The dirty gray and brown ball that was Regina hung against the velvet curtain of the black. The ‘discussion’ had long since been settled, and Tyler sat on the bridge in silent dissent. The argument was a simple one and money had won out over morals. It wasn’t the first time time that had happened, and certainly wouldn’t be the last, but there was just something about this drop that didn’t sit right with him.
The soft chime of jewelry announcing her presence, Vanya let herself into the room without a word. Her delicate hand rested on the seatback for a fraction of a second before turning it to face her. Then, because even after three years it was still perfectly natural, she helped herself to a seat on Tyler’s lap, waiting for him to turn them back to the window so they could watch the sky together.”You’re too tense,” she complained after a long moment, her head resting against her brother’s shoulder.
Ty smiled in spite of himself and swung the chair back around, lowering it so that Vanya wouldn’t scrape her legs. The routine was an old one. A comfortable one. Still… “Can’t help it. Somthin’ just ain’t right,” Ty paused as a shudder ran through the ship. “Even Alice knows somethin’s off.”
Her head lifted slightly as she listened in silence. “She knows when you’re off.” Burgundy curls splayed across his shoulder as she relaxed against him again. Slowly her head turned so she could look up at his face. “Ty, if something is off… this hardly seems like the way to prepare.”
He grumbled, “You know we just make this stuff up as we go.” For that she thumped him in the chest. He shifted in his seat. Not because her weight was in any way a burden, but so it would be easier for her to take the controls. “Doesn’t matter. The Preacher’s got a couple of absolutions with my name on them if this all goes bad. You want to take her in?” Changing the subject to flying had a nearly universal chance of success with Vanya.
Those violet eyes lit up. Her fingers were already firmly grasping the yoke as she looked back at him, a mischievous smile tugging at her lips. “You didn’t pluck me off Repose just in time to need those absolutions,” she told him, settling into the familiar comfort of Alice’s controls in front of her and her brother at her back. “And just because you make it up doesn’t make you unprepared.” That smile grew until it lit her face. “Just aggravating.”
Regina loomed large in front of them as Vanya adjusted their approach vector for planet-fall. With the bridge and it’s large viewports positioned keel-side the Companion rolled Alice onto her back so the ablative shielding would take the brunt of re-entry. The cherry glow of upper atmosphere began it’s slow creep into view.
“Makes things more excit-” Tyler’s words dropped off as another shudder, stronger than the last, ran through Alice. “Deng yi miao. Jacks!” he yelled, punching the ship’s intercom. “You in the engine room?”
“Nope, in the Rabbit, making sure she’s ready for Miss Jahnatt. Why?” the engineer’s tinny voice replied.
While she could never claim to know Alice like he did, Vanya knew her brother. And she knew that tone. “You didn’t feel that?” the companion cut in, her own voice tense. Leaving Tyler’s lap as gracefully and quickly as she could, she took the other seat to give him room to work his magic.
“You might want to give some thought to getting there. Now.”
The engineer’s reply was lost, as a muffled explosion rocked the Looking Glass. Tyler and Vanya were pitched forward against the control panels. Sounds from the rear let them know that everyone else aboard had experienced the sudden unsettling. Lights dimmed, then went out completely along with most of the gauges and indicators in the cockpit. Emergency lights slowly came to life, only momentarily blocked out with Dru’s arrival on the bridge.
“What the Hell? Felt like someone set off a nuke in the engine room.” He was forced to grab the lifeless communication console to steady himself as the ship bounced about.
“Bad news,” Jackson’s voice carried through the galley, and with it the smell of burnt mechanics. His sooty face appeared in the hatchway, “The main compression coil blew. Fire suppression system knocked out the flames, but the engine is dead.”
“Renci de Shang-di…” Face pale in the dim light, Vanya looked back to Tyler. “Perhaps I spoke too soon about those absolutions…”
“What does that mean?” Joe had joined him in the hatchway, along with Copper and Mason. “Are we gonna die?”
“Chu-fei wo si le,” Ty wispered, his knuckles gone white as he fought to keep the ship under control
“I don’t see how a vow like that is any help, son.”
“Da-xiang bao-zha shi de la duzi! Jacks, get in the engine room and see if we still have the outriggers. Dru, you and Joe go help. Shepherd, you and Mason get back to your bunks and strap in. Mei Mei-” Alice groaned with the pressures of free-fall.
The tiny companion had already strapped herself into the seat across from him. Her eyes met his in an expression of calm confidence. “I’m right here, Tyler.”
He opened his mouth as if to object, but thought better of it. Instead, he simply said, “Okay.”
One of the arguments he had one was having a set of analogue gauges set in the console. Dru said they’d never need them, but since he was the ground-pounder and Ty had been the jet-jockey, analogue gauges they had. It looked as though they were going to come in handy. Once they got deep enough into the atmosphere, knowing witch way was up, and how close to the ground they were, was going to come in real handy. He made a mental note to tell Dru he told him so. That is, he would if they survived.
Their approach vector had been lost when the compressoin coil blew, and now they were coming in too steep. That cherry glow that usually just crept around the edges of the cockpit, had slid further up the viewport, its leading edges no longer red, but a bright yellow-white. Alice’s attitude thrusters fired for all they were worth in response to Ty’s handling of the controls.
Both of the bridge’s occupants knew their chances were slim. Had they not been pushed into such a steep dive, they might have been able to skip off the atmosphere and back into space where they could effect repairs, or at the very least signal for help. As it was, they were going to be lucky if Alice didn’t explode into a fiery ball of death. At least that would be pretty quick and painless as opposed to shaking apart and spreading bits of the ship and its crew over the surface of Regina for several thousand miles.
Tyler risked a look at Vanya. He had to hand it to her, her perfect face was the absolute picture of composure and poise, even in the face of almost certain death. It was a shame that they would have to replace the armrests of the command chair where she sat beside him.
All at once, they broke through the upper atmo. The planet’s gravity exerted more of a hold, and the sounds of crashing echoed up to them. As it turned out the artificial gravity generator’s sensors still worked and everything that wasn’t bolted down, was now swimming in a pile on the ceiling. Including people. The heat-damaged viewport quickly faded from white-hot to sooty black, and Joe struggled to the hatchway, “The outriggers are good, but we don’t have a whole lot of fuel to burn,” he reported.
“I’d appreciate a little less use of the word burn right about now,” the companion’s hands had gone from the armrests to the yoke as she and her brother fought to right the out of control ship.
“Jacks is going to have to kick them over, we’re fried up here,” Ty said from between clenched teeth. It was all he and Vanya could do to keep Alice from going into a flat spin that would certainly be the end of them. It really didn’t help that they were still upside-down either. Joe nodded and struggled back to the engine compartment.
“Again with the words synonymous with fire and death!”
“Sorry, Mei Mei,” Ty replied. Then he felt the two massive outrigger engines come to life.
“I might just have to kiss that boy.” Vanya said, also feeling their chances at life increasing.
“You’ll have to get in line,” Ty quipped. “Hold on!”
Before the words, “To what?” could cross Vanya’s lips, Tyler flipped a series of switches on his yoke. Outside, the two jet turbines rotated in opposite directions and fired, spinning Alice around in a tight corkscrew, once again tossing around everything aboard like the bingo tumbler in Paradiso. They were three complete turns in before Ty was able to correct the motion and level them off finally right-side up.
Mason’s mind mulled over Copper’s words to him in the hallway before strapping himself in his room.”Forgiveness comes to those that want it…if they want it that is. Sides, boy, we’re too interesting to call home just yet…I wouldn’t worry. Every ship room came standard with a seat in situations for safety purposes. No one wants their passengers slamming into every wall of the room if things got a little hairy. As his body slammed against against his seat and the restraints, “Still think we’re too interesting Copper!?” he yelled from his room hoping a smart quip from the Shepard would calm his nerves right now.
“I’m beginnin’ to have my doubts,” The preacher yelled from the other side.
“At least you didn’t tell me we’re too pretty…”
“Da Shiong La Se La Chwohn Tian!” Jackson swore, his head completely inside Alice’s dead engine,”Feh Feh Pi Goh!”
“I’m guessing thing’s ain’t going well?” Dru said from underneath the engine.
“Compression coil is completely humped. She won’t turn over without it,” his voice echoed through the engine, “Joe,” Jackson barked from the engine, “splice the stabilizer wires to the back up generator, see if you can’t get more power to the thrusters, maybe we can at least keep ourselves from becoming pancakes.”
The boy grabbed the black wires leading from the stabilizer with one hand and dug his knife out of his pocket with the other. Pulling them tight, he swicked the blade through before doing his best to pull the wires out further, stretching them towards the back up generator. A few more sweeps of the blade and the black was stripped away to reveal the copper threads below.
Holding those wires carefully, he loosened the leads and jammed the bare ends into the contacts screwing the caps back down quick before the sparks lept from where metal met metal. “We’ve got juice!”
“Joe I could kiss you,” Jackson pulled his head from the engine, “Ty you hear that? We have thrusters!”
“Shiney!” Ty yelled back. Then he looked at Vanya, “Yeah, you’re definitely going to have to get in line.”
Vanya couldn’t help but smile. She scanned the terrain, “Over there,” a slender hand pointed out a relatively flat clearing.
Thankful for the guidance in his efforts to keep them airborne, Ty steered Alice to the notch between two plateaus. No sooner had the landing gear locked into place and they touched down, the low fuel warning indicator lit up. The buzzing went silent as the pilot shut down the controls.
He slumped back in his seat with an explosive breath and looked at the woman sitting next to him.”Tell me you could get this kind of excitement flying with that other crew?”