Chapter 2: Emergency Landing
“We have to land. Soon we’ll have no fuel.”
They had been knocked off course. They were nowhere near the vicinity of the Eicho system. Raven did not know how where such a strong force could come from so suddenly and take them so far away from their destination. Shuttlecrafts were built for the short excursion between the base and the star. She had never had to test one without the base as a safety point.
The black emptiness expanded all around them as Raven kept her eyes opened for any sign of the Cuafour System. The sporadic star pattern indicated they were closest to the technologically quiet system. Many of the colonized planets in the Cuafour System eschewed most technology, but there were means of communication. Most inhabitants of the Cuafour System preferred to live quiet lives yet still had ways to find out the goings on throughout the Confederation. Raven thought they were delusional because they thought they lived outside the rules of the UCNSS. She knew they were just as much a part of the system as she.
The fuel gauge continued to drop. She still could not see a planet nearby. Raven felt the shuttlecraft start to give way from a lack of fuel. She hadn’t heard anything from Jimmy since she and Art managed to get him away from the Blue Nova Star before it blew. She imagined he needed some medical attention by now.
She checked the monitor again. Empty space surrounded them for miles. The fuel gauge didn’t seem to want to reverse itself. Raven tried not to worry. The craft rocked unsteadily again. When she heard the blip, she thought for sure the monitor would show her that they would spend the rest of their very short days drifting aimlessly in space with no means of landing. Instead, she got the break she had silently hoped for since they took off from Terra Firma 9.
“Hang on for a little while longer. It looks like we’re in for a bumpy landing.”
Art had strapped Jimmy in to a reclined position once he recovered from that unexpected blast. Now he held on to Jimmy’s hand not even sure if the young one was cognizant. He had sat patiently with him after giving him a jump start with an adrenaline shot to the heart. Jimmy had responded immediately but slowly slipped into a comatose state. At least he was alive. Raven probably could have been safe by now if she hadn’t decided to take a risk and go back for Jimmy. Art sensed some nobility in her when she first came to lead him through the starpoint. How long it would last he didn’t know. She had said nothing since they put Jimmy in the craft, but he knew she would get them somewhere safe.
The shuttlecraft took a nasty jolt. Art instinctively squeezed Jimmy’s hand and was surprised but not dismayed when he felt the responsive pressure returned to his hand. Jimmy was awake. His eyes were still closed, but he was aware.
“Don’t worry. I’m here.”
Another jolt felt as if the shuttlecraft would break in half. Art tried to keep his breathing steady and reassured himself that Raven knew how to land under emergency circumstances. Jimmy stayed still but kept ahold of his hand. They stayed connected until they felt a sharp blow that let them know they had barely landed on a surface.
Everything was still at the moment. The whirring of the machines that powered the shuttle no longer hummed. Art could not even feel Raven’s presence at the front of the craft. He was the first thing to move as he unstuck himself from his position and stood with his head just inches from the top of the shuttlecraft. He shook the rubbery feeling from his legs while he checked to be sure Jimmy was still in tact. As far as he knew, the vital signs were good.
“Ms. Moody?” he called. Silence met him, so he moved toward the small opening leading to the cockpit to make sure Raven managed to make it in one piece. He was slightly startled when the compartment door opened and Raven stuck her head through before stretching her own stiff body out of the small cockpit.
“These shuttles were definitely not made to be comfortable on long flights.” She walked into the passenger chamber to check on Jimmy. “How’s he doing?”
“Still a little weak, but I think he’ll recover. He was showing signs of life before we landed. Where are we?”
Raven looked around as if she could see through the body of the shuttlecraft. “We made it to one of the outlying planets of the Cuafour System. Not too many inhabitants here, at least not near where we landed. We may be stuck for a little while. I think I know where I can find a little fuel near the hillside west from here. The small ranges usually don’t hold the premium stuff, but it may just take this small craft to some civilization. Maybe even find out if we can get back to Eicho.”
Art nodded, turning his attention back to Jimmy whose breathing had become easier.
“You should stay here with him in case his condition changes. I can handle myself in case anything untoward is out there.”
Art nodded again, somewhat relieved to have the decision made for him. He watched Raven as she put together a few provisions and prepared a lidded bucket to gather fuel. He said nothing when he saw her check a small laser pistol. He had no idea navigator pilots carried weapons, but he was not about to complain.
“It looks about six hours before dark. I should be back before then, but just in case, I need to show you how to work the controls for heat and emergency functions.”
Art followed her into the cockpit and made mental notes of all the buttons he would need if the passenger quarters became too cold or the lights went out. He then watched Raven as she disembarked and disappeared out west on a quest to get them back in the skies for their next destination. He then returned to the passenger quarters to find Jimmy with his eyes wide open.
“So you’re still alive.”
“I’m not sure. Where’s Raven?”
“We had to make an emergency landing. She went off to get fuel so we can get out.”
“And go where?”
Art smiled. “I have no idea.”
Jimmy gave no resistance as Art looked him over, delicately checking his pulse and making sure the scar from the needle to the heart hadn’t begun to bleed. He then helped Jimmy sit up and stretch himself out. Almost immediately, Jimmy collapsed into himself unable to contain the sobs. Art put his protective arms around Jimmy.
“I should have…” Jimmy choked out but could not finish.
“Don’t worry about it now,” Art said as soothingly as he could in his slightly gruff voice. “I’m sure you did what you thought was best. I wouldn’t be here now if you hadn’t. Hell, I didn’t think I’d ever see this time again.”
Jimmy continued to sob softly in Art’s arms.
“I’m okay now,” Jimmy finally said as he collected himself. He followed with a few heaves of the chest and sighed. “I just… I should have trusted myself and gone to Raven before she sent the last family. The kemtons were already disappearing by then. She would have never taken that chance if I had told her before then. All of you could have been trapped.”
“But we weren’t. You brought us all back.”
Jimmy dried his tears and looked at Art as if seeing him for the first time. His pudgy brown face had begun to wrinkle rather beautifully. The sign of wrinkles did nothing to diminish the sparkle in those dark brown eyes. Gray peeked through a short stubble that had sprouted around Art’s chin and mouth. Jimmy caught himself staring and turned away.
“Sorry I cut short your trip. I hope you got what you went for in the past.”
Art’s eyes twinkled as he smiled benevolently at Jimmy. “I do believe I did.”
“Why did you go if you don’t mind my asking?”
Art flustered briefly but recovered just as quickly. “Umm, no I don’t mind. There’s not really much to it anyway. Standard trip to see some old ghosts while being one. You see I lost touch with someone who had been special to me when I was about your age. You even look a little bit like him, but your kind just looks similar anyway. We used to share a place in Nairobi before the war. It was like out of a storybook: we didn’t have much but each other, but we were happy with that. Whether or not the war happened, it wouldn’t have lasted. Like I said, it was storybook, so that always dies. The war just made it die faster. But I never forgot. I couldn’t. About a year ago, I heard he wasn’t doing very well. I was living in Etesere by then, so I started to save so that I could see him one last time. I was almost there when I got word that he passed. I was going to chalk it up to a lost cause, but his daughter contacted me. She asked if I could go through the Blue Nova Star. We came up with a code to let him know I was there since I couldn’t take off the NoSee cloaking device. He knew I was there right before he died.”
“Wow,” Jimmy said with no enthusiasm. “That’s really depressing.”
Art’s smile was not lacking mirth. The two men shared the moment before they both remembered where they were and the gravity of the situation. Yet things did not seem quite so bad with just the two of them. The few hours they spent together waiting for Raven to return with fuel were leisurely but necessary . Since fate had thrown them together, they had to deal with it. So Art told Jimmy something of his life before he managed to save the money needed to travel the Blue Nova Star and Jimmy confided in him the reason he remained an outcast among other Blue Nova employees.
Art had wrapped himself with an emergency blanket and made himself comfortable by Jimmy’s side when he heard the footsteps approaching the shuttle. He didn’t realize how relieved he was until he heard Raven’s voice calling out to reassure them of her lone presence.
“Looks like we’re in luck, guys,” she said as she settled into the passenger’s quarters with her companions. “I got us enough fuel to get us to a more habitable system. It also looks like someone was here not long ago. There was a campsite near the hills and I salvaged what was left. You won’t believe what I got.”
Raven unpacked a small flat box from her bag. Both Art and Jimmy recognized it immediately.
“A telecaster,” Jimmy said in awe. “Is it universal?”
“It appears so, but I’d need to power it up first. Can’t do that until the fuel kicks in. I suggest we all hunker down for the night and it’s been a long trip. We’ve got a longer one ahead. Have you two eaten yet?”
The three agreed upon rations in case getting to a more populous world took longer than expected. Raven then set the fuel in the shuttlecraft and connected the telecaster to the shuttle. She knew they hadn’t been gone from Terra Firma Base 9 very long, but she was starting to feel antsy from disconnection. At least at the station she could easily find out what was happening on UCNSS planets. She spent most of the time keeping track of her parents’ home of Unone. It was in the system furthest away from Terra Firma Base 9, so Raven often missed her family. She could feel closer to her parents again and make sure all was well at home with a universal telecaster. In the meantime, she and Jimmy discovered that Art was quite adept at preparing freeze dried steak so that it did not taste like hot wood dipped in flavored sauce.
The telecaster finally charged to full power. Raven turned it on and ran her hand across the screen. It would soon pick up a live transmission of all telecasts currently streaming through the UCNSS planets. Raven was keen to find news from Unone, but she found all the telecasts had been pre-empted with the same emergency news that shut down all other telecasts: the explosion of the Blue Nova Star that caused the complete destruction of Terra Firma Base 9. A burning arose in her chest as an analyst discussed the unprecedented destruction of an entire space base.
“… But the Blue Nova Corporation claims the incident occurred suddenly with no prior warning, leading many officials to believe the incident was a work of sabotage. Many of the employees who managed to escape the blast claim they saw no change in the kemtoms that gave the Blue Nova Star its special capabilities. This seems plausible given how quickly the star overheated and exploded. It may be some time before we find out the truth regarding how this tragedy occurred.”
“You mentioned sabotage, Ms. Krenshaw. If there is no evidence in how this occurred, why would anyone suspect sabotage?”
“Well, as I said, there was no reason for the star to suddenly destroy itself. Professionals worked around the clock to keep watch on the kemtons and there had never before been any change in them. This indicates that they would have had to be manually manipulated in some way.”
“Why would someone want to destroy the kemtons knowing what would happen to Terra Firma Base 9?”
“Right now, the Captain is looking over the records of one particular employee, a navigator-pilot named Teresa Moody.”
Raven froze at the mention of her name. She could not believe she had been associated with that explosion after she had done all she could to save the astral tourists. The sinking feeling expanded to a deep black hole in her stomach. She wanted that black hole to swallow her, especially as she continued to listen to the telecast.
“Apparently, Moody disobeyed orders and took an unauthorized flight to the Blue Nova Star a couple of days before the kemtons began to disappear. It’s unclear why she would go back to retrieve the astral tourists after planning the terrorist act. Perhaps she meant for them to die on the base with the others who perished.”
Now she was angry. She still felt sick, but anger overtook the sickness and began to fill the hole. Terrorist. She had been labeled a terrorist. Raven had risked her life to go back for Jimmy, but the Captain had had her declared a terrorist. The newscaster asked another leading question to the analyst.
“Has anyone considered the possibility that this was a suicide mission perhaps?”
“The Captain considered the possibility, but there seems to be no evidence that Moody perished in the explosion. It also seems she went to retrieve an accomplice who helped her sabotage the kemtons.”
Retrieved not rescued. Accomplice. The Blue Nova Star Corporation was already making its case against her. Something was wrong and she had been set up. Raven grew more numb as she watched Jimmy’s face light up the screen. She barely heard the rest of the telecast, but she knew there was no mention of Art. She had been called a terrorist, Jimmy only an accomplice. They already assumed she had destroyed the kemtons and led Jimmy astray. None of it added up, especially considering it had been Jimmy who had warned the others about the disappearing kemtons.
“There is a universal watch issued for the terrorist Teresa Moody,” the telecaster announced. “She is not to be approached. If anyone sees the accomplice Jimmy Thompson, he should be turned over immediately so that he can give information on the whereabouts of Moody.”
In one telecast, she had gone from suspect to wanted terrorist. She had seen it happen to others who dared cross the mighty Blue Nova Star Empire, but she had always been on the side of right if not righteous. If she was discovered alive, she would be hunted for the rest of her life. If she was caught, she knew a quick death was out of the question. She would be the latest example of what happened to those who put any type of dent in Blue Nova Star’s carefully crafted image. Now that people had died as a result of an accident on its premier base, the company’s image forever had a big red blemish. The way to correct it would be to transfer that blemish onto a tangible body: Raven’s.
“Are you okay?”
Art had lain a paternal hand on her shoulder. Raven hadn’t even felt it while she was so engrossed in her thoughts. Both Art and Jimmy looked at her expectantly, waiting for her to acknowledge the dire situation before them.
“I don’t understand how they could have blown,” Raven said more to herself than her companions. “Kemtons aren’t that unstable. The overheating might have made the base unbearable but it shouldn’t have…”
She trailed off, trying to process the situation. She had expected to make contact and maybe get a rescue to get to Eicho, but the base’s destruction had made that impossible.
“This definitely changes things,” Raven said. “They must have gotten out all the top guys at the expense of some underlings. Blaming me’s going to help them cover that mistake. They want to make sure the public wants my head for this. No one will want to help if I’m supposed to be a terrorist. Blue Nova played this hand very well. I’m all alone.”
“No, you’re not.”
Jimmy still looked weak as he sat up, but he tried to hide the effort it took to make the gesture. But he didn’t resist when Art lent a hand.
“That’s right,” Art agreed. “I’m staying with you. Besides, he was named, too. He’s in just as much trouble.”
“No, he’s not. They said they only want him to turn me over. Whether he wants to or not, they’ll say that he confirmed I sabotaged the base. They only need him to make the situation worse for me. He wouldn’t even be sent to Hiefri.”
Both Art and Jimmy froze at the name of the heinous ice colony. Banishment to Hiefri was worse than a death sentence. Work with no end or reason, a continuous daylight with no night: these were only a few things most dreaded about Hiefri. No one who had ever been banished to the ice colony had ever left it again, not even to be buried properly in fertile ground. Although Raven had said Jimmy would be spared, there was no guarantee. He would need to be kept quiet. Nothing was quieter than Hiefri.
Jimmy broke the silence. “Then it doesn’t matter. We all know Blue Nova isn’t to be trusted. That whole thing may have been an attempt to lure me back, but it won’t work. They may also have suspicions about Art as well. I think we should take our chances together.”
“But as long as you’re with me, the bigger the risk to you. If we’re all caught together, you’ll be named as accessories and there’ll be no mercy.”
“But we all have less chance of getting caught if we work together.”
She looked at Art as he spoke. Raven’s mind had been made up, but she knew the two of them would overrule her. They were stuck with each other whether or not she liked it. At this point, she wanted more than anything to survive even if that meant giving up the comfortable solitude she had loved all her life.
“Okay, well then the first thing we have to do is take a good look at where we are. It would help to stay put for a while with Jimmy recovering, but we’re going to need supplies sooner rather than later. We also need to figure out what to do about the shuttle. Everyone recognizes the Blue Nova logo. We’d be spotted immediately.”
They talked over the situation for the next few hours. They knew they would need the shuttle, but they also knew it was not built to withstand long-distance travel. They needed to disguise the craft long enough to get it to a more populous planet and risk trying to use it as a trade in for a better ship. They could each work to find the money it would take to cover the cost of the ship. Art also mentioned a few friends who owed him, so he might have to call a few favors.
“I think we need to focus more on the first steps before we get too far ahead of ourselves. We should get some rest. We can start by getting the ship ready after that. Troiwee is close enough that we can make it. Fortunately it’s also unfriendly enough that we’ll be left alone by everyone who isn’t looking to collect a quick reward.”
“Or at least hope they hate Blue Nova enough that they don’t want to help the company.”
“Yeah it’s too risky to use the NoSee devices. Blue Nova might still have a track on them.”
“Shit!” Raven exclaimed. “We don’t have any company devices activated do we?”
They looked around, but the shuttle was nearly completely shut down. The conservation training they underwent had been firmly ingrained in them, so everything not being used had been powered down. Even shuttles were difficult to trace because they were so rarely used off based that Blue Nova saw no reason to implement these safeguards. Raven thanked corporate greed at that moment.
“Look, we’re safe for now,” Art finally said. “They don’t even know if we’re still alive. We’ll never get any rest if we keep worrying like this. We haven’t seen any other signs of life since we’ve been here. We should rest like you said, Raven.”
They all stretched out in the passenger compartment, but sleep did not come as easily to Raven as it did Art and Jimmy. She wondered who had been left behind, who had been sacrificed so that Blue Nova Consolidated could take those it deemed valuable and have the satisfaction of labeling her a terrorist.
She had managed some sleep by the time Art and Jimmy came out of theirs. Raven got through the next few hours as the three carefully removed all traces of the distinct Blue Nova logo from the shuttlecraft. The soft granite mud was known to make a good substitute for paint. She noticed that Jimmy had some trouble breathing properly as he performed a hasty paint job although he tried to hide it. She knew Art was also concerned, but he said nothing.
Removing the logo without damaging the craft took more time than they planned, so they had to call it a day’s work. Raven was relieved. She knew the sooner they finished their work on Cuafour, the sooner they would have to leave. Who knew what awaited them on Troiwee.
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