The ramp hissed to a close behind me, and I rushed past Omega, pistol in hand. The scent of the forest spores lingered in my nose as we sprinted through the halls of the starship into the cockpit where Joëlle sat. Jonathan was there beside her, leaning over the control consoles with a hand resting on her shoulder, his long coat hanging on the back of his seat.
The quantum extender flickered every few seconds, struggling in the atmosphere to pinpoint the location of the mothership, desperately, as though it was trying to warn us that Duhrnan was nearly upon us.
The sky was bright, and clouds of dust billowed around us. Joëlle pulled the controls upright, and the ship began lifting from the treeline, and rotated so that the plateau was ahead of us. I saw the dark shapes of at least ten valicorr attack ships changing course to intercept us, all of their weapons charging. They left trails of dust, disturbed in the wake of their speed. And looming above, behind them was the mothership. Its limbs flexed slowly like a gargantuan arachnid. Somewhere aboard was Duhrnan, I thought. The one who was responsible for stealing the Shade Beam, and for killing countless on Voren. The one responsible for destroying Astraloth. For killing my mother. My knuckles turned white as I squeezed the handle of my weapon.
Joëlle snapped forward with a deliberate energy, violet strands of hair flinging to and fro. She flipped a switch, and glanced down at the remains of the weapon controls which K had destroyed earlier. Her eyes narrowed, and her nose twitched as she looked up at the attack force.
“We have no weapons,” she said, flatly. “We have to flee.”
Jonathan squeezed her shoulder. “We have to get out of here, now!”
Joëlle was about to turn the Firebrand around and flee... and she would have if I hadn’t seen K just then. She was unconscious, and three valicorr carried her toward a dropship that had landed near the precipice between the plateau and the greenery. My skin prickled at the sight of her in the hands of our enemy.
“Wait!” I cried. I leaped forward, pointing down to the plateau. “Stop the ship!”
Joëlle and Jonathan followed my gaze, and froze. Heatwaves still wafted from the valicorr dropship’s cylindrical engines. Several valicorr soldiers stood about the landing site. Three more were dragging K’s limp body toward the shuttle craft. Joëlle halted the Firebrand, and I strained my eyes to see if they had hurt her, but we were too far to be able to tell.
“We can’t leave K!” I said. “They’ll kill her!”
“She fled into the forest, and then had a blackout!” Jonathan exclaimed. “Of all the bad times!”
Joëlle was breathing heavily but steadily. I looked at her face as she stared out the window at K and the valicorr captors. They were several meters away from the dropship.
I felt something warm on the back of my arm and jolted around. Omega was standing right behind me, their breath grazing my arm. Their black eyes were darting around the scene, jumping between enemy targets. Their lips were still, but they gulped silently, calculating the situation. The heat of the jungle didn’t faze them, but here in our air-conditioned vessel I noticed a drop of sweat rolling down their freckled cheek.
I turned back to the window. The valicorr fighters were encroaching on us. In a few seconds, they’d be well within firing range.
“They’re going to take her up to the mothership!” I shouted. I dug my fingers into the back of the pilot’s seat. “We have no time. We have to save her, now!”
Jonathan gestured to the window. “If we try to save her, they’ll shoot us down in an instant! We’re sitting ducks out here!”
“Sitting… ducks?” asked Omega.
Joëlle cut in. “They might not be able to hit us…” She shot Jonathan a desperate look. “The valicorr have good scanners, but the cockpits of their fighters have low visibility. If the atmosphere of Malum wasn’t enough to scramble their sensors, I just activated the Firebrand’s cloaking device. Since we can’t use the weapons anyway…”
“So they’ll have to aim manually?” I said.
Joëlle nodded. “There’s a small chance…”
“Take it!” I thrust my hand forward, gesturing to the dropship. The cannons of the valicorr fighters began to spark with energy.
Joëlle inhaled. “Alright everyone- Hold on tight!”
The cockpit lit up with the light of energy blasts streaking past the window, casting warped shadows on the inside walls. Joëlle took us into a steep dive, and suddenly the forest floor was speeding toward us. The valicorr fighters broke formation, scattering around us like a flock of birds. I flinched; the ship was about to faceplant into the trees. But just in time, Joëlle pulled up, and the Firebrand skated across the treeline, sending a trail of leaves and twigs up into the air as we flew.
K was centered in the view from the cockpit, her unconscious body being carried by three valicorr, one holding her legs, and one more for each of her arms. They were only about fifteen feet away from the valicorr dropship, which sat waiting with its side-door open, the inside inhabited by well-armed pirates. Bright yellow bolts rained down upon us from the sky, and the trees around us began to ignite in bursts of amber flame and smoke. We were approaching the cliff at a dangerous speed, and Joëlle would have to pull up quickly to intercept the landed dropship and K’s captors.
“What’s the plan? What are we doing?!” yelled Jonathan, who had plopped down into his seat and was clutching the sides of his chair. “We have no weapons, how are we expecting to come out of this alive?”
Explosions rumbled around us. “Osax?” said Joëlle.
I activated the targeting hologram of my eyepiece, and my E-gun whirred to life. I stepped back towards the door and flung the black hood over my head. “Drop me next to K. I’ll get her!”
“Got it!” yelled Joëlle.
Omega said, “Does this vessel have an escape hatch?”
“On the top of the ship, yes!” Joëlle shouted, leaning into the controls, picking up speed toward the dropship and swerving to evade laser fire.
Omega sprung up, startling Jonathan, suddenly standing with their grenade launcher in both hands, armed and ready. “Open the hatch,” they said bluntly.
Joëlle glanced at them for a fraction of a second before spinning back to the windshield. “Jonathan! Show Omega to the escape hatch!”
He bounced out of his seat, and flung his long coat on. “I can do that!”
Jonathan and Omega rushed past me out of the cockpit. I grabbed hold of Joëlle’s seat for stability as she steered the Firebrand up just a little so we were heading straight for the shuttle, and began to decelerate. The barrage of lasers had stopped briefly, as all the valicorr ships were circling around behind us getting ready for another assault. My eyes trained down to K and I backed up toward the door. They’d lifted her torso onto the platform, and two of the valicorr had already gotten inside. The third one was lifting her legs into the ship, and ready to leap aboard.
“What are you waiting for Osax?!” Joëlle shot her hand back toward me. “Get to the exit ramp! Go! Go! Go!”
I heard her command loud and clear. My blood boiled, and I bolted back to the exit ramp.
As soon as the ramp opened, wind gushed into the room and knocked me aside. I clutched a handle on the wall and leaned into it, stabilizing myself as my eyes struggled to keep up with the speed of the terrain moving on below me. The ramp faced the back of the ship, so I was able to look out to the horizon behind us. We had left a trail of spot fires, blazing where valicorr energy blasts had missed us and ignited upon the treetops. The valicorr fighters had just finished circling around, and accelerated toward us once again. In a matter of seconds they would begin shooting.
We crested the edge of the plateau and sandy rocks shot by in my vision. Joëlle started slowing the ship so that I could leap off. My eyes locked to the valicorr on the ground. K was just put inside their shuttle, and the last valicorr leapt up into the ship. Then K, the dropship, and the cliffside were engulfed in the shadow of the impenetrable mothership as it moved overhead.
My mind raced, calculating as the Firebrand slowed and lowered to the ground at exactly what speed and distance I could safely jump.
An explosion of heat shocked my body when a charged projectile from one of the starfighters impacted the ground just below the ramp, and I disregarded any notion that I had time to make a plan. The Firebrand was moving too slowly. Waiting for me to jump off made it too easy to hit. If Joëlle couldn’t focus on evading the valicorr now, everyone aboard would surely perish. So pistol in hand, I dived out of the ship into the open air, squinting my eyes against the dust. The hum of the Firebrand fell behind me and my senses were filled with the sound of the wind surfing across the plateau and the forest rustling beside it. The engines of the valicorr starfighters groaned in the distance. I held my breath, arms and legs outstretched, body tense, arcing forward with each second. I could feel the blood pumping in my throat as I soared with nothing but air below me, and questioned why I thought this was a good idea. I sped toward the ground, and tucked my head in. I closed my eyes, and braced for the impact, trying not to imagine the roughness of the ground beneath me, painfully aware that in a moment I wouldn’t need to.
The wind was pummelled out of me as I tumbled a few meters onto the stones. Pain glowed dully all over my body, and I struggled to sit up, still clutching my pistol. My eyes began to focus again, ears dangling limply, and then I felt pain flare up from the scrapes on my palms, forearms, shoulders, and knees. I gazed up at the Firebrand gliding slowly away, and whipped my free hand to my earpiece and shouted. “I’m free! Get moving!”
Joëlle heard, and the dark gunship dashed forward, peeling up into the sky. It flew upwards toward the shadowy underside of the mothership, who’s limbs stretched outward, before darting to the side. A second later I lost track of it, as it camouflaged against the dark battlecruiser, but where the Firebrand had been just a moment earlier a hundred beams of energy hurtled past with a buzz, electrifying the air around me.
The dropship doors were beginning to slide closed, slowly blocking K’s prone body from my view. I scrambled to my feet, wincing in pain. I had landed several meters away from the shuttle; I only had a few seconds to reach it.
My feet dug into the amber rocks and sand, and I kicked off with all my strength, sprinting as fast as I could toward the closing door. Heatwaves hung above the engines of the craft, which started to glow. The vehicle started to gain height, rising five feet above the ground.
I ducked down. A massive gust of wind pushed against me as the flock of starfighters screeched by in the air above me, hunting the Firebrand with ferocity. Their energy cannons were deafening in the naked air of the planet’s surface, especially being fired in such rapid volleys. But even while I thanked the stars that none of them had targeted me, my eyes caught a valicorr who had seen me from the closing gap of the dropship doors, and armed their gun, snarling through needle-like fangs. The barrel of their weapon flared with light.
I dove to the side. A plume of smoke rose where I had been standing. I caught myself in a somersault, wincing as my bruised arms and back hit the ground. I had no time to hesitate. I locked my pistol to the valicorr, and lined up the holographic laser-sight with its torso. The trigger dug into my finger and clicked; an electric gunshot rang out, and a green light flashed from the muzzle. The bullet of energy sparked against the space pirate, and it keeled over, just as the dropship door snapped closed. My palms were sweaty.
The stones were hot against my feet as I hurried the last few steps to the ship. My ears peeled back reflexively as I approached the shuttle and the growl of its massive engines crescendoed. Its bottom was already at my eye-level, and it was accelerating upward. But still I reached my free hand onto the lip of the platform.
The engines were blasting air onto the plateau which, with nowhere else to go, shot outward in a disc and shook my fur and clothing. My fingers felt a smooth, cold surface- the rim of the doorway which stuck out like a four inch ledge- and I tried to hold on. My entire body stretched upward with the rise of the starship as I tensed my arm, trying desperately to cling to the edge.
My fingers slipped, and I stumbled forward, air escaping from my lungs. I wiped a line of sweat from my face, and glanced up. The ship was out of reach. And I was stuck alone on the ground of a dangerous planet, below a squadron of valicorr fighters and the largest battleship I’d ever seen. Gunshots echoed from the starfighters between the mothership and the plateau. The Firebrand zoomed by, outrunning the pursuing energy bolts and starfighters, which zigzagged around. A second later I was knocked off balance by a gale of dust in the wake of the ships. The mothership hadn’t fired a single shot yet. I looked back to the dropship’s bottom, covered in pipes, fuel-lines, and other unidentifiable machinery. I thought of K, and what they might do with her. I remembered the way Duhrnan played with his victims when we first intercepted his communications. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. Not to my friend.
I holstered my pistol, and aimed my wrist cable up at the ship. I shot the hook toward a grate on the underside of the ship. The cord whiffled through the air, missing the mark by a foot, but miraculously it looped around a pipe. Before it could unhook itself and fall back down to the floor, I pressed a button on the bracer to extend the prongs of the hook, and it lodged securely to the shuttle. Despite myself, I laughed, astonished that it had worked.
“Osax!” Joëlle’s strained voice yelled in my ear. “What’s the situation?!”
I glanced up at the mothership above. The Firebrand was swooping low to the surface of the ground. The valicorr ships were disoriented, each flying on their own separate path now instead of as a unified group. They almost looked like giant wasps, spitting spears of yellow lightning each time one caught sight of the Firebrand in the frantic, deadly dance.
Then my shoulder lurched upwards, and my feet touched nothing but air. I swung my free hand onto the cable and held on tightly with both hands for dear life.
I tapped my communicator quickly, regaining my grip. “The situation is...”
What the hell are you thinking, Osax? I thought.
Dangling about twenty feet below the valicorr dropship, and at least thirty feet above the ground, I trained my eyes on the Firebrand, which screeched past below me before curving up and to the side. I strained my eyes- Was someone standing atop the ship?
That’s why Omega asked about the escape hatch!
Like a tiny action figure glued atop a model spaceship, Omega stood on top of the Firebrand. Their head flicked around, scanning for the nearest valicorr fighter. Their legs were widely spread, each foot gripping the surface, and they crouched low with one hand forward on the roof and the other aiming their TAU grenade launcher into the sky. The red tip of their tail adhered to the surface, stabilizing them. Their clothes were skintight, eliminating as much air resistance as possible, but I was still astonished by their spider-like grace and ability.
“Osax?!” Joëlle shouted.
The wind whistled in my ears. “Sorry! I’m-”
A valicorr fighter broke out from the swarm and dashed for the Firebrand. Omega perked up, then spun around, lifting and replacing each limb with an uncanny dexterity. A half-second later Omega fired a grenade, and a second after that flames erupted from the valicorr vessel. Chunks of smouldering debris arced away from the explosion down to the surface. Trails of smoke and flame dotted the sky, and as the flames cleared in the wind, all that remained of the aircraft were gravity-bound components.
“Woohoo!” I cried, ears lifting into a smile. I thrust a fist toward the sky. Then my adrenaline spiked as I lost balance, and I brought my hand back to the cable. A wave of vertigo hit me as I realized how much height we had already gained.
The Firebrand swerved up and out of sight, evading more projectiles from the swarming ships. Jonathan’s voice called out. “That explosion- Did Omega just take one of them out?”
Omega’s voice sounded through the communicator, unreasonably calm. “Yes.”
“It was incredible!” I said.
“Hold up!” said Joëlle. “Where are you, Osax? The dropship left the landing site… Did you get K out of there?!”
The shuttle’s engines blared above me, and I gazed up at the twenty feet of cord between me and its underside, swinging back and forth as the ship continued its course up toward the mothership where Duhrnan waited. I clutched the cord tightly.
“Not yet,” I replied, tightening my jaw. Sweat trickled down my cheek. Carefully I held the cable with my dominant hand. I wore the device on my right wrist so I wrapped my hand around it for extra support. Then, I let go of the cable with my other hand, and pressed a button on the device. With a small jolt, the cable began to retract, with difficulty, pulling me slowly up to the hook and the base of the ship. The infinite horizons of the planet encircled me, saturated colours of purple and orange and green all mixing together in an abstract form as my mind tried to concentrate on the task at hand. But the sheer vastness of the open air, and the deadly energy bolts crying past made me feel incredibly vulnerable. I just need to get to K, I thought. One thing at a time.
Joëlle spoke up. Dread was dripping from her voice as it came through the speaker. “Oh no… You’re not…”
“Osax is hanging from the bottom of the dropship.” Omega said over the screeching winds.
“What?!” Jonathan blurted.
“It’s alright!” I yelled. “I have it under control! Sort of!”
Suddenly, smoke and sparks flew from the arm-mount of the wrist cable, and I yelped. I stopped ascending. Half of the wrist mount fell away from me, shrinking into nothing below, and the other piece swung freely, dangling from the cable I held in my hand, but detached entirely from my wrist. An energy bolt had shot it, fired from an E-gun above me. I grabbed the cable with both hands. I was now relying entirely on the strength of my hands to keep me from falling to my death.
Waves of heat seared my face and arms. I craned my neck to see the dropship. A valicorr soldier was clinging to the ship, with their face and one arm peeking out from the side of it. Its three jet black eyes were trained on me, and it flexed the six long fingers on its hand, manipulating the wrist-mounted weapon on its arm. Glowing bolts of energy sprayed past me.
I fumbled, adjusting my grip on the cable, as I swung to the side and the ship continued to climb. I gasped when a laser bolt clipped my torso and seared my clothing. I spun helplessly as I dangled, losing sight of my assailant behind me. At last I found purchase on the cable with my left hand bearing most of the weight, and I reached my dominant hand down to the pistol holstered on my leg. When the soldier spun back into view, my arm was outstretched, aiming.
I pulled the trigger. With the holographic laser-sight aligned I managed a hit. The pirate fell out from behind the bottom of the ship, and I couldn’t look away as it descended past the dogfighting ships below me to the dust clouds of the plateau. I shut my eyes briefly, then holstered my pistol.
I was breathing heavily, and my hands were sweaty which made the climb all the more terrifying. But each second, I put one hand above the other, and pulled myself up a few inches. I only had about ten feet to climb before I reached the bottom of the ship.
My cape billowed violently in the turbulence, and a confidence filled me. Probably from the endorphins my body was releasing as I worked my arms more than I had in months. But even as I closed the gap on the dropship’s underside, it closed in on the mothership. If I was able to get aboard and commandeer the vehicle, I might be able to save K, and myself. But if it docked with the battlecruiser, we’d probably get stuck inside. I became aware of the pressure changing in my ears, but forced myself not to look down.
The Firebrand soared past a valicorr fighter. Energy arced through the air. Omega fired. The valicorr ship burst, and careened like a tumbling set of fireworks into the surface. It was a miracle that Joëlle had been able to avoid getting shot down so far, or a testament to her unbelievable proficiency.
I reached the base of the shuttle with aching muscles; unfortunately I couldn’t rest them yet. I slipped my fingers into the cool metal grates and pipes of the ship, letting the grappling hook hang. Breathing heavily, I started inching my way across to the edge of the spaceship. I was slow, but it was taking nearly everything I had to keep holding on. One accidental glance at the now hundreds of feet between me and the ground sent my head spinning. I shut my eyes and tried to regain my balance. My arms wouldn’t last much longer.
I spoke hesitantly into the communicator, and I felt my face getting hot from the stress. “Joëlle, I-” I exhaled. “I’m not sure how much longer I can hold on.”
Another valicorr ship exploded. The Firebrand looped around, and started slowing below me. Omega glanced up.
“Osax, you better not let go!” Joëlle commanded.
Straining, I reached out for another handhold, but my sweaty hand slipped. I caught myself, panting. “If I do, it won’t be by choice,” I said.
The Firebrand danced around below me, and Omega took out yet another fighter. Then Joëlle steered the ship below the shuttle, and matched its speed, trying to hover directly below me. She said, “Omega, you’re doing a great job! Now keep those fighters away from us while we spot Osax!”
Omega replied, “Yes, Commander,” and fired another shot. A few seconds later and another attack ship was down.
Joëlle’s plan seemed crazy, but no more than mine. I doubted their ability to catch me if I fell. Now that they were hovering I was terrified for their safety from the fighters. But that just pushed me to keep climbing.
I swung myself forward just like I was swinging on monkey bars at a human playground. I was only a few feet from the side of the ship, but I had to be careful making my way.
Each second Joëlle gained some altitude, shortening the distance between the ship and me. A valicorr fighter dove in and launched a burst of energy bolts. Omega was like a sprung trap, and blasted the attacker instantly. The ship splintered into debris, but the Firebrand was smoking, grazed by a bolt.
“Joëlle! You’re hit!” I exclaimed.
“It’s nothing,” she said. “Only superficial!”
Even though I should have been climbing forward I was watching the Firebrand. I had to make sure it was okay. When the smoke cleared, the escape hatch had just finished closing, and now, standing shakily next to Omega was Jonathan.
Omega barely turned their head to face him, focused on the battle. “Jonathan, have you come to help?” they asked.
He knelt down atop the ship, keeping his center of gravity low. His tone was grim. “If we die, we die! But if we survive, I’m not going to be the only one who did nothing!”
His long coat flapped, and from underneath it he revealed Joëlle’s rifle. He’d transformed it into the artillery mode which she had used on Voren to take out a valicorr dropship.
Joëlle’s voice cut into my earpiece. “Jonathan? Are you on top of the ship?!”
“Yes!” he exclaimed. He lifted the rifle up to his robotic eye, and began scanning the sky around him. Omega was doing the same. “Just doing my part-”
“Omega can stick to ceilings!” Joëlle screamed. “You can’t! Get back inside before you slip off!”
“Just... try not to make any sudden movements!” he replied.
“We’re under attack, you idiot! I might need to take evasive maneuvers!”
Blue and red spears of energy flashed from his rifle, intertwining as they flew. At the same time, Omega fired a grenade in the opposite direction. The energy pierced straight through one of the starfighters, and Omega’s shot connected with another. The two smoking ships curved to the side and smashed into one another.
Joëlle’s voice was shaky. “I’m not going to lose you!”
“Joëlle… I…” he trailed off.
I panted. I had almost made it to the edge of the ship. Just a little further!
“Omega, make sure Jonathan doesn’t fall!” Joëlle exclaimed.
“Yes, Commander!” they replied. I looked down below me at the Firebrand. Omega lifted their hand off the ship, and grabbed Jonathan by the bicep. They exchanged looks.
“Alright,” said Jonathan, bracing the gun up to his shoulder and taking aim once more.
I lifted my head up, and screamed. A valicorr swung down from the side of the ship right in front of me. Without thinking, I dropped my right hand to my pistol and yanked it from its holster. I struggled to hang on with one arm. They hung with one hand wrapped around the edge of the ship, and opened their horrifying maw with a hiss.
I flung my arm up and pulled the trigger, but with their free hand they grabbed the barrel of my E-gun and twisted my arm so it fired uselessly into the air. I began kicking at them as we struggled over the gun, and I stared into their empty eyes.
They lunged their mouth toward my hand, razor teeth chomping in the air. I flinched, and pulled my hand back, letting go of the pistol and grabbing onto the ship. A drop of blood fell through the air and a sharp pain pinched my hand like a paper cut, but I had avoided any serious damage.
The space pirate swung side to side, twisting the pistol in its hand. It took another bite at me, and I swung backwards. Then as I began to swing forward again, I pulled my body up with all my strength, and tucked my legs in. At the peak of my swing I kicked forward, planting both feet firmly on the valicorr’s shoulders. It lost its hold on the ship, and tumbled down through the air. I took a second to regain my balance as my eyes followed its trajectory. And then I froze.
The valicorr slammed directly into Omega, who let go of Jonathan and tumbled backwards out of view off the top of the ship, flinging the grenade launcher into the air. Jonathan’s rifle clattered onto the roof of the Firebrand and he slid backwards, collapsing onto all fours. He stopped just on the edge of the ship’s curve, and clawed his hands against the hull with a grimace.
The valicorr scrambled to its feet, slowly rising with an injured leg. It screeched at Jonathan, and flicked its arm to the side. A shimmering blade of plasma burst to life, extending from the creature’s arm.
“Look out!” I cried.
Jonathan rolled to the side. The plasma blade sliced into the hull of the ship. Sparks were tossed aside in the wind, and the Firebrand tilted slightly, moving through the air.
Jonathan yelled, and pulled himself up, charging straight for the valicorr. It swung the blade toward him, but he caught both of its wrists in his hands. The two of them wrestled atop the starship until at last Jonathan swiped a leg under the valicorr and tripped it. The valicorr landed on its back, having released my pistol from its grip. Jonathan held it, and stood up tall with his jacket billowing in the wind. He yelled, and drew his own pistol from beneath his coat.
Both weapons fired simultaneously, and Jonathan kicked the smouldering body. It rolled and slid down off the windshield.
“What was that?!” asked Joëlle. “Are you okay?! Jonathan!”
“I’m fine!” he replied, clearly strained.
“What about Omega?”
Omega’s voice rang through the speakers. “I am alive.”
“Good!” said Joëlle.
“Just hanging out.” they said.
The three of us were silent.
“W- Was that a joke?” Joëlle asked.
“...Was it not funny?”
“Just climb back up!” yelled Jonathan.
I reached my hand around the side of the dropship and grabbed onto the lip. We were getting closer to the mothership; it almost seemed to blot out the sky.
Below me, Jonathan shoved the pistols into his coat pockets, and lunged for Joëlle’s gun as it had begun to drift toward the edge. He caught it, and fired at the valicorr fighters, keeping them at bay. I noticed they were being more cautious now, keeping some distance from the Firebrand. Perhaps they were afraid, after seeing how many ships Omega and Jonathan had already destroyed. Omega inched their way back to the top of the ship, adhering to the hull.
Against all odds, I found a vertical handle next to the side door, and used it to pull myself up. At long last, I rested my feet on the lip of the dropship, and though I was still clutching the ship, I could give my muscles a brief rest. I sat there, panting, giving myself a moment before I tried to pry open the door and get to K.
“I made it to the door,” I declared.
“Alright! Get inside, and do your thing!” Joëlle said.
I reached down to the molecular sword at my hip. I thought I should be able to use the blade to cut or pry the door open. I swivelled my head, body pressed flat against the shuttle. Then something caught my eye: a red glow coming from the mothership, growing brighter.
That’s why the fighters were staying away from the Firebrand.
“Joëlle! The mothership!”
“Shit!” she responded.
I looked below. The Firebrand spun to the side. Jonathan screamed and began slipping off, but Omega pounced him, trapping him beneath their body as they latched onto the surface. The ship whirred and flipped, and a thunderclap shook the air. Red lightning arced down from the battlecruiser, missing the Firebrand by an inch. The bolt crashed into the plateau below, and sent stones and dust high into the air.
“Is everyone alright?!” I asked.
“Somehow!” Jonathan replied.
“Yes,” said Omega.
“For now!” said Joëlle.
I thrust the sword deep into the crack of the door, cutting downward into the latch which held it closed. I cringed at the sound of metal sheering and scraping together. But I had cut through.
I flung the door open. K was prone on the ground in front of me, her arms and legs now bound by thick metallic cuffs. A single valicorr stood in the room and raised its arm cannon toward me.
I ducked low and pulled myself into the ship with one arm raised for defense. A bolt of heat flew over my head and sparked against the inside of the ship. A second later, and I drove my sword into the pirate, grimacing.
I dropped the corpse to the floor, and there I could see the back of the pilot’s seat in the next room. The pilot glanced back at me, and vocalized something. Then the ship tilted violently to the side. The floor sloped down toward the open air, and K’s body tumbled toward it.
I dropped my sword clattering out of the ship and lunged for K. My arms stretched and I let out a cry. I held tightly onto a handle inside the ship, feet planted firmly on the tilted floor. With my other hand I held K by the arm. She hung freely outside of the ship, and my arm felt like it was going to tear. Images of the cold elevator shaft on Voren invaded my mind.
“Joëlle!” I screeched.
“Holy crap!” she replied. The Firebrand curved around and accelerated up towards me and K. “Omega! Catch them!”
The ship was level again, and Omega stood up, leaving Jonathan to crouch on the top of the ship. The dropship was spinning, trying to shake us off, and Joëlle tried desperately to match its movements, inching slowly closer each second.
Suddenly, K cried out. She glanced around frantically, eyes wide, spinning her horned head every direction. Her face was filled with terror, but when her eyes met mine, she squinted in confusion, then grit her teeth.
The Firebrand wobbled back and forth just a few meters below us. K wriggled, then her arms burst free from the handcuffs. They were made of thick metal, but it wasn’t enough to hold her back after all. She twisted her body, and grabbed onto the floor of the dropship, and created her own handholds by digging in her fingers and warping the metal. I let go of her arm, and we both gazed at the Firebrand, calculating the jump. Jonathan fired the rifle below, keeping valicorr ships at bay.
“I will catch you, K!” Omega said. They stood with perfect posture and outstretched arms.
K glanced down, then swung herself a little and let go. I wanted to shut my eyes, but I was transfixed watching her glide through the air. She landed just beside Omega, on the edge of the Firebrand, and lost her footing a little. Omega reached out an arm to her, and instantly she swatted it aside with her hand.
“I can do it on my own!” she growled.
“K, get inside the ship!” Jonathan commanded.
She glanced up at me briefly. The look in her eyes chilled my soul. But she hopped down the escape hatch into the vessel.
I wasted no more time. I pressed my feet against the platform and leapt toward Omega, but just as I did so the dropship shifted away from the Firebrand.
I hadn’t jumped far enough.
I stretched my arm out as I descended. My cape and ears shot straight up.
And my hand met Omega’s.
My body swung into the side of the ship, and the wind was knocked out of me. Omega hoisted me up, and spoke to Joëlle. “We have secured Osax and K.”
“Great!” She cried. “Woohoo! Everyone! Inside! Now!”
Jonathan took one last shot before slipping into the ship, coat trailing behind him. Omega held my hand, helping me to the hatch, then jumped inside. I glanced up at the mothership, and noticed a red glow. I dove into the hatch.
The Firebrand’s engines flared to life. Crimson energy cut through the air as we retreated.
But we were unscathed. Jonathan and Joëlle cheered. Omega was silent. K looked away from me. And I shut my eyes, took a slow, deep breath, and soaked in the feeling of resting my aching muscles, sitting against the wall in the corner. I was riding wave after wave of relief. And I laughed. We survived.