27 Jun

Desperation

Ship's log, 14:39, 28 March 2214
Location: Spaceport, Seville, Spain, Earth
Status: Landing

 

External communications line

STARRY: (Spanish) Landing on platform A-16, acknowledged. Are the docking clamps really necessary, Port Authority? We’re just dropping someone off.

SEVILLE PORT AUTHORITY: (Spanish) Regulations, Starwalker. You must wait for take-off clearance with docking clamps engaged.

STARRY: (sighing) Acknowledged. Requesting immediate dust-off.

PORT AUTH: You haven’t landed yet.

STARRY: Just getting in the queue, Port Authority.

 

Landing gear extending

 

I’ve never used my landing gear before; the only planetside docking I’ve done was in a water port. They feel stiff and new. Think anyone will notice if I flex my feet as I come around to land?

It’s a weird little spaceport. Built for shuttles and small ships like me; I’m almost the maximum size for its docking platforms. Hardly any ships on the platforms right now, though; I see a couple over the other side of the plain, but otherwise it’s pretty empty. Lots of small ground vehicles zipping around, though. And, for some reason, a lot of people clustered around the edges of the installation.

Here we are, swinging around to line up with platform A-16. Restraining the urge to wiggle my toes. Danika has done this a thousand times but I’ve never landed on anything solid before. Have to be careful I don’t touch down too hard. The tar-sheet contacts the pressure sensors on my feet and gives under my weight. I didn’t expect it to be spongy. Better that than a solid plate that could be cracked by a bad landing, I guess.

I land carefully, touch down and settle my weight onto the platform. My landing gear flexes, softening the impact even further and lowering me into my standard landed pose, crouched on solid ground. My wings swivel back to their usual flight position and fold in against my sides.

And the docking clamps rise up from either side, padded mouths coming to sucker hungrily onto me.

 

Docking clamps engaged
Engines disabled
Thrusters disabled
Weapons disabled
Powering down for docked status

 

Bugger.

Kess and her friends are gathered in my forward cargo hold with the SecOffs and most of the crew. The captain was overseeing the landing from the Bridge (I think he likes his new chair), but he’s heading down to see her off now, too.

Lang Lang is there, trying not to cry as she says goodbye to the star. Of everyone in the crew, she has spent the most time with Kess. Questions full of wonder and childlike curiosity. Now she looks like her hero is about to walk away. The others are more decorous in their farewells.

My internal atmosphere is cycling to match the pressure outside. The air here is cleaner than Hong Kong’s, so I open both sets of airlocks and let the warm breeze in. It still tastes of more chemicals than I like. I extend a ramp I’ve never used before, from the base of my airlock doors down to the ground.

 

Location: Cargo Bay 1

KESS: (turns her head towards the opening airlock. Sunlight spills onto the cargo bay floor and a ruffle of air disturbs her hair. She smiles, knowing that she’s home.)

CAPTAIN: (entering from the ship side of the cargo bay) Starry, are we secure?

STARRY: (appearing between the captain and the knot of people in the centre of the bay, and turning to walk with him) Yes, captain. Docked and clamped. There’s a vehicle approaching to take our guests up to the port terminal building.

CAPT: Thank you. Kess, it seems that everything is in order.

KESS: (turning back to look at the captain) Yes, it does. Thank you all for your hospitality.

CAPT: (reaches to shake her hand) I’m glad we could come to a peaceful arrangement.

KESS: (takes his hand in both of hers and holds it for a moment) As am I. Good luck, captain. I hope you find what you’re looking for.

CAPT: (a frown tugs briefly, then he nods and smiles at her.)

KESS: (releases his hand and looks around at those gathered to see them off) I hope the next time we meet, it is under happier circumstances.

(The nods of acknowledgement vary in their wariness and sadness.)

KESS: (turns to her two crewmates and gestures for them to come with her as she walks towards the airlock.)

(Sasha and Warren exchange a glance and murmur their own goodbyes to those gathered around. They don’t hesitate to follow their avatar off the ship, looking relieved as they squint up into the bright sky. They breathe in the planet-side air as if it’s sweeter than the ship-cleaned atmosphere.)

 

There they go. Hard to believe it’s this easy.

Kess and the captain talked about the Lieutenant going with them. No-one is eager to have a prisoner aboard, but he would be hard to explain to customs if he disembarked here. There’s some doubt about the legal status of his identity; I think he may be on record as being dead. Considering the extent of his cybernetic replacements, most of which seem to have been done after a horrible accident, I can see how he might have been presumed deceased.

Besides, Kess says that he would be able to vouch for the change in contract status, if we should bump into pirates before they receive her retraction. Lieutenant Laurence seemed okay with that. The doctor has made some progress on fixing up his implants, so he might even move out of Med Bay and into a spare cabin soon.

Funny how things change. I don’t even mind him being on board any more.

Kess and her friends have stepped off the ramp. If I switch to external sensors, I can keep an eye on them as they head across the platform to where the vehicle will meet them.

 

CAPT: (standing within the airlock’s arms with the other crew to watch the star’s progress) Starry, how long until we can depart?

STARRY: I’m negotiating with the Port Authority, but– (The avatar blinks.) Hold on. I’m picking up… captain, Chief, you’d better take a look at this.

CAPT and CAMERON: (turn to look at the avatar, who pulls up a holographic image from the external sensors.)

(The image shows a flood of people rushing through a breach in a perimeter fence. They’re all on foot and running hard. People of all shapes and sizes, huffing and red-faced, determinedly surging forward towards their goal.

The projection pulls back, showing that the front-runners are almost to the edge of the platform. They seem to be heading straight for the occupants of platform A-16.)

STARRY: I’m picking up some comms chatter. The port is scrambling security forces to this area. ETA… ten minutes.

CAMERON: They won’t make it in time. Brasco! Swann! Grab your guns and come with me.

ROSIE and SWANN: (run to collect weapons from the lockers at the rear of the cargo bay.)

CAMERON: (heads down to the base of the ramp.)

STARRY: What the hell do they want?

CAPT: (turning to look out of the airlock. The tide of incoming people is easily visible.) Passage off-planet.

STARRY: Can’t we just…

CAPT: (shakes his head) Look at their faces, Starry. They’re desperate people. Nothing more dangerous than that. If they swarm the ship, we could all be in danger.

STARRY: Oh.

CAPT: We need to take off. Now.

STARRY: On it.

 

External communications line

STARRY: (Spanish) Port Authority! I need immediate take-off!

PORT AUTH: (Spanish) You are queued for take-off as requested, and…

STARRY: Fuck your queue! I have an emergency situation down here. We have a mob incoming.

PORT AUTH: Security is on its way to deal with the trespassers.

STARRY: And what, I’m just supposed to sit here while they sort it out?

PORT AUTH: Yes please, Starwalker. They will be with you shortly.

 

Fuck that.

 

Location: Engineering

STARRY: Elliott, I need you to get these docking clamps off me. Now.

ELLIOTT: (looks up from a processing unit he’s fiddling with half-heartedly) What? Why?

STARRY: We have a bunch of crazy people running our way and I need to take off before they get here.

ELLIOTT: Shit. Okay. (He jumps off his stool and grabs his toolbelt.) Can you break the coded locks?

STARRY: Working on it, but it’s going to take time. If you can do anything about the physical side, that’d help too.

ELLIOTT: Gotcha.

BYTE: (leaps off the counter to land on the toolbelt as the engineer rushes off. The drone skitters up to Elliott’s shoulder, determined not to be left behind.)

 

Goddamn docking locks. I can’t even power up until they’re released.

That’s a lot of people. Has to be a couple of hundred, easy. I couldn’t give passage to that many even if I wanted to. There’s children in there, being dragged along by their arms or carried. Is the situation down here really so bad?

I see now why there were so many delays in getting down here, if this is what the ports are all dealing with. I think they put me over here to keep me away from the crowds. Shame they didn’t know about the one pressing against the perimeter fences.

Oh god, Kess. She’s out there, between me and the oncoming flood. Stopped walking now, assessing the situation. She’s putting Warren and Sasha behind her, even though she’s tiny. The front-runners are veering towards her.

The vehicle that’s supposed to be picking them up has stalled a hundred metres away. The trespassers are all over it. It’s only a light ground vehicle, not built with any kind of defensive capability. It’s rocking like they’re trying to tip it over.

 

Location: Cargo Bay 1

STARRY: Port Authority won’t release the docking clamps, captain. I’ve got Elliott on it.

CAPT: Soon as you can, Starry.

STARRY: I know! Captain, they’re reaching Kess.

CAPT: Chief!

CAMERON: (from the bottom of the ramp, hefting a heavy weapon against her hip) Acknowledged! Brasco, don’t let anyone on that ramp. Swann, with me.

 

External sensors

(Rosie stays at the bottom of the ramp, while Cameron and Swann move off at a jog. They fan out and move towards the trio stranded in the open expanse of the landing platform. The dangerous whine of weapons arming stretches across the tar-sheet.

A couple of hundred metres away, the ground vehicle is still rocking. There’s a knot of a scuffle, and then a body is thrown free, landing in a hard sprawl face-down on the ground. Its uniform identifies it as a port staffmember: the vehicle’s driver. He struggles to push himself up, but they’re on him again right away and his arms buckle. Legs rise and fall as they vent their anger on him, kicking even after he stops trying to protect himself.)

 

Location: Cargo Bay 1

STARRY: (quietly) Captain, I think they killed the driver.

CAPT: (frowning) I know.

ELLIOTT: (jogs through the cargo bay, heading for the ramp.)

STARRY: Elliott, you can’t go out there!

ELLIOTT: (hesitating) You want these clamps off or not? I can’t do it from in here.

STARRY: (looks helplessly at the captain) But–

CAPT: (to Elliott as he turns to head for the weapons locker) Monaghan, take Brasco with you. (Over comms,) Chief, get those civillians back here, now.

CAMERON: (over comms) Fast as I can, sir!

ELLIOTT: (scowls and jogs down the ramp.)

 

I don’t like this. I can’t protect them if they’re not on board! They have to come back, they all have to come back and then I’ll seal up all the airlocks and we’ll wait until it all blows over. They can’t rock me until my people fall out.

My captain is hefting a gun. Ebling is grabbing a weapon, too, and Cirilli is picking one up like she’s not sure what she’s doing. Lang Lang is retreating with wide eyes, preferring to stay out of the way. I’m calling the doctor down to the cargo bay. All of my drones are heading there too. They’re not attack drones – not even defense drones – but when it comes down to it, they’re made of metal and people are squishy.

Cameron and Swann are moving up to flank Kess’s friends, trying to get them to fall back. I can barely see what’s happening. The gathering around them is jostling and shouting, so many languages, so much fear choking up the scene. Kess is speaking – I have to hone my sensors to pick up what she’s saying.

 

External sensors

KESS: …no need to rush, we can arrange passage for you and your families…

INTERLOPER #1: (Spanish) Liar! You’re just like the rest!

INTERLOPER #2: (German) You’ll leave us here to rot!

KESS: (holding her hands out in a soothing gesture) We’re landing here because we want to help. You will all be helped, you have my–

INTERLOPER #3: (Chinese) Your word means nothing to us!

 

Kess is trying to back her people away, but there are more joining the group all the time and pressing towards them. Cameron and Swann are struggling to get to them.

 

External comms line

STARRY: Port Authority! Where the hell is that security force!

PORT AUTH: On its way, Starwalker, you need to be patient.

STARRY: Things are about to get really fucking nasty…

 

Location: Cargo Bay 1

STARRY: Captain! Sensors picking up weapons in the crowd.

CAPT: (over comms, tensely) Chief, Monaghan, move it along.

 

Children and babies and goddamn guns. My SecOffs are stuck out in the open, completely exposed. The captain is covering my ramp. Rosie is covering Elliott. Kess and her friends are holding back a furious tide and losing.

And I can’t do a goddamn thing. I’m stripping out the protocols around the docking clamps but not fast enough. Not fast enough. Hurry, Elliott! Cut the lines, get me free! Before someone–

 

External sensors

(GUNSHOT.)

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9 Responses to “Desperation”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Awww…

    Poor Starry, poor Kess…

    I hope they will make it…

    argh… cliffhanger…

    I hate those…

    mjkj

  2. targetdrone Says:

    i concur… but most of all..

    awww poor us…

    that was a very mean cliffhanger….

    if you plan on those again i have to suspend reading to have some backlog and stop reading mid-story again 😛

  3. Francisco Says:

    I don’t know why but I can’t shake the impression that it was Kess who just got shot.

  4. targetdrone Says:

    well.. if it was kess who was shot, they better hope it didn’t annoy her too much… i belive a flare of anger from sol’s avatar could prove … unhealthy…

  5. mjkj Says:

    Yeah, a small outburst of Kess could cook them all…

    I just hope that Starry and Elliott are able to break loose soon…

    mjkj

  6. Salrissa Says:

    I would have thought the exchange with Port Authority should have gone something like this:

    “We’ll engage in a hover until our slot comes up, but you will release the clamps now or by your failure to release we will hold you financially responsible for any damage to this ship or it’s crew. Could I have you full name for our records, please?” 🙂

    She probably should have told them their driver had been attacked by the mob and that weapons were present. 🙁

  7. mjkj Says:

    Good idea, Salrissa…

    …that might have worked…

    mjkj

  8. Melanie Says:

    Aww, sorry guys. Hate to leave you hanging, but there’s sooo much more to come on this. Couldn’t do it all in one go! 😉

    On the plus side, I try not to do cliffhangers like that too often!

    Salrissa – true! Unfortunately, the docking clamps disable most of Starry’s systems, including propulsion, so she can’t hover. Yet. That’s what she and Elliott are working on!
    Love the notion about passing the cost on to them. 😀

  9. mjkj Says:

    I know you rarely do cliffhangers 🙂

    and I like that 😀

    thank you *hugs*

    mjkj