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Episode Twenty-Four

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The day passed, and the last lot of goods was being loaded as we walked up to the personnel ramp. I had packed more cans and some of the sweet cereal, and still carried water with me - I was not going to be very far from food for some time to come. Not that I didn't trust our ride, oh no. I didn't trust anyone here, except Nar'Bon.

We were led up into an area that looked like an eating area and left to our own devices. I had been under the impression that we would be in the brig so that we couldn't cause any problems. The Pak'ma'ra immediately raided the cupboards. I guessed that he was looking for something to eat that wasn't Markab from his whistle of delight as he pulled out an Earther-labelled can. The hatches banged shut, and the engines began warming.

The rumbling of the ship had just reached the point where I thought we would be lifting off when something hit the hull. The engines strained and pushed harder against the ground. Another blow hit the ship.

"Shrock! Something's firing upon us!"

Whatever was attacking the freighter was still doing so as it lifted off and began lumbering towards the stars. It slowly accelerated to a point where we were suffering around 1.5G. The Pak'ma'ra kept stolidly stirring the pot of whatever he had found to eat whilst I ate more of the sweet-tasting cereal I had found in the Markab farmhouse. The freighter was taking remarkable punishment, and I was surprised that it could actually still fly.

An almighty boom rocked the ship. It felt and sounded like one of the engines had been destroyed. The ship lurched and tipped to one side. Alarms began sounding. The Pak'ma'ra abandoned his food as it slid off the heating appliance.

A Human ran past the mess area. I grabbed him. "What's happening?"

He wailed something I couldn't understand at me and ducked under my arm and ran up the passageway towards the front of the ship. Signs pointed to emergency exits where presumably life pods were kept. We moved as one towards the front of the ship and presumably the bridge. Perhaps Russell and I could offer some help.

The corridor forked - one passage towards the bridge, one towards a lifepod. We started towards the bridge when we all noticed a familiar falling sensation. We were accelerating all right, but in the wrong direction....

Shrock! I had finally thought that we were going to get off this blighted planet, that everything was going to be good, that finally I would get to see my beloveds.

The Pak'ma'ra flung himself past me and fled down the corridor to the life pod. He was strapping himself in as the ship started falling. Our rate of fall caused us to become weightless. I pulled myself hand over hand into a crash couch and webbed in quickly. Nar'Bon was doing the same, but as usual Russell was struggling. The Pak'ma'ra armed the pod and we blasted away from the ship.

Parachutes deployed above us, jerking us back in the couches. We started to drift down slowly, and the freighter rapidly passed us on its planetbound fall. Our pod bounced and jerked in the wake of the ship. Two fliers of Markab design followed it down, still occasionally firing at it. As we slowly spun around, we saw a handful of other lifepods descending.

Our lifepod was still stabilising in its flight as the ship hit the airport far below us. A great gout of flame burst out of it. Our pod bounced enough to affect its chutes. One twisted and buckled, and we started falling towards the Earth far more rapidly.

"Emergency chute engaging. Failure. Emergency chute engaging. Failure."

We were falling to the ground as a rapid pace, or more rapidly that I believed the pod could take and land successfully. I pounded my fist impotently into the crash couch. Shrock, shrock, SHROCK! Why was this happening to me? I had finally thought that we were going to get out of this place, but no, I was going to be stuck here for even longer! I hated Markab. I never wanted to see its surface again, and now look where I was bound. Of course it was entirely possible that I may not survive the crash. I sat and cursed my luck and bemoaned my fate. It just wasn't fair.

The Human actually did something! He pulled off his crash couch webbing and opened the top hatch. "I'll just see if I can do anything," he said and stuck his head out of the hatch. He pulled at something, and a piece of panel went flying away. "Anyone got a soldering iron?" The Pak'ma'ra loosened his webbing and handed up Russell's toolkit. "Ah, excellent." Then a moment later -"Can you hold onto this?" and he dropped something on the Pak'ma'ra.

Out of a port hole I could see the Markab fliers. Bright flashes lit the air and one of the other pods began dropping quickly, its chutes flaming and leaving a trail of smoke. We still had maybe a thousand units to fall. "Shrock! They're attacking the other lifepods!"

The Pak'ma'ra was looking as desperate as I've ever seen him look. "Hold off on fixing that last relay, Russell, until I give the word."

The ground was rushing towards us, and the Pak'ma'ra watched the altimeter closely. "Now!"

Russell did something, and the emergency chute bust out of its container. The pod jerked upwards, and he fell on top of the Pak'ma'ra. "Ouch! Oo, that hurt" moaned the Human. The Pak'ma'ra just blanched a little.

Then we hit the ground, and Russell landed back on top of the Pak'ma'ra. This time the Pak'ma'ra squawked with pain. "Oops, sorry, hope I didn't break anything" Russell apologised. He clambered off the Pak'ma'ra who tried to sit up. He muttered and clutched at his side. I grabbed my bag and collected the cans that had fallen out, then fled out the hatch.

I ran from the crash site of both pod and freighter. Nar'Bon was close behind me, but Russell and the Pak'ma'ra were lagging. My mind fought between self preservation and helping those who were wounded. Self preservation won. I ran ahead down the street.

Over the sound of my desperately beating heart I heard something rumbling. A troop carrier turned around the corner ahead and stopped. Armed humanoids leapt out, pointing pulse rifles at me. I stopped and sank down, utterly dispirited.

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