A standalone piece from a larger story I am working on. Just a few years out of the academy, Sayarra and a comrade find themselves in a rescue situation when a resupply mission goes south.
Sayarra extended the wings slowly as the Eagle TX-21 began to enter the atmosphere. Her paws, one on the stick and another on the wing lever, constantly adjusting both to keep the ride as smooth as possible. Inside, a delicate dance between her and her spacecraft, with her feeling the craft and reacting to every minute change. Outside, the scorching hot temperature of the atmosphere slowed the spacecraft down. Heated plasma turned the outside of the view screen orange.
“Comm blackout,” she announced over the headset.
“How long?” Tiberias, seated beside her in the co-pilot seat, asked.
“Computer says three minutes, twenty seven seconds to communications recovery. After that, twelve minutes inbound to Gamma Seventeen. Approaching from the southeast to avoid the mountains, should give us some more time to burn off some speed.”
The wings were now extends fully, the vibration of the transport was notable but not unexpected. Sayarra kept her eyes on the instrument panel.
“I always loved watching this,” Tiberias mused, staring straight ahead at the windscreen.
“What?” Sayarra asked.
“The plasma,” he continued. “It reminds me of a lava lamp.”
“I’ve never seen one.” the vixen said, focusing all her energy on minute adjustments, her eyes constantly scanning the instruments.
“You’ve never seen a lava lamp?”
“I was raised in a monastery, remember?” she said softly, not looking up from the controls and still gradually adjusting the approach with her paw on the stick. “We had candles and lots of books.”
The plasma began to decrease, slowly overtaken by the blue daytime atmosphere as the transport slowed down further.
“Expecting comm recovery in five seconds.” Sayarra said. “Four, three, two, one.”
Almost immediately, both were overcome with a explosion of sounds from their headsets. It was difficult to make out anything around the static but as the seconds ticked by the signal became clear.
“We’re being overrun!” A voice over the headset finally became clear. “Station Gamma Seventeen to any ships in the area, we have heavy fighting outside the walls. We’ve fallen back to the landing pad, heavy casualties. We need air support and evacuation.”
Tiberias clicked the mic even before Sayarra could. “Gamma Seventeen, USC transport thirteen twenty seven, we are inbound now, ETA 12 minutes. How many souls and how long can you hold out?”
“Thirteen twenty seven, Gamma seventeen, we are twenty five souls total, sixteen uninjured, nine severely wounded. I’m not sure we can hold out twelve minutes.”
“Thirteen twenty seven copies.” Tiberias turned to Sayarra, “can we get there any faster?”
Sayarra glanced at the computer readout on her heads up display and did a quick bit of mental math. “Yes, I can probably shave about six minutes off the approach, but we’re going to eat a lot of fuel on the sudden slowdown at the end.”
“Will we have enough to get back to the jump gate?”
A few seconds went by as Sayarra did some more quick math. “Yes, just barely. We should be okay with the reserve fuel if you factor that in, but we’ll be coasting back out the other side on, like, atoms of antimatter. We weren’t expecting to be hauling back much of anything after this drop, so the added weight of 25 people wasn’t accounted for in the fuel computation, and we were expecting to refuel before leaving. We’ll make it back to the gate, but we’re going to need a tug when we jump out the other side. But Commander, there’s another problem.”
“That.” Sayarra turned her muzzle over her shoulder. “There’s 18 pallets of shit back there. It’s just us and the load master, and we’re not going to have time to unload them.”
A few seconds passed between them.
“Dump it,” Tiberias said.
“Wait, are you serious?” Sayarra looked over at the wolf from her spot.
“Let’s dump the fucking cargo!” Tiberias continued. “We’re evacuating the base so there’s no point in dropping it off. We don’t have the time and people to unload it, we need the space, it’ll make it easier to slow down with less weight and buy us some additional fuel. Eighteen pallets of cargo will not break the Empire’s bank.”
Before Sayarra could say anything else Tiberias bolted back to tell the load master what needed to happen. A minute later, she heard his voice over her headset.
“Lieutenant, as soon as our speed drops below 200 knots, give me ten degrees attitude and open the cargo doors. We’re going to push the pallets out.”
“Copy,” Sayarra said into the headset. “Just so you know, that’s right at the never exceed speed on the doors. They might rip off and we’ll all die. But assuming you knew that, I expect that speed in about two minutes.”
Every second felt like a decade as Sayarra watched the speed slowly fall. She threw in some air braking and did a wide, banking S-turn to bleed it off a bit faster. “Almost there,” she said. “230 knots. 220 knots. 210 knots. … 200 knots Commander, doors coming open.”
Sayarra pulled back on the stick and pulled the cargo door release handle, overriding the objection of the computer that tried to stop her. Immediately the TX-21 vibrated heavily and the unmistakable roaring of air made it virtually impossible to hear anything inside even over her headphones. Footpaws on the rudder pedals and paws on the stick, she kept the craft at 10 up as each pallet fell from the back of the transport, each accompanied by a need to readjust the center of gravity. Counting off each one until all 18 pallets were gone.
“Close up!” Tiberias yelled into the headphones. “Let’s go!”
Sayarra slammed the door control back down and pushed the nose back over. “Two minutes inbound,” she called over the intercom.
“Get us down as fast as possible,” she heard Tiberias say. “I’m going to strap in back here and help with the loading.”
The base was coming into view now. Base being a very relative term, as like many outposts in the Empire it was really nothing more than a few buildings around a landing pad, surrounded by a wall. Sprawling farmland surrounded the base, occasionally dotted by a small house. The land was worked mostly by retired legionaries and their families, along with civilians who worked for them.
In a normal time Gamma Seventeen should be a quiet little backwater, a perfect place to raise a family after the service. Probably a few hundred people. But right now the farmland was scorched by landing craft and everything was burning, thick black smoke wafting up into the sky. Sayarra could see hundreds of enemy combatants swarming the area; a few reserve USC legionaries were all that was keeping the rest of the citizenry alive.
She went through the approach checklist quickly. An explosion off her left side caught her attention just in time to jostle the TX-21. They’d been noticed. Small arms fire could be heard outside the transport.
Sayarra clicked the mic, “Commander, load master, hold onto something, this is gonna get rough.”
She slammed her footpaw down on the rudder pedal and jerked the stick hard, sending the transport into a tight spin towards the landing pad. The TX-21 howled in protest. She tried to shorten the approach and keep the approach angle high and fast as possible to present a very small target to the hostiles on the ground. Warnings flashed all over her heads up display.
Terrain, pull up! Gee-force limit!
“Speed brakes full out, deploying reverse thrust, hold on!” She called out on the headphones. She was thrown hard against her harness by the force of the braking as the speed brakes deployed. Grunting against the gee-forces across her body, she grabbed the throttle and pulled the reverse thrust levers on two of the engines to further bleed off speed while flipping the other two to downward to prepare for landing.
Gee-force limit! Gee-force limit!
Slowly she transitioned the reverse thrust to downward as the dive slowed to a level stand a few hundred meters from the landing pad. Sayarra ran through a very quick and abbreviated landing checklist as the TX-21 coasted the final hundred meters to the landing pad. Arms fire echoed all around the transport as the landing skids came to rest right in the middle of the pad just twenty meters from the terminal building.
“Commander, are you both okay back there?” She called out.
“We are alive,” came the reply. “Let’s do this.”
She switched over to the ground frequency. “Gamma Seventeen, transport thirteen twenty seven on the ground, twenty meters off the terminal building. We’re opening the doors. There’s small arms fire, you’re going to have to make a dash for it.” Flipping back to intercom, “Doors coming open.”
When the cargo doors opened, a cacophony of sounds echoed through the now mostly empty interior of the transport. The sound of explosions and gunfire were loud, clear and close.
Pulling herself out of her harness, Sayarra bolted back towards the open cargo door where Tiberias and the load master were already motioning for the stranded citizens to come towards the craft. Those that were able were carrying stretchers or helping wounded civilians towards the transport. Beyond the building she could see the wall, and hostiles climbing over it.
Sayarra grabbed her sidearm and knelt at the back of the transport. Tiberias was a few meters in front of her, covering as the survivors made as it towards the door. She counted, one, two and a stretcher, two and a stretcher, two and a stretcher, two, two. As the final numbers ticked down one was left.
“Shit, there’s a kid,” Tiberias grunted. He turned to Sayarra. “Watch my back, she’s not going to make that run herself.”
Tiberias took off across the tarmac, covering the twenty meter distance faster than Sayarra thought possible, to grab the small pup standing at the entrance of the terminal building. Wrapping her tightly to his chest, he started to dart across the tarmac. He was about five meters from the cargo doors when a loud shot echoed across the landing pad.
Tiberias fell, dropping the wailing pup.
Without even thinking, Sayarra bolted out and grabbed the child, hauling her back to the transport and into the waiting arms of one of the civilians. She turned to look back, but Tiberias hadn’t moved from where he fell. Beyond the building she could see the base perimeter had been compromised. Minutes were all that was left until there would be hostiles on the landing pad.
She ran out to Tiberias, keeping low to the ground so as not to present a large target. Reaching him, she wedged herself beneath his arms and tried to lift his heavy wolf body. A groan escaped his muzzle.
“Get the fuck out of here!”
“No,” Sayarra replied.
“No time,” he rasped.
“Fuck that noise. You’re in no position to be giving orders. I’m not leaving you behind. Now let’s go. Together. Now.” Sayarra placed special emphasized that last part.
She lifted with all her might, party dragging the wounded wolf towards the cargo door. One step, two step, counting them off with each heavy breath until she crossed the cargo door threshold. More paws were there to help the pair into the transport.
Behind her she could hear the load master as he raised the cargo doors. “Twenty five accounted for, nine, make that ten, severely wounded. Lieutenant, we have to go now.”
She turned to him, “The Commander’s still alive. Somebody here’s got to be a medic, get him stabilized.”
She darted through the cargo hold of the transport, dodging stretchers and wounded civilians, and up the ladder to the cockpit. Slamming herself down in the seat and not even bothering to strap in yet, she grabbed the headset and clicked over to the ship intercom.
“Attention on the cargo hold. We are departing now. Please hold on as you are able.”
She ran through a very quick checklist. Fuel pumps set. Fuel gauge, looks like a fucking garbage fire but oh well. Gyros, set. Thrusters, 90 down. Comms, set. Navigation, worry about that shit in orbit. Go time.
Goosing the throttles just enough to break contact with the ground, she sent some hostiles, who were now rapidly swarming the pad, flying in several directions. Sayarra gradually increased the trust and rotated the thrusters aft until the whole clusterfuck that was Gamma Seventeen faded quickly from the view screen. Trying to climb as gently as possible while still avoiding fire, she could occasionally hear a bullet bounce off the TX-21’s plated armor.
Low fuel warning.
The sky went from light blue, to dark blue, to black as the transport gained altitude quickly. She rotated the wings back for storage as the lift wore off and the thrusters took over, turning the TX-21 into a missile. The stars appeared as the altitude and speed increased. After a couple more minutes the transport reached escape velocity and, a few minutes after that, as they reached orbit. But to Sayarra, every minute felt like an hour. And it was lonely up here without Tiberias.
Low fuel warning.
“Lieutenant, load master.” She heard over the intercom.
“We’ve lost one of the wounded civilians,” the load master replied over the headphones. She could hear the sadness in his voice. “Commander’s shot up pretty bad but he’s stable. Thankfully one of the survivors was a legionary medic or we would be fucked. How long are we going to need to hold out back here.”
Reserve fuel warning.
“Looking at that, hold,” Sayarra replied. She flipped the navigation charts up on her screen. They had left Capricornus Station on this milk run three days ago with seven stops. Gamma Seventeen was the last, and they were supposed to return there. Well that’s not fucking happening, she grumped. Not enough fuel and not enough time. She flipped through the charts until she found a suitable satellite base.
“Loadmaster, Lieutenant Sayarra.”
“We don’t have enough fuel or time to make it back to Capricornus Station.” Sayarra replied. “Satellite base three is the nearest safe port. It’s about 2 hours and we’re going to coast out of the the jump gate on fumes. Can our passengers hold out that long.”
“Yeah, I think we can do that. The wounded are stable.”
She punched in the coordinates for Capricornus satellite base three, overriding the warnings about the lack of range, and set the autopilot. She didn’t even bother watching the jump point form ahead of the TX-21. She just leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes.
What a fucking day.
Kira is an Alabama-based collie dog permanently stuck in 1999. Her hobbies include software, trains, and doting on her wife, daughter and far too many cats. Lover of comfort foods, science fiction, alternative rock and progressive rock. Often wandering around without a clue. Proudly weird, proudly queer. 🏳️🌈🏳️⚧️