“What’s so important he has to stay behind to finish?” Leo asked, catching up to Captain. Mollin was leading the way using his linked smart and handheld to light the hallway ahead.
“If we crash landside with all ordinance, Dockland will take half the planet out with the explosion,” Captain replied through gritted teeth. “He’s ensuring all munitions are launched into safe orbits. Dockland crashing will be an extinction event for anything living on the surface of this world, but at least the world will still be here to resettle again later.”
Leo’s stomach roiled and he choked back against vomiting. Mollin had said their crash trajectory would miss the assembly yard, so Leo hoped that meant Dockland would miss the landside population as well.
Far away in Dockland’s corridors, distant voices called and repeated the original evacuation order. Leo added his voice to the yells at every ladder and open maintenance hatch.
Captain’s limp was getting worse; her injuries were deeper than just what Leo and Mollin could see and the glance they shared when she stumbled to rest against a wall proved they both knew it. “Can I help you?” Leo offered gently. She looked at him and then nodded into a slouch. He pulled her good arm over his shoulders and, by her direction, grabbed a handful of uniform by her opposite hip in a spot which didn’t make her pain any worse but still gave him a second way to help support her weight.
A few turnings and a couple of ladders later they joined the back of the line for their lifeboat, luckily the same one Captain was assigned to. The hallway and hold were lit by the lifeboat’s exterior lights. Waiting in line, Dockland shuddered in a way Leo had never felt before. It was as if the ship was tingling along a spine it didn’t have. Captain shook with the ship, bowing her head, but then straightened and faced forward with a grim smile.
“Dockland just demilitarized,” she murmured to Leo and Mollin.
“That’s good timing. Shiner’s format just finished. All systems over there are blank, except the active dock locks. I excluded those so they won’t disengage,” Mollin updated Captain, not looking up from the handheld. His voice was shaking.
“Good work, Mollin,” Captain said.
Leo counted along with the minutes he could see on Mollin’s smart, actively ignoring how the ship would periodically vibrate while they moved forward into the hold, until too much time had gone by. He knew Lissa was assigned to the same lifeboat because their cabins were so close together, but so far Trevor’s grandfather was nowhere to be seen among the final few arrivals Captain had ordered to line up in front of her.
“Mollin? Vid me,” Leo requested as they reached the bottom of the ramp into the lifeboat.
“We’re both standing right here,” Mollin answered.
“Lissa, Trevor’s grandfather, he has my smart.”
“No, you left it snapped to the wall,” Mollin corrected. Captain huffed in mild annoyance and sent the vid request from her personal smart.
“Where are you?” she demanded when Lissa accepted the vid. The view was of him standing, reaching up to where Leo had left his smart snapped to the wall.
“Don’t worry about me. You just make sure everyone else gets to their lifeboats,” he replied, casually tucking his hands into his pockets. It was easy to see the weapons panels to one side behind him, each screen flashing reloading requirements.
“Leo, go get that space rotted –”
“You can’t get here,” Lissa interrupted the order. “Shiner’s dock locks shifted during their first lifeboat launches. Probably people over there panicking and they didn’t decompress their holds properly before opening exterior doors. It happened at the same time our ordinance dumped. Dockland’s hull failed in multiple places along the pushed sections. The life support lock-ins for this room and this deck’s personnel access points triggered due to the vacuum.”
Captain transferred from leaning on Leo’s shoulder to leaning on Mollin’s. She nodded to Leo and, with the light from a flickering smart someone had dropped and left behind during evacuation, he took off at a run toward the below decks control room. As Lissa had said, emergency doors had sealed both hallways and the maintenance access between the lifeboat hold and the deck the control room was on. The smart in his hand faded, the flickering screen flashing once then terminating as he ran back to where Captain and Mollin were waiting at the bottom of the ramp.
“All emergency doors to the deck are sealed,” he confirmed.
“You all go,” Lissa said. “I have Leo’s smart here. I’ll vid my important people and make my goodbyes,” he assured them.
Leo dropped the broken smart as Captain tried ordering Lissa to find another evacuation route. This time, when the smart hit the hard decking of the lifeboat hold, it broke into pieces. A small crystal component winked and sparkled in the lifeboat lighting as it skittered at a hard angle away from the rest of the parts.
“Wait,” Leo said, interrupting the argument Captain was losing against Lissa, but not looking away from the spot where the tiny crystal component had disappeared into shadow. “What generation of Class Nine Odyssean is Dockland?” Leo asked Captain.
“Seventh,” she replied. Leo popped one of his fists into the bottom of his other and smiled widely at her as he grabbed the handheld away from Mollin and started quickly backing away in the same direction he had just come from.
“It should still work,” Leo said quickly.
“Wait, what should? Where are you...? Leo!” Captain called, the same questions coming from Lissa through her smart.
“Go. Just go! We’ll be fine. There’s another lifeboat!” he called as he turned to start jogging away.
“What are you …? Leo!” Captain hollered.
He almost felt like he was dancing as he spun to look back right before ducking out the interior door for the hold. “Tech History was my best subject! Just go!” he yelled, waving the handheld, and then he turned away, raced past the hold windows, and disappeared from their view into the dark hallways.
Leo found the walled-over access port faster than he expected to. Breaking into it broke the handheld, but the antique fiber cabling powering the below decks control room glowed enough for him to see where he was crawling along. He followed the sealed, armored, cable run all the way to the below decks control room floor.
“Hello?” Lissa’s muffled voice demanded between the patterned pounding Leo was using a disconnected coupling end to knock into the access port. At some point during refits and upgrades, the control room had been re-floored and the sterilpoly tiles had hidden the tunnel’s portal access so Leo hadn’t realized it was there until now. After some scraping and tearing sounds, followed by banging and crunching sounds, the smooth hub Leo could see and knew was the mount for the portal wheel began to turn.
“Before you yell at me,” Leo said as the portal hatch lifted to expose Lissa crouched in the tunnel gap just below the floor. Lissa bit back the yelling he was set to do the moment he saw Leo’s face. “Dockland is a seventh generation Class Nine Odyssean,” Leo said. He crawled up into the tunnel gap and then turned to slam and lock the hatch.
“So?” Lissa asked.
“I loved reading about these in my second standard year at Academy. They were the only Odyssean generation ever made with this feature,” Leo said, helping Lissa climb out of the tunnel gap. Sterilpoly tile pieces cut with the knife Lissa kept in his pocket and chunks of poly floor base that looked kicked apart were scattered nearby. “First generation InterStel and demilitarization made the feature obsolete, so it was never carried forward into future designs. But this generation of this gunship,” he continued, pausing to rip back more of the flooring than Lissa had torn up, “has this!” he finished with a flourish, crouching down to point at a flat, manual panel on the floor. It was a grey rectangle split by a red circle in the middle. He pushed on the two sides of the rectangle simultaneously, activating the pressure pads, and a round column at a height nearly the same length as his hand slid up from the outside edge of the circle. “Wow,” Leo stated breathlessly, stopping to admire what his efforts had produced.
A weekly blog updating on Fridays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!