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Episode Thirty-Three

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The Enemy ships began to change direction more quickly than I imagined that any ship that size could. Shrock, I had miscalculated badly! My course was going to take us perilously close to them. I tried to keep a few rocks between my ship and them. I failed. Everything was going wrong, again. An amber light flashed on my console. I opened up the suit comlinks. "Incoming missile!"

I tried to get some more rocks between us and the Enemy, and their missiles, but the flashing amber light turned a steady red. Great. It had locked on. "Brace for impact in 10 seconds."

I turned to Nar'Bon, who had taken his place at the scanners, as he always does. I saw the same look in his eye that mine held. I hate this waiting. Waiting for my ship to be destroyed again. My ship that had been so well repaired that it was like new, better than I had ever had it. Waiting for possible death. Waiting. We had no hope. The seconds dragged by until *BOOM*. Number two engine gone. Blown out. No time to worry about it now. Two were enough for us to run towards the gate on. Only then number one sputtered and died. "Russell, can you see what is wrong with the number one drive? Two is gone. We need more than one to have even a slight chance to get away from the Redeemed."

"I'll see what I can do." There was silence over the comms for a few moments. "Does this make a difference?"

Number one engine came back on line for all of about five seconds, but suddenly that wasn't a major concern.

Ahead of us, the jumpgate sparked and opened. Sensors picked something up when a sudden flash of light erupted at the gate. A shock wave billowed out from the gate.

I gaped at it, and then instinctively sent out a distress call. If that shock wave hit us, we would be vapourised. I edged my crippled ship back towards the asteroid field and tried to flee. All we could do was limp.

The Redeemed were departing rapidly - they seemed to have lost interest in the Na'Ka'Ri'Tal. They would not be able to outrun this shockwave. However, nor could I.

The Earthers have a phrase. If you can't run, hide. Quite cowardly, actually - I prefer to fight myself. But there was no fighting with this shockwave, and I couldn't run. So I hid the Na'Ka'Ri'Tal behind the largest lump of rock I could find. Then I prayed to G'Quan that he protect all of our lives.

The shockwave hit the asteroid. A much diminished force hit my ship and rattled it like an Earther pouchling toy. All power went down, taking all the systems with it. The ship bounced and shuddered and we rattled around like beads in an Earther toy.

The shockwave passed. G'Quan had been with us. Nar'Bon and I had survived at least. With any luck, we should be able to get something back on line, and maybe even get to the jumpgate or, failing that, back to Markab.

Then something physically hit the ship. My poor Na'Ka'Ri'Tal protested and screamed and I heard and felt girders bending under the pressure of whatever had hit us. We rocked and shook all over again.

The shrieking of tortured metal faded away. I was still alive. Nar'Bon was still in his seat behind me. But what of the rest of my crew? I pounded at the intercom, but it did not come back on line. Suit comms would do better. "Djikiden! Russell! Are you there?"

The Pak'ma'ra answered. "I am well enough. Russell has injured his head. There is blood in his helmet and he is non-responsive. I am starting EMR."

The emergency lighting flickered and came on. Nar'Bon had activated the system manually. We had dim lighting and air recyc for some hours, all running off battery power. If I replaced the transponder chip, that should automatically function too.

I pulled the panel open and as carefully as I could slotted the chip back in. Nothing happened. A light should blink at all times when the transponder was active. I pounded the panel furiously. It had to work. Without it, if we couldn't get my ship working, noone would ever find us.

If there was anyone left to find us.

I took quick stock of the situation. Only the emergency systems were working. Wonderful. The Human, my engineer, the only one who could repair the systems, was wounded. Even better, the transponder was non-functional. Make my day, as the Humans say. I pondered these problems briefly, then returned to pounding the transponder box.

Shrock, shrock, SHROCK! I pounded the console and swore mightily. The transponder had to work! Something had to work! I had only had my ship back for one day and now it was slagged again! I hadn't contacted either Ja'Hut or So'Kath and now...I doubted that I ever would.

"Ah, Captain. Captain!" It was Nar'Bon who interrupted me. I swung around at him. "Captain Na'Tiel! We are losing atmosphere here. Djikiden reports that the central corridor is maintaining air pressure. I suggest we leave."

Oh, no. Not more things.

There comes a point where matters become so bad that you just start accepting them and no longer get angry or fight against your fate. I was rapidly reaching that point. I checked my suit readings. Yup, we were losing air. I unstrapped myself and followed Nar'Bon down out of the command deck, shutting the emergency hatch behind me.

The Human had regained consciousness, of a sort, by the time Nar'Bon and I joined him and the Pak'ma'ra in the crew quarters. He was dazed and covered in blood. It had glooped in his eyes, half blinding him. The Pak'ma'ra was trying to clean the mess up, and doing a fairly poor job at it - he obviously had no experience with treating wounds in zero-G. He was doing something to the wound - Pak'ma'ra medicine presumably, but I wasn't sure what his tentacles had to do with it. I left him to it - he seemed happy enough and Russell wasn't complaining of anything but a sore head. The blood hitting the bulkheads seemed rather appropriate and could be cleaned up later. It was the least of my problems.

Russell's vacsuit helmet had a massive crack running across the whole faceplate. He was lucky that he hadn't been exposed to a vaccuum. The faceplate would have blown out for sure, and Humans cannot stand even brief exposures to a vaccuum (a voice whispered to me that Narns can't live in a vaccuum either). There were a couple of spare helmets, so he would be able to use one of those.

As soon as Russell was cleaned up, I asked him to see what he could do with the ship's systems. "I understand that your head hurts, but believe me, much more than your head will hurt if we don't get life support fully back on line. I need to know what computer systems can be repaired and what is irreparably damaged."

He protested and didn't want to move because it hurt his head. It was a worry because I needed the knowledge stored in that precious squishy brain. Pushing him now could be dangerous - Humans are such fragile creatures, but all of our hides were on the line. The Pak'ma'ra handed Russell a new helmet and volunteered to help him.

We propped Russell up, pumped him full of mild painkillers and set him to work on the power generating and computer systems. We needed to know where we were and what was around us and what had happened. Later on we could try to repair the drives.

Only the central corridor and the living quarters were still airtight, and we needed to access all parts of the ship without worrying about losing more air or worrying about explosive decompression. We pumped the remaining air back into storage and opened the Na'Ka'Ri'Tal to the vaccuum.

Engineering was a mess. Engine three was slagged, completely and utterly - it had caught some of the force of the shock wave. Engine two was disabled by the missile, but some parts could possibly be salvaged. Drive one was damaged, but Russell believed that he could bring it back on line given time and a bit of luck.

The consoles in the engineering bay seemed mostly intact. When we pulled off access panels, the computer systems did not show any obvious signs of damage. Of course, the transponder had not shown any signs of damage either, but it still did not work.

We left the Human in engineering to see what he could do. The Pak'ma'ra decided that he would weld the access way to the third drive as this would most likely restore the atmosphere seal to engineering.

Nar'Bon and I went EVA to assess the external damage. From the airlock side, little seemed damaged - the paint on the hull was blistered and pock marked as often happens with older ships. However, my ship had been freshly repainted. As we jetted around the front, the extent of the damage became apparent.

There was a good reason for the transponder not working. The communications arrays had been melted. Chunks of asteroid had peppered the hull and broken away part of the sensor bank. Cargo pods one and two had first partly melted and then been rammed by the asteroid we had sheltered behind. They may as well be cut free - they were beyond repair. The whole side of the ship facing the shock wave had been slagged and was pocked by chunks of rock. Every protruding part was now rounded or had been shorn off. I could have wept but crying in a vacsuit is not good policy.

The landing gear, the drives, nearly all of the airtanks - of eight all bar one were empty - communications...all were gone. We had some fuel left, not that it would do us any good if we had no means of propulsion.

I looked at Nar'Bon and he spread his hands helplessly. "Oh well. Time to see if we can get this airtight again."

We worked for hours, making the ship airtight whilst Russell fussed over the systems, trying to restore computer function. He got some of the systems back on line, but most would never work again. Sensors could not work without their array, nor could comms.

One of the first things I did when Russell announced that he had brought the main computer up was to access the records of what had happened in those last few seconds before we were nearly blown to smithereens.

The scanners showed the jumpgate opening. Systems could not identify the ship that came through, and nor could any of us. It was of totally unfamiliar design. It was moving much, much faster than any ship I had ever seen, even these fancy Markab-Redeemed ships. Then something else happened, and the jumpgate blew up. It looked like a jumppoint opened within the jumpgate, but that was impossible! The ship was much too small to make its own jump point. The strange ship tried to outrun the shockwave. At that point, I had gotten the Na'Ka'Ri'Tal around and was limping towards the asteroid. Shortly after that, scanners broke up into static.

So, the jumpgate had been destroyed. It must have been destroyed. I showed the records to my crew and heard their soft sounds of dismay. "Looks like we are going back to Markab, like it or not. Maybe the Redeemed will allow us to borrow one of their ships." I smiled wryly. Humour at a time like this...

We helped Russell as much as we could with the repair of drive one. It was difficult piecing together an engine when the parts required were not there. I didn't normally carry spares for the parts he needed - they were normally very reliable. Only abnormal use, such as being fired upon by missiles or being slagged by shockwaves, would cause them to break down, and how often does that happen to the average freighter?

When we finally had the engine on line enough to push us towards Markab, we only had three days of oxygen left. Plus whatever was in the reserve vacsuit tanks. It would be a four day trip.

We had no sensors, so I could not use them to help plot a course towards Markab. We had the sensor records, however, from which I could navigate us back to Markab. There were plenty of stars to fly by as well. Only problem was that we wouldn't survive long enough to negotiate re-entry or docking with a station or anything.

Russell was mucking around with the navcomp. I noticed that our course had changed by a degree or two.

"Russell, what are you doing?"

"I don't know. I just feel that we should go this way. I-I...."

I looked at him sharply. He had seemed strange ever since he had hit his head. Stranger than normal, that is. "Have you seen Kimmini, by any chance? Did she appear to you in a vision?"

The Human looked surprised and nervous. "Uhh, yeah. I just feel that we have to go this way."

"Then we will go wherever you say."

His eyes widened but then he relaxed a bit. Nar'Bon looked at me as if I had lost my mind, and voiced his opinion in no uncertain terms. I told him that we were going wherever Kimmini said we should. The Pak'ma'ra backed me up. Nar'Bon could whinge all he liked, but we were following the course the Human set. This ship had become a democracy, but only when the others agreed with me.

After about an hour, passives picked something up ahead of us. Shortly after that, I could see something occluding stars as it tumbled slowly. We caught up to a piece of debris - a part of a drive by the looks of it.

"This is it. This is the thing I came here to find," breathed the Human. "It may have the parts we need to get this thing going again."

Russell, the Pak'ma'ra and I went EVA. Nar'Bon thought we were all mad, but I trusted that Russell had had a true vision of Kimmini and I also trusted that the alien pouchling was reaching from beyond the grave for a purpose. So we jetted across to the drive.

It was much bigger than any of us and bigger than the engines on the Na'Ka'Ri'Tal. The Human examined the drive closely and directed us to pull apart or cut free certain bits. He said that he had to find something special. We heard his squawk and he came back to show us a metal plate with the scratchings of the Redeemed upon it. He said that it was what he had come here for - the engine bits were just incidental. However, having those bits would bring the efficiency of the drive to around 90% rather than the 50% that it currently suffered.

We returned to the Na'Ka'Ri'Tal, where Russell made the necessary repairs. We would now just make it back to Markab before the air became totally unbreathable, but it would be a close thing, and very unpleasant for several hours beforehand.

Russell added to the misery of the trip. He managed to patch together a radio dish so that we could at least receive, if not send, transmissions. It seemed that the Redeemed were moving against the many scavengers infesting Markab. So many distress calls came in, pleading for help. Some gave planetary coordinates specifying the launch site of the Redeemed ships. All ended abruptly, leaving only static in their wake.

We did indeed make it to Markab, but only by using the last of the reserve tanks of vacsuit air. The atmosphere aboard the Na'Ka'Ri'Tal was turgid with the scent of fear and unwashed bodies and I was glad to seek the shelter of clean bottled air.

We couldn't find any spacedocks - whilst a number had presumably survived the Redeemed attacks, without active scanners we could not see more than a little of our immediate surroundings. I couldn't set the Na'Ka'Ri'Tal down on the surface of Markab - I didn't have enough fuel to boost it back into orbit, and anyway, we only had one drive. It was the Pak'ma'ra who suggested that we use the escape pods and make re-entry using those. We could drop the Na'Ka'Ri'Tal into a low orbit, jettison ourselves in the pods, then have the Na'Ka'Ri'Tal return to a high, stable orbit on a pre-programmed command. Then we could trek to the Redeemed base which had launched the attack and steal a jump-capable ship. Yeah, right, and I'm the reincarnation of G'Quan.

Of course, whatever happened, my ship was useless without a jump gate. I just didn't want to leave it stranded on the surface of Markab with no hope of ever flying between the stars again. Slagged and ready to be sold as scrap metal as it was, the Na'Ka'Ri'Tal still had meaning to me.

I packed some things that were precious to me, copied the main systems records from the Na'Ka'Ri'Tal, including those that encrypted the simulation of Na'Tal, and prepared to leave my ship. I had to leave the ship - staying was certain death.

Nar'Bon joined me in the cramped confines of the pod. He nodded to me after he webbed himself into the crash couch. I reached up and pulled the lever that would manually disengage us from the Na'Ka'Ri'Tal. Small thrusters pushed us away from my ship. I watched it as it boosted away from us. I had the funny feeling that I would never see it again.

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Na'Tiel's Story / Lynne / last modified 29 February, 2000