result could be far more spectacular. A small part of her brain worried over which would be the least pleasant.
Still, she had no other choice in the matter. If she had not gone, it was a mathematical certainly Valygar would have had to cut his tether and then it would have taken an act of the gods themselves to bring them back. Now at least they had a chance to get every one back. It was the choice that Bran would have made. It was a decision she had to make.
If Bran was going to come back to her, she could not tell him that the cost had been his sister and best friend… and that she had done nothing.
Suppressing a treacherous sniffle, she rechecked her suit displays.
There was hope.
If only they still had the Gorion.
He was going to make it.
He double checked his wristcomp to confirm what he knew, and the glowing displays did exactly that. His margin of error was effectively zero, but he was going to make it and that’s what mattered. The braking program was already set into his thruster control, awaiting only a final vector course and the commit. It was something he could do blind drunk in a second, and thankfully he was stone cold sober because he didn’t have little more time than that.
He quickly went over his rescue procedure one more time as Imoen’s suit grew larger and larger on his faceplate. Priority one was securing a grip on Imoen and her suit. Second was linking their suits together via emergency line so the resultant decel would not rip her free from his grasp. Third was firing his thrusters in a full brake. And finally, hoping and praying that he’d be able to kill enough velocity the tethers would hold.
Hands flexing to stay loose, he did a quick visual assessment of the growing form of Imoen. She was still spinning, a sign she was likely still unconscious. If she had been conscious, she could have used attitude jets to at least stabilize her flight path. There was no obvious damage to her suit, no air plumes or even worse, fluid trails sparkling out of her suit. He comms still seemed down, even her suit’s comp wasn’t responding. Add into that the stealth materials built into her suit, a full assessment of her condition and suit integrity was impossible. It’d have to wait until he got a hold of her.
Not that he wasn’t sure that she was still with him. They’d been through too much for her to go like this. The universe just wasn’t clever enough to kill her. She was too infuriating, too insufferable, too skilled at driving him insane for that to happen.
She was alive. And she was almost in his grasp.
Just a few more meters.
Minsc finished firing the last cable brace into the ship’s hull. He had full confidence in the Mighty Boots of Gravity that little lost Nalia had built into his Armor of Buttkicking, but little Aerie had asked him to be doubly sure. When Boo added his wise voice to the mix, it seemed the best choice. He could not fail the mighty heroes of Captain Bran.
And it had made little Aerie a little happier. And as her Protector, that too was part of his dajemma.
He just wished that he could reassure her more. Her eyes went from the still, suit locked form of Captain Bran to the shrinking figures of their other mighty friends. He could feel her concern and worry radiating from her slight form, and no amount of his words or Boo’s could reassure her that every one would be just fine.
How could they not? How could a ship, even an Evil Ship defeat Captain Bran? He was too great a Hero! How could little Imoen not be fine? Imoen was the greatest sneak in the universe. She had told him so herself and had she not proven she could sneak up on even the watchful eyes of Minsc and Boo? Surely she was too sneaky to be hurt. And then there was noble Valygar. Boo knew pilots and Valygar was one of the craftiest! He’d plotted the escapes from countless Evil Men and Pirates at the helm of Proud Gorion! If Pirates so Evil that even their parrots had abandoned them could not catch noble Valygar, how could he be beaten? And if Wise Jaheira had gone to assist them, then all would be well! There was no puzzle that Jaheira could not puzzle out. She seemed as wise as Boo some times. But not as cuddly.
No, they would be back shortly. And then Minsc and Captain Bran and all his mighty companions would go back to wiping the deckheads with Evil’s Naughty Buttocks!
“Five meters,” Valygar called out in a dead calm voice, belying the tension thrumming through his muscles.
Valygar’s words echoed in the Doctor’s ears as she rubbed her hands nervously. So many of her friends were in danger. Chiteka save them.
Minsc beamed up at his distant friends. Soon they would be coming back.
Jaheira braced herself as she watched the tetherlines forming the gossamer thread between ship and friends play out. There was so little slack left.
“One meter,” Valygar called out.
Imoen was just right there. Her spinning feet were just out of his grasp. He could see her suit clearly now. No rips or tears leapt out of at him, but the carbon blackening on her chest and thighs gave him pause.
She would be okay.
Just a few more seconds.
She -was- okay. He just had to reach out and grab her.
Just a few more seconds…
So close now…
A Space Odyssey - Chapter 29
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