(In the previous installment: Jyra, captain of Aspiron, identified another ship running on an intercept course. Although unsure about whether the mysterious vessel was controlled by a violent group called Kytes, Jyra ordered her crew to prepare to launch mines.) Stay tuned for the finale in the next issue of the Fairhaven Free Press.
Indistinct murmurs broke the silence as Jyra watched the ship lumbering toward Aspiron. At first she thought it was the intercom, but the status light next to the radio flickered. Was the contact intentional or was the receiver picking up the intercom transmissions of the other ship? Jyra tried switching the channel, but the murmurs remained. She leaned over and held the intercom button.
“No one use the intercom. That’s an order.”
Jyra sat down and listened to the static and tried to make sense of the coherent bits of conversation that came through. It was obvious the transmission was not meant to travel beyond the intercepting ship. How was Aspiron’s radio picking up the signal?
“What’s going on?” Serana said, returning to cockpit. She sounded harassed. “Why can’t we use the intercom?” Jyra held up a hand to silence her copilot as the static gave way to a voice.
“They sent a distress call,” a rough voice said.
“Have you checked the com status?” another voice said. Jyra thought it sounded familiar. The interference knocked out most of the exchange. Only the last part of a sentence transmitted before the line went dead.
“—coms can broadcast to surrounding ships, part of the defense.”
“You didn’t send a distress call, did you?” Serana said.
“Of course I didn’t,” Jyra said.
“What are they talking about?” Serana wondered aloud. “We didn’t pick up a call.”
“It’s the ship they’re on,” Jyra said. “We’re hearing whoever just took it over. And they’re right. The distress system is likely the reason we can hear them.”
“So why haven’t they cut the transmission yet?”
“That’s the mystery,” Jyra said, staring at the intercepting vessel. It looked familiar somehow, like the ships she used to see on Tyrorken. She shook her head and stood up.
“What’s the progress with the mines?”
“Ivan and Hale are getting them in the launchers in the airlock.”
“Great,” Jyra said. “We’ll worry about the radio once we’ve dealt with them. Report back when the mines are ready. We’ll use the intercom again for the launch.”
“Won’t be long,” Serana said as she left the cockpit.
Jyra swiveled to face the main computer and pulled up the mine launcher control. She kept checking the progress of the target. What was it about the ship that made her so uneasy? Maybe it was the voice she heard on the radio?
The scratchy din from the transmission had become quieter, but it was still present. As Jyra began plotting the mine launch pattern, the noise increased on the radio, though it was still incomprehensible.
Jyra shook her head and kept coordinating the strike. Mines were considered an old method of attack and defense. Most vessels could easily avoid the explosives.
While she worked, Jyra couldn’t help thinking about what she’d overheard.
She picked up the mouthpiece, her finger on the transmitter, and cleared her throat. Just then, the first voice that had spoken came through the static.
“Has it been bypassed yet?”
“Working on it,” another voice replied. “We’ve scrambled inter-ship communications. They can probably still hear this.”
“I don’t want ‘probably,’” the first voice said. “I want a definitive answer.”
Jyra gritted her teeth as images of Tyrorken suddenly surfaced in her memory. She saw the rundown house where she grew up and the shed where she and her brother had worked together to build sculptures and machines in their spare time. The enormous complex for the Tyrorken Fuels offices replaced the decrepit neighborhood.
Jyra sat up in the cockpit seat, still seeing the ships flying around the TF headquarters. They were the same as the one on the intercept course.
Footsteps sounded in the corridor, heralding Serana’s return.
“Three mines are loaded and ready,” Serana said. “Got their trajectories plotted?”
“It’s strange,” Jyra said as she rose to get a better view of the ship.
“I know,” Serana said, confused by her captain’s behavior. “It’s weird, but they’re getting really close now. Whatever capture device they’ve got, they’ll be in range to use it soon.”
“Right. Just a few more points to enter,” Jyra said, taking her seat and typing in the maximum speed for the launchers to fire the mines. Serana watched over her shoulder.
“Can we get away with that?” she asked. “It seems too close. The explosion could take us out, too.”
“Don’t worry,” Jyra said. “The moment the launch happens, I’ll bank hard and take us out of the blast zone. Initiate final launch procedures. I’ll bring the intercom back online and give the order. Go now!”
Serana scurried out of sight. Jyra scanned the crimson figures on the black screen and set up the link between the computer and the launchers.
In the cargo hold, Ivan stood in the airlock in the floor double-checking the mines. Hale consulted the monitor on the wall.
“She’s making the link with the main computer,” he called. “Arm the mines.”
Serana jumped into the airlock and pulled the safety pegs, dropping them as she went. Ivan climbed out of the chamber and helped Serana back into the cargo hold.
“Closing inner door,” Hale said, twisting the knob next to the monitor.
The computer indicated the airlock had been sealed. Jyra typed in five degrees and everyone in the cargo hold heard the whirring of the gears in the launchers below their feet. Serana stood next to Hale, three fingers positioned over the buttons.
The launchers were set. Jyra removed the safety override on the triggers and pressed the intercom button.
“Clear! Launch!” she shouted. Serana pressed the buttons simultaneously.
Jyra watched the mines traveling on the schematic. The first voice suddenly interrupted the subdued static on the radio.
“Mines! Break course and evade!”
A sinking feeling wrapped itself around Jyra’s middle. She felt as though the mines were coming at her. She didn’t want to even think it, but she couldn’t deny it. She knew that voice. It belonged to her militia comrade, Craig.
“Oh damn it!” She cursed herself, realizing that she had neglected to divert Aspiron’s course to avoid damage from the explosion.
“Jyra, is that you? It’s me, Craig! I thought I’d identified your ship. Jyra, do you copy? It’s Craig here!” His voice was rushed and panicked.
“What’s going on?” Serana said, entering the cockpit with raised eyebrows as she regarded the radio transmission. Jyra coughed and thought how to explain. Craig interrupted.
“Someone on that ship knows you? What a coincidence,” Serana said.
“I don’t believe in coincidence,” Jyra said. “I used to know him. We were friends once.”
She stood again and watched the mines speeding toward the ship, which was making a slow turn to avoid the incoming explosives. Craig’s voice cut through the static again.
“Jyra, I’m sorry. We left the link open because I thought it was you! Please deflect the mines!” Something crashed behind Craig and Jyra winced.
“Sir, we can’t figure out how to accelerate!” a voice said.
“Don’t figure it out! Just do it!” Craig roared. “Jyra, please!”
Jyra leaned forward and slammed the switch to silence the radio.
“The first one missed,” Jyra said, barely recognizing her own voice. The ship had maneuvered enough to avoid one of the mines, which now glided onward into space. Serana stepped to Jyra’s side.
“That one won’t.”
Sure enough, the second mine collided with the rear of the ship. Jyra and Serana could see the hull plates buckling from the force of the explosion. The blow kicked the nose of the stricken ship upward, causing the last mine to miss its target.
“Resume previous course,” Jyra said. Her mouth was very dry.
Serana took her seat and began redirecting Aspiron, relieved to be able to do something. Her captain continued to stare at the wounded ship, which was revolving while its stern burned.
Footsteps clattered in the hallway and Ivan, Hale, and Heather all gathered in the doorway.
“Success?” Ivan asked.
Serana fired a silent warning with a glare and shook her head.
“Why didn’t we use the mines on the Kytes back there?” Heather asked.
“They don’t work in gravity or atmospheres,” Hale said. “They require—”
“Get out of here!” Jyra yelled, spinning on the spot and staring at the trio in the corridor. “I didn’t ask for any of you to be up here!”
“Sorry, captain,” Ivan said. He didn’t meet Jyra’s gaze as he guided Hale and Heather down the corridor before him.
Jyra felt like the heat of the explosions warmed her face as she watched the blazing fires. The ship seemed to be holding together, but the damage had likely destroyed all its maneuvering capabilities.
As Serana restored Aspiron to the original trajectory, Jyra could no longer see the immobilized vessel. She sat in the seat next to her copilot and bit her lip, staring at the console in front of her.
“Course is reset,” Serana said. Jyra didn’t reply.
“Look, I don’t know what you need right now,” Serana continued, squirming in her seat and rubbing her forehead. “I don’t know if it would help if I asked you about when you and that guy were friends.”
Jyra put her face in her palms, which amplified the sound of her sharp inhalation.
“It might,” she said.