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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 159: Hastings 95
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Joe didn't answer right away. He seemed to be staring at the walls. Lauren didn't know whether he was thinking, or stunned, or just didn't hear her.
"Are there any more?" she repeated.
His eyes moved across the rafters, and he spoke without looking at her.
"It's difficult to know," he said. "Hard to imagine that any might have slept through a battle like that, even if they're deaf, but it might have happened. Also, those we've encountered have all been aggressive. We have yet to stay in one place long enough to find out whether there are any more cautious members of the species.
"The grates are off the vents." He pointed. "They must have come up here from engineering. Anyway, it makes sense to reload if you can. Derek, let's get started on these controls." He pulled out a few bullets and fed them into the clip of his pistol before holstering the weapon.
Derek was sitting on one of the consoles, leaning on his gun. Lauren suddenly thought how much all this depended on him, and particularly now at the critical point. She wondered how much of him was still the boy, the twelve year old who should be playing video games and swimming in the neighbor's pool and riding that bicycle of his on quiet back roads to local playgrounds. Certainly he had a decade of experience since then; he had in some ways grown, and he had certainly learned. But had he aged, had he matured, and in what ways?
Derek scanned the room, rose slowly while breathing heavily, and walked to one of the consoles. Taking out his tools and his electronic gear, he began to work.
Lauren realized that this put her on guard duty. She reloaded both revolvers and holstered them. Then she scooped up her spent laser power packs and stashed them where she could find them. Taking the psi blaster in hand, she walked toward the door, and turned back to survey the room, with particular attention to the ceiling.
Joe was sitting at one of the other consoles, using the desk surface to help refill the clips for his guns. He was done in a moment, and took a position across the room from her, also watching the ceiling more than the floor. They waited in silence, two alert sentries, one computer technician whose typing and occasional bumping and shifting were the only real noise in the room apart from their breathing and that thumping sound Lauren recognized as her pulse beating in her ears.
At a sudden movement in the room, she and Joe both whirled toward it. A screen had come alight, showing the space station complex ahead. Lauren had not realized just how big it was, nor how many other smaller yet still very big habitats surrounded it. This was the purpose of their quest, the salvation of the millions who lived in those cities and towns suspended in space.
"We've got a problem," Derek said.
"What's that?" Joe answered.
"I would guess that the bridge crew did not know what they were up against. It appears that they locked the controls themselves, and encrypted the lockout codes. They were afraid whatever was attacking them was trying to take over the ship, so they set it on this course for the station. But the controls seem to be locked out individually. I could probably crack one set of controls in time to do something with it, but if I don't get both navigation and piloting, I can't avoid a collision with something–and it will take too long to do that."
Joe walked over to him, and looked over the consoles.
"Blow it up," he said.
"What? If we blow it up, the fragments will still hit the station, and we'll be dead anyway."
"No, that's not true. The habitat is equipped with automated defenses which can easily withstand fragmentary space debris. It might even be able to reduce this ship to harmless dust, were it not for the ship's own defenses and the nearness of the collision. If we blow it up, we reduce it to manageable chunks and shut down the defenses here, and the habitat will take care of the rest. As for us, Lauren can get us out of here; but if not, you know we don't die–we just give our lives here to save those on the station. This time, Derek, you get to give your life to save a world."
Derek looked at Lauren, and she realized he was waiting for her to say something. Joe was right; everything Christian in her told her that this was the correct choice.
"Blow it up," she said.
Derek stared only another moment, then turned back to the console. "O.K.," he said. "This will still take some time, as I'm going to have to hack the command paths and overcome the safeties, but if that's what you all think we should do, I'm on it."
As Lauren watched, Derek ran from one console to another, clipping his circuits in here and there, typing frantically at times, quietly speed-reading screens at other times. All the while the space habitat on the screen before them loomed larger, closer.
Finally he spoke. "O.K., I've got it," he said. "I've given us a five minute delay. Let me get my stuff together, and we're out of here." He ran back around to all the consoles, removing leads, disconnecting chips and boards. He paused briefly, as if trying to recall something, and started walking toward the door through which they had entered.
"Oh, right," he said. "Well, maybe I can find them again eventually, if they survive the blast."
"Your darts?" Lauren asked. She was only too aware of her own telekinetic rod, somewhere above them in the ship's galley.
"Yeah," he said. "Let's go."
Lauren waited for her companions to reach her side. She hadn't been watching the clock, but guessed that about half her time was gone. She extended her hand, ready to pronounce the spell.
The sudden pain in her leg interrupted her; she screamed. One of the beasts had clamped its jaws around her leggings.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #148: Characters Succeed. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: