The Dark Empire, Page 8-12 by Wolfenshire ()
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The Dark Empire, Page 8-12
“There’s the wagons,” said Jasai.
Zil leaned forward in his chair and looked, then tipped his head to the side. “That’s wrong,” said Zil.
“What is?” asked Jasai.
Zil lifted the necklace he wore and held it out for Jasai to see. “This is Master Aestar.”
Jasai looked at the necklace. She had seen it before and knew what it was – the three interlocking concentric circles. It was an ancient symbol of the three races from the Creator home world; the Creators, the Destroyers, and the forgotten race of the Sherata.
The train came closer and started slowing. She could see the wagons better now, each wagon had a symbol of an upside down pyramid with a wavy line at the bottom. Those were not Aestar’s wagons. She could hear the screeching of breaks and was pushed forward in her seat; the train was coming to a stop. She saw one of the tarps move, like someone was under the tarp moving around.
“Zil, somethings not right,” shouted Jasai. Her hands flew over the controls and disengaged the auto-pilot. She put her hand on the thrust lever and pushed it all the way forward. The engines surged and Jasai was pushed back in her seat as the train accelerated. She heard Zil yelling, “weeeeee”.
The energy barrier flared as if something had just struck it. The train shuddered but kept moving forward. The landscape was a blur now as the train sped through the valley. She pulled the yoke back and the train lifted into the sky. The indicator lights showed that the wheels were retracting into the undercarriage while powerful flight thrusters lowered. The energy barrier was hit again and a warning bell sounded. The yoke jerked hard to the right and Jasai had to put all her weight on it to bring it back left.
An automated voice announced, “Warning, maneuvering thruster damaged.”
The yoke jerked again to the right, and then left, and then back to the right. “Zil, I need help,” shouted Jasai. Zil jumped out of his chair and put his claws on the yoke. “Pull back, now, and try to keep it steady.”
Together they pulled the yoke back all the way and the train lifted into a near vertical ascent, then jerked hard to the right again and rolled all the way around until the train was diving for the ground.
“Turn it, turn it,” Jasai screamed, completely unable to control the train. Zil pushed with all of his strength and the yoke turned back to the left until the train looped around and was again lifting into the sky. She and Zil held the yoke as best they could, but the train was jerking and twisting all over the sky. The train began to corkscrew and spin.
The automated voice spoke again, “Warning maneuvering thruster failure emanate.”
She wasn’t sure how high they could go before they broke through the Crystal Bubble barrier. The curvature of the planet came into view and she pulled the thruster lever back.
The automated voice spoke again, “Warning maneuvering thruster has failed, deploying emergency maintenance bots.”
Jasai looked out the window and let the train’s momentum carry them around the planet. The repairs would only be enough to get back to the ground, she needed a place to land and let the maintenance bots do full repairs. But, where could she go?
She glanced over at Zil floating in the air and trying to grab his arm floaties. She had been so busy she hadn’t noticed they were weightless. She would really have to work on fixing the artificial gravity plates. The Grav-plates had broken a long time ago but Aestar had never gotten around to fixing them.
Zil caught one of his floaties and shoved it on his arm.
The automated voice announced, “Maneuvering thruster thirty-percent operational. Maintenance bots recovered.”
“You’re a genius, Zil,” shouted Jasai.
She pushed the yoke down and aimed for an ocean. The Crystal Map didn’t work if you were further than fifteen miles from shore. She needed an island small enough that it wouldn’t have a Crystal Bridge grid, but still big enough for the train. The train fell back towards the planet and into the atmosphere. Jasai suddenly realized she had just piloted a spacecraft out of the atmosphere.
“I’m a real astronaut now, sort of, I wonder if a train counts.”
She aimed the train for the ocean and watched out the window. “Zil, help me find an island, and quick, I don’t know if this thing can float.”
“There,” shouted Zil, looking out his window.
“Where, I can’t see it from this side?”
The train was coming down at an alarming speed. She twisted the yoke to the left and pulled back. The train pulled up barely in time and cut through a wave, sending water spraying up and around the train in a spectacular plume of water. Jasai leveled out and raced across the waves.
“I see the island,” shouted Jasai. “Hang on, this is going to be a hard landing.”
The wheels deployed and the thruster engines retracted. Tracks shot out in front of the train as it hit the sand and dug a trench into the beach. They were going too fast.
“We’re going to run out of beach,” shouted Jasai.
Zil jumped up and down and pointed out the window. “Crash it, crash it,” he shouted.
“Huh? Oh! You are brilliant!” shouted Jasai.
She pulled the yoke all the way left and the train veered into the palm trees covering the island. Trees exploded as the train impacted with incredible force, but it was slowing the train. The train finally came to a stop with the front edge of the engine a few feet from the water. Jasai shut down the engine, deployed the maintenance bots, and leaned back in her chair.
“That was intense,” said Jasai, then jumped out of her chair. “Oh my gosh, we have to check on everyone!”
Jasai and Zil ran out of the engine car and through the sleeping car; nobody was in the sleeping car. She opened the door to the main car and gasped. Furniture was everywhere, it was a complete disaster. Some hatchlings were crying, some with arms and legs obviously broken. Moeth was kneeling beside an unconscious cub, and Raen was setting an arm of a hatchling while Boae held the crying hatchling still.
“Oh Goddess, what have I done?” whispered Jasai.
Everyone looked up at Jasai, then started clapping. Raen nodded and smiled at her. “Well done, Jasai, well done. That was the best piloting I have ever seen, I don’t think even I could have flown through that barrage of laser fire.”
Sern stood, gesturing wildly. “I had no idea you were an ace pilot. Did you see that! They had twelve laser pulse cannons and we only got grazed twice.”
Boae nodded. “Those fancy combat maneuvers were hard on us back here, but you saved our lives, you’re very likely the best Darai pilot I’ve ever seen.”
“And that barrel roll,” shouted Koael. “They couldn’t get a bead on us. That was brilliant flying. How did you know they had a whole battery of cannons waiting?”
“I’d trust you to be my pilot any day,” said Roael.
Jasai just stood with her mouth open. How could she tell them?
Moeth stood and nodded at Jasai. “Well done. Alright, everyone back to work, we have a lot of injured to take care of. Jasai, let’s check the damage to ship.” Moeth gestured for Jasai to follower her outside. Once they were outside on the steps platform Moeth looked down at Jasai and smiled. “I was ten years old when I flew my first Red Feather with the Fifth Wave. I flew my grandfather’s old Dart. The First Wave had gotten hit hard and limped back. The Second Wave was getting ready to go when a Cettise fighter that had been hiding between the engines of the Raven Battle Carrier made a run for the planet.”
Moeth walked down the steps to the beach and looked at a black scar of twisted metal on the side of the train – two maintenance bots were already working on repairing the damage.
“That Cettise fighter was coming right at me,” continued Moeth. “I tried to get out of the way and took a hit to my maneuvering thruster. My ship went crazy and started twisting, turning, and rolling all over the place. The Cettise fighter must have thought I was engaging it, he fired several times but couldn’t get a lock on me. My ship barrel rolled and I got behind him. The Fleet Commander was yelling for me to disengage, but I couldn’t. I chased that Cettise halfway around the moon.”
“What did you do?” asked Jasai.
“I kept pulling the trigger, hoping for a lucky shot, and I got it. The entire Fleet started cheering that a ten year old had chased the Cettise away. I got the Red Feather of Valor for it.”
“Wow, that’s insane,” said Jasai.
“The point is, it gave the Fleet hope,” replied Moeth. “The Second Wave tore the Cettise apart, and I never told anyone the truth of what really happened. Do you understand?”
Jasai shuffled her feet nervously in the sand. “You don’t want me to tell anyone I didn’t do anything and that the maneuvering thruster was broken and the train was out of control.”
Moeth nodded. “We lost everything we’ve worked for, they need hope right now, and you did do something. You realized that Aestar betrayed us and had the courage to get us out of there.”
“It wasn’t Aestar,” said Jasai.
“What do you mean?” asked Moeth.
Zil had come outside and was facing the train and wagging his finger at it. Jasai didn’t even want to know what he was doing. “Hey, Zil, come here.” Zil trotted over and Jasai held up his necklace. “This is the Creator’s symbol, it’s like their world flag or something.”
“I’ve seen that symbol on the Traders wagons that come to the farm,” said Moeth.
“Yeah, but the wagons back there that attacked us had an upside down triangle with a squiggly line under it on the side of the wagons. Those weren’t Aestar’s wagons.”
“Then the situation is even worse than I thought,” said Moeth. “It means someone was able to intercept your message to Aestar, and likely there is a wagon train of dead Aestar traders somewhere. This means Aestar doesn’t have control of the situation, there’s another faction in play. Disconnect your computer and any electronic devices that can be used to track us. This just got a lot more dangerous.”
“Yeah, and they have advanced weapons,” said Jasai. “I’ve never seen anyone here with more than an old fashion single shot revolver, and even those are rare.” Moeth raised a brow and tipped her head. Zil had gone back to wagging his finger at the train. “I have no idea what he’s doing,” said Jasai.
“Did he ever hear the AI talking before you turned it off?” asked Moeth.
“I think so, yes, the first day when we arrived at the Old Library,” said Jasai.
“Ah, there you go, he thinks the train is alive and he’s scolding it,” said Moeth. “He’s probably been angry with it for a while because you turned off the AI and he thinks it’s been ignoring him.”