In the Shadow of Heaven

by

javert

Chapter Twenty-Five - Abandon Ship / Abandon Hope

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Abandon Ship / Abandon Hope

“Those who flee are cursed to die, away, away, Maddie. They will die alone and lost, away away, Maddie. Don’t forget to beware the cost, my darling, darling Maddie.”

-from “The Coward’s Lament”, traditional spacer song

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Yan, despite having worked on the bridge of the Iron Dreams for about a month earlier in the summer, was still thrilled to be getting a tour of the Sky Boat's bridge. The second, Joun Migollen, was leading her around and showing her all the different stations.

"Did you ever work on the bridge on your own ship?" Joun asked as they finished their tour and sat down in the Captain's seat. Yan took the guest position.

Joun's voice was friendly and warm, and he seemed to have a good relationship with the rest of the bridge crew. Yan still thought his interactions with Captain Lida had been strange. Since the Captain was not on the bridge at the moment, Yan could try to forget about them and just appreciate Joun for what he appeared to be: a personable man who was eager to show off his family's ship.

"Yeah, I got to fill in for one of my cousins on navigation this past summer," Yan said.

"How exciting. There's nothing better than getting to steer," Joun said.

"When are we jumping again?" Yan asked, leaning over to look at the navigational charts.

"Six hours," Joun said. "You missed it when we jumped before."

"I felt it," Yan said. "In the power, I mean."

"Really?" Joun asked. "What does it feel like? Can your, um, partner, feel it too?"

"Sid? No, I don't think so. Some people are extra, well, sensitive, to different parts of the power. I can usually tell when it's being used near me, is all," Yan said.

"And the stardrive is actually using the power?" Joun asked.

"Oh, yeah. Did you not know that?" Yan asked.

"I just assumed that it only had to be created with the power, and that after that it was just a piece of technology," Joun said. "I never really studied the things, since I knew I'd never have a reason to work on it directly."

"Makes sense. The stardrives, they have a core of power that is put into them when they're created, and they use that to gather energy to make jumps." Yan shrugged.

"If you can put that core of power into a stardrive, why can't you put it into people to make more sensitives?" Joun asked.

Yan laughed. "Oh, God, I can't imagine how miserable that would be. No, I mean, stardrives are made to be able to contain that power, but a person? It would rip them apart," And then everything around them for a massive radius, Yan thought.

"Then how come sensitives are able to exist at all?" Joun asked, leaning towards Yan.

"You're really asking some hard hitting questions," Yan said with a small smile. "But the type and amount of power in a stardrive is completely different than the type and amount that sensitives have. As an example, right now, I could not jump this ship, no matter how much force I used, no matter how much I concentrated. I wouldn't have the concentration to be able to gather and hold that much power at once. I think it's a bit of a limiting factor to stop sensitives from totally going crazy- the more you try to influence outside your own immediate knowledge and senses, the more concentration it takes, the less likely you'll be able to do it."

"Then how come stardrives can exist?" Joun asked.

"They're just like computers," Yan said. "We make them so that they can do one task. They're unbound by the limits of human concentration since they don't have human thinking and creativity to worry about." She shrugged.

"Strange," Joun said. "Sorry, hold on." He was looking down at the screen in front of the captain's station, where a light was blinking, signalling an incoming transmission over the local radio. Since they were in the middle of nowhere, several jumps away from any habitation, it must be from one of the dogfighters that the Sky Boat sent out to check for pirates.

"What's the status, Midge?" Joun asked.

The voice over the radio was crackly and faint, probably due to the distances involved. The dogfighters, despite being tiny ships that didn't have any sort of stardrive, could move remarkably fast.

"There's something out here, I just got lit up," Midge said a few seconds later. They were what, a whole light second apart? Yan thought, listening to the delay. That dogfighter had gone out pretty far.

"Friendlies?" Joun asked, but not over the radio. One of the other people on the bridge consulted a chart.

"The schedule we got from Byforest doesn't put anyone near this location," the bridge crew member said. "Could be a Fleet ship, but I'm sure we're not so lucky."

"Unlikely to be friendly, Midge," Joun said back over the radio. "Did you scramble?"

"Not yet. I'm drifting cold right now," Midge replied. "As soon as they flashed me I cut the engines."

"You're far out, start coming back. I'll call the other dogs home too," Joun said.

"And if they follow me?" Midge asked.

"Well what the fuck do you think, Midge? That you're gonna just stay out there forever instead?"

The silence over the radio was painful.

"Wilco. I'm on my way," Midge said, sounding grudging.

"Keep us updated," Joun said. "Henns, call the other dogs back."

The man who had been consulting the charts earlier nodded and began signalling over the radio to the other dogfighters who were out patrolling areas around the ship.

Yan had been quiet in the guest chair through the whole exchange. From the serious look on Joun's face, and the way that a deathly quiet had descended over the bridge, Yan knew that this was real. Pirate attacks were something that no one would ever joke about. Yan had never been anywhere near the bridge of the Iron Dreams on the rare occasion that they were hassled. She had no idea what the command center looked like when a ship knew they were about to be trailed.

"I'm putting the ship on general alert," Joun said. "Brija, go wake up my mother and get her in here."

A woman who looked to be the same age as Joun curtly nodded and left, headed for another part of the ship. Was the captain Joun's mother? That would make sense.

Joun leaned back in his seat, though clearly stiff and on edge. He turned to Yan, who was watching the proceedings nervously. Her own fingers were curled up and her nails were digging white semi circles into her palms.

"Yan, you should alert the rest of your party. You can take them to the saferoom. There should be... time... before anything gets here," Joun said.

"Joun... I know this is your ship, but if there's anything I can do to help, let me know," Yan said.

Joun nodded once. Yan stood up.

She was heading out the door when Captain Lida came in, trailed by the woman who had been sent to fetch Joun's mother. Yan guessed that particular mystery was solved. Captain Lida barely spared her a glance as she hurried off the bridge.

Yan stood in the hallway for a minute, feeling extremely lost. She needed to... She needed to contact her group. She fished in her pocket for her phone, and saw that she already had messages from Iri. Interestingly, the text was from before Joun sent off the general alarm.

 

< meet us in shuttle bay 4. trouble incoming

 

Did Iri already know about the pirates? Or was she talking about some different problem? Why would Iri want to meet in the shuttle bay? Was 'us' all the other members of their party? There were just too many questions that Iri's message brought up. Combined with the looming threat, Yan's hands were shaking as she looked at her phone.

Yan collected herself, taking deep breaths, and reorienting herself in the ship. Shuttle Bay 4 was something she could navigate to. She had seen it before. She could get there.

Though this was directly contradicting what Joun had told her to do, Yan needed to find out what Iri was doing, if just to yell at her and bring the whole group to the saferoom. Yan started jogging down the hallways, ignoring the flashing warning lights that had come on, and dodging around people who were heading to either their stations or the saferoom. The shuttle bays were all in the nograv section of the ship, so Yan made the transition between the rotating ring and the main body of the ship. She was able to catch her breath somewhat as she glided through the passages of the ship. Despite her speed, it took Yan quite a while to reach Bay 4, as it was far away from the rotating ring that Yan had been on.

Shuttle Bay 4 was a mess when Yan arrived. The leader of their expedition, Lieutenant Harber, was engaged in a heated argument with a crew woman from the Sky Boat. The woman was pleading with Harber to take his group to the saferoom. Harber's men loaded onto the shuttle that was occupying the center of the bay. Yan saw Iri helping her dog into the shuttle. Sid didn't appear to be anywhere around.

Yan headed over to Iri, since she seemed to have the most information.

"What's going on?" Yan asked. "Why aren't we headed to the saferoom?"

"Pirates," Iri said. "Harber says we're taking our chances off ship."

"Yeah, I know there's pirates," Yan said, frustrated. "This makes no sense."

"Why? I don't want to be on board when shit hits the fan," Iri said.

"If pirates come here, they're going to shoot down any dogfighter or shuttle they see," Yan said.

"I'm sure Harber will have us drift cold," Iri said. "They won't be able to see us."

"Yes they will," Yan said. "They don't just passively watch, they have radar. I'd rather be in the saferoom than on that shuttle."

"Argue with Harber about it, then. He's in charge," Iri said.

Exasperated, Yan turned around and headed towards Harber to do just that. He was still engaged in his argument with the crew woman.

"Excuse me," Yan said, and the two turned to look at her.

"Apprentice BarCarran," the woman started, looking at Yan with a pleading expression. "Please order Lieutenant Harber to take his crew to the saferoom."

Yan was torn. On one hand, that was exactly what she wanted to do, but on the other hand, she wasn't exactly sure that she had that authority over Lieutenant Harber. She didn't say anything for a second.

"Where's Sid?" She asked abruptly.

"His room. Hernan is getting him," Harber said. Yan nodded. She was trying to approach this tactfully, but they had a little time for tact. It would probably take at least a few hours for the pirates to arrive, but if Harber really did want to go through with this crazy shuttle plan, they would all have to be on board the shuttle quickly. Especially if they wanted to put any significant distance between themselves and the oncoming pirates.

"Lieutenant, what is your plan?" Yan asked as evenly as possible. The woman's face fell.

"As you know, my duty is to keep you and Sid safe, and that involves evacuating under dangerous circumstances. Part of our contract with the Sky Boat is that we are allowed use of this shuttle while we are travelling. As such, I am making the decision that we will be evacuating the Sky Boat aboard Shuttle 4 and awaiting rescue," Harber said. "Iri has already retrieved your belongings from your quarters, so we can be underway as soon as Sid arrives."

Yan bristled a bit at this information.

"We have a good few days of travel before we're even expected at Zhani. When we don't arrive on time, I assume the Fleet will be contacted?" Yan asked.

Harber nodded.

"So a Fleet ship will be sent to find us. How long of a trip would it be for a Fleet ship to arrive at Byforest Station?"

"Ten days," Harber said.

"And then they would need to search everywhere along our jump route. And since the routes can vary..." Yan thought about this for a moment. "If the pirates did capture or destroy the Sky Boat, we'd want to stay drifting cold so that they couldn't find us. That would make us even harder to find for our rescuers. It could be weeks, trapped in a shuttle that's meant to last hours, with all ten of us. I don't like those odds."

"Yan," Harber started. "If the Sky Boat is overtaken, it's the only hope. If it isn't overtaken, then we can easily come back on board. It's the only option that makes sense. This isn't your family's ship. You have an obligation to the First Sandreas and to the Empire to stay safe."

He was right, and Yan didn't want to admit it. It was deeply ingrained in Yan that abandoning ship was more dangerous than staying aboard. The thought of never being rescued, of being trapped in a shuttle forever... Halen's story flashed back into Yan's mind and she shivered involuntarily.

"If the choice is to be stranded or come crawling back as cowards, why don't we stay and fight?" Sid said behind her, in his loud, flat voice. He had managed to come in without her noticing, and if Yan had been capable of jumping in the microgavity of the bay, she would have. She spun herself around.

"Don't scare me like that," Yan signed to Sid. "I'm already..."

"I need you both to cooperate," Harber said. "For all our sakes."

The crew woman was still standing there, and she spoke up. "I can't stop you, if you're intent on leaving." She looked resigned to the punishment she was sure to receive from the captain. But really, there wasn't anything that the woman could do to stop Harber from taking Yan and Sid and the rest of their group off the ship.

Sid, still floating in the air behind Yan, discretely reached out a hand and touched the back of Yan's neck. Aside from her hands, it was the only part of her not covered by her worksuit from the Iron Dreams. Yan didn't acknowledge the touch visibly, but sent a tendril of her power out to Sid's hand. He sent one back, with a question.

"Trust who?" Sid was asking, silently through the power.

The better sensitives knew each other, the easier they could send information between each other without meditating together. Yan and Sid were close, but not close enough for them to be able to communicate anything more than fragments while touching, unless they both concentrated quite hard. It was rarely useful, but it was enough here.

"Harber," Yan sent back, but with it went an involuntary feeling of resignation. She hated the fact that Harber was right. Yan was gratified that Sid trusted her opinion, but she hoped she wasn't leading him astray. Sid withdrew his hand.

"If we are leaving, let's leave," Sid said aloud. He clumsily used Yan's shoulder as a push off point, and drifted over her towards the shuttle. Iri helped him inside.

Yan gave a sad glance to the woman crew member, who shook her head and walked away. Yan followed Sid inside the shuttle and found a seat. The other members of their party finished loading on to the shuttle. It was quite crowded, in the end. Though the shuttle had seats to ferry passengers, they were at maximum capacity. Yan hated to think that if worst came to worst, they would all be stuck in the shuttle for... Yan didn't want to consider the realistic numbers of how long it could be.

From her seat squished between Sid and Iri, Yan could hear the pilot, one of the Fleet soldiers under Lieutenant Harber's command, go through the flight checklist and request that the bay doors be opened. It was a long process, made worse by the bitter tones over the radio from the Sky Boat crew. This felt like desertion. Yan hated it.

Eventually, they were cleared, and the shuttle flew out of the bay and away from the Sky Boat. All the passengers were pressed into their seats with the acceleration, the pilot clearly pushing the bounds of what the passengers and shuttle could handle. Iri's dog, Bebop, whined and growled from his crate on the floor, suffering the most from the acceleration. Bebop was the only one making noise. Aside from the occasional radio message, the whole shuttle was tense and silent, everyone trying to cope with the discomfort on their own.

With some effort, Yan pried up her head from where it was jammed into the headrest and looked at Iri next to her. Iri was already looking in Yan's direction, and when their eyes met, Iri slid her hand across to where Yan's hand was trapped in the folds of her cassock. Iri smiled as she grabbed Yan's hand, but under the acceleration it looked more like a grimace. Yan entangled her fingers in Iri's and Iri gave her hand a comforting squeeze.

Yan turned again to look at Sid on her other side. He had his eyes squeezed shut, his heavy glasses pressed hard against his face. Yan reached out and grabbed Sid's hand, trying to give him the same sort of comfort that Iri was offering her. It must be even harder for Sid, this heavy acceleration. With his glasses inching themselves up and away from his eyes, he wouldn't be able to understand if anyone did speak, and it would be near impossible for him to sign anything with the pressure they were under. Sid's hand wrapped around hers.

Touching, now, he sent her a thought through the power. It was just a short feeling of gratitude and comfort, but Yan squeezed his hand tighter.

To Yan, it felt as though the whole shuttle was wrapped in a haze of fear, but it may have just been the choking feeling of acceleration. Yan spent her time thinking about how far they may have made it. The force they were under felt like maybe three times the gravity in the ringed section of the ship, but it was impossible to make an accurate measurement. She just felt trapped in her own body, pressed back against her chair. And just as the force was impossible to measure, without any clocks within view the time stretched out further and further. Had they been travelling for half an hour? Two hours? Yan was sure that they hadn't managed to travel as far as the dogfighters had, since they were equipped specifically to deal with massive forces. Yan wished it would end, or at least for something to break up the monotony.

Unfortunately for Yan, her wish was granted in the worst possible way. As the shuttle continued to speed away from the Sky Boat, Yan felt a horrible wrenching in the power. It was a twisted, backwards version of the feeling she had known all her life: being in a ship when it made a jump. Yan was forcibly reminded of the reason why stardrives were made and tested well away from inhabited space. The entire constitution of the space around the ship had to be ripped apart and reformed in a new place.

Yan worked up the strength to call out to the pilot in the front of the shuttle.

"Did the Sky Boat just jump away?" Yan asked.

"What?" The pilot called back to Yan.

"I felt a ship jump, did the Sky Boat jump away?"

"Kill the engine," Lieutenant Harber said. The pilot complied and there was immediate, blessed relief as the painful acceleration ceased.

There was a momentary breathless silence as the pilot consulted his instruments in the front of the shuttle. Iri was looking at Yan.

"How long does it take between jumps?" Iri asked Yan quietly.

"Joun said six hours before we left," Yan said.

Everyone's voice sounded strained. The prolonged forces on their bodies had taken their toll.

Yan knew it was unlikely, to the point of being impossible, that the Sky Boat had jumped away. Still, she asked because it was the better alternative.

"The Sky Boat is in the same position," the pilot reported back. "Are you sure you-"

"We have to turn around," Yan said, voice catching in her throat. "The pirates jumped in."

"We're not going back," Lieutenant Harber said.

"The Sky Boat, their dogfighters can't be back yet," Yan said. "They're totally undefended, we need to-"

"This is the reason we are escaping and waiting for rescue," Harber said. "This shuttle has no guns, there's nothing we could do."

"We need to-"

"Apprentice BarCarran, we are not putting everyone's lives at risk here," Harber said, sounding forceful. "If the pirates are in the area, we are going to wait out whatever happens."

Yan was squeezing Sid and Iri's hands hard enough to crush them. Sid's glasses, in the sudden shift to no gravity, had floated off his face. He grabbed them with his free hand and put them back on.

Through their clasped hands, Sid sent Yan a questioning feeling. Yan loosened her grip somewhat.

"The pirates came. The Sky Boat is undefended. We are the only ones who can help them," Yan sent to Sid in a silent blast. Since they were both focusing on only that, she was able to manage the more coherent information dump.

Sid considered this for a long, silent moment.

"Lieutenant Harber, turn this ship around," Sid finally said aloud. His eyes were closed.

Yan didn't know, specifically, whether Lieutenant Harber's orders were to rely on his own judgement in emergencies, or to follow Yan and Sid. She supposed this was the moment when they would all find out.

Harber didn't say anything, and the pilot looked uncomfortable, caught between his commander and Yan's desire to turn back.

Sid sent Yan a thought. "You're lucky you have me as a friend." He let go of Yan's hand, opened his eyes, and unstrapped himself from his seat.

"Lieutenant Harber," Sid started, pushing himself up from his chair. "You know that Yan is perfectly capable of flying this shuttle herself, and I am most certainly capable of incapacitating everyone else in it."

Sid drifted close to Harber, grabbing on to the back of his seat in the front of the shuttle. Everyone else was watching this play out with different levels of fear and frustration.

"Sid, sit down," Hernan, Sid's minder, said, sounding exasperated.

"No," Sid said. "We are going back to the Sky Boat. Lieutenant Harber, give the order, or I will relieve you of your command."

Sid's voice was the same calm, flat tone that he always had when he spoke aloud, but his intentions were clear on his face.

"First Sandreas will not be pleased with your behavior," Lieutenant Harber said. "There is more than just your life and ours at stake, here."

"There are hundreds of people on the Sky Boat," Yan said quietly. And what were the ten people aboard the shuttle in comparison to that? "They're at stake, too."

Unbidden, the song of the boys she had met the previous night came to the forefront of her brain. Dearest bravehearts, sons and daughters, will you stand your ground with me?

"What is your plan, then?" Harber asked, reluctantly.

Though the attack was already deviating from what had been described as the 'usual' method employed by pirates, Yan had been thinking of a plan. Pirates usually saved their jump to escape an engagement, rather than to initiate it, so the pirates were at a disadvantage if the Sky Boat and Yan's party could stay alive long enough for the Sky Boat to jump out.

"The pirates will want to board the Sky Boat. If we get there in time, we can knock them away from the surface of the ship and redirect any projectiles until the Sky Boat's dogfighters get back."

"That's your plan?" Harber asked.

"The only advantage we have is the power," Yan said. "We have no guns, no suits, no stardrive. We can't easily touch either of the ships or any of the people directly, but Sid and I can maneuver anything else. That's better than what the Sky Boat has. We have an obligation to them."

"Get back in your seat, Apprentice Welslak," Harber said.

"I want you to get us going, first," Sid said.

"Get back in your seat, or you risk getting your neck broken when we accelerate, Apprentice," Harber said, then turned slightly to look at Yan. "How close do we need to be in order for you to do what you're going to do?"

"I need to be able to see what I'm doing. Does this shuttle have visual scopes or just the window?" Yan asked.

"We have one scope," the pilot said, checking his instruments. "It has 200x magnification."

"I just need to get close enough to see individual people on the scope," Yan said. "The difference between being one kilometer out and half a kilometer out isn't enough to matter if we're going into the engagement."

Sid strapped himself back in, and the pilot engaged the engines again. This time, the crushing force was even worse. The ship did turn around, so the force they were feeling was still 'eyeballs in', but the pilot was pushing past the acceleration they had before, and everyone was already sore from their outward journey.

Yan had a sick feeling in her stomach. It wasn't just the pressure on her body, and it wasn't just the fear of pirates, either. Sid, with her encouragement, had threatened to mutiny. They were halfway to piracy themselves, now. But what she was really thinking of was the upcoming engagement, and the plan that she had explained.

'We can knock them away from the surface of the ship,' she had said. If Yan could take a piece of debris, maybe something that had been fired from the pirates' guns, or some rock that had been knocked off the Sky Boat... Any piece of matter with enough mass, she could get it moving with the power, and it would be enough...

All Yan could think about, when she pictured it, was herself, small, watching out the window as a thousand ton, runaway shipping container crushed every bone in her mother's body.

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A note from javert

Thanks to DrMaster8 on Snow's writing discord for giving me a beta read on this chapter.

This is sorta the 'boom goes the dynamite' chapter for this arc.

Here's an update of what my progress is in writing the story. I'm currently writing chapter 38, which is quite near the end of the first 1/3 of the story, in terms of plot events. The current manuscript is also about 200k words long (this chapter [26] is at the ~120k words mark of the manuscript, for the curious among you). From the past few chapters through to 38 is all one arc, then there's a mini arc that will take us up to the end of the first 'act' of the story. Hope you're all looking forward to that : )

See you on monday!

update 9/1/19 - added chapter title


About the author

javert

Bio: hi I'm noodle, I studied aeronautical engineering in college, then I taught high school math. now I'm [redacted] and [remainder of message lost].

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