Fictober, Prompt 7 – “That could have gone better.”
Warnings: large-scale battle, spaceship crash (nothing graphic), brief and unrealized fear of a tunnel collapse
The ship-killer missile whined past me, headed for the planet’s surface, and I swore, trying to run faster. There was no way I’d be far enough from that one
The laser canon Vivi was manning from the underground station caught it before it could impact. The blast still sent me sprawling forward, but it had been high enough up still that it wasn’t as bad as an actual impact.
Distantly, another missile did strike the surface, opening a crater and sending me to my feet again just after I rose. This time I stayed down, breathing and trying to calm my racing heart. I wasn’t in danger yet, but my air supply was limited.
The glimpse of a ship spiraling out of orbit, smoke and flame trailing from the gaping hole blasted in one side, had me up and running again scarcely a minute later. It was moving away from me, but the impact blast of a whole ship was not something I wanted to be out here for.
I made it to the hatch leading into the below-ground station and got the door snapped shut just in time. The ship’s impact caused a localized earthquake that I rode out in the narrow metal corridor, teeth gritted, one bare hand slapped onto the nearest magic-integration pad and energy streaming out to try and reinforce the corridor walls. If they collapsed here…
The shockwaves passed, and though it didn’t look quite as square as it had when I had first come through earlier, the corridor was intact. Since I was already interfaced, I powered up one of the built-in diagnostic arrays, my magic racing out along the pre-set channels, confirming that the structure was still sound.
Faintly, I could sense the whine and pulse of the laser canon as Vivi continued to ward off whatever lingering threat remained outside. I was pretty sure that the crashed ship was the one that had been shooting the ship-killers at the planet surface, which some of the other ships obviously hadn’t liked.
Vivi must not have liked the look of the rest of them either, though, if she was still warding them off.
Shutting down the diagnostic array and pulling my power back, I picked up my discarded glove and took off my helmet before making my way down the corridor and deeper into the station again.
Although she was still seated at the weapons console in the main control room, Vivi wasn’t firing any longer, her eyes tracking the scanner that showed three ships disappearing rapidly back into local space. When they had finally disappeared and she had activated some kind of perimeter alert spell that also seemed like it was already part of the system, she turned away to look at me.
“That could have gone better,” I sighed, coming the rest of the way into room, dropping into a nearby chair without taking off the rest of my suit.
“Not actually the worst first surface-walk I’ve seen,” Vivi said thoughtfully.
I eyed her sidelong. “Do I want to know?”
“No,” was her immediate answer.
Nodded, I managed a huffed laugh and let my head drop back, eyes closing.
“Anything unusual?” she asked after giving me a few minutes to rest. A creak and the faint metal thunk of her boots told me she was shifting back to the main control console on my other side.
“Not that I could really see before someone started shooting ship-killers at me,” I admitted. “I assume there aren’t any survivors from that one?”
“Definitely not,” she confirmed.
That might have been just as well. We weren’t equipped to deal with that kind of thing, with only the two of us here in a facility that was still largely unfamiliar. We both had decent medical training, of course, and could do basic regenerative spells if we didn’t have access to good health equipment, but we were still just investigators.
But I could hear the slight frown in her voice, and opened my eyes. She didn’t look happy, and I couldn’t blame her. We hadn’t shot the ship down, of course, but enough people had already died on this particular hunk of rock. We had not been intending to add to that number, however tangentially.
“I don’t understand what was going on,” Vivi said, and I nodded when she looked over at me. “I mean, obviously the rest of them didn’t like that the one ship was trying to…what? Blow up this facility? Damage the surface? I know that one missile came down too close here, but they certainly didn’t concentrate their fire in this area.”
“Was it more than just the few I saw?”
“Yeah,” she replied, pulling up a visual that showed where the missiles had struck. They covered a wide chunk of the planet, as if the ship had been trying to carpet as much of the surface as possible. “Maybe they just didn’t know where the station was?”
“A little more scouting or scanning would have told them that,” I pointed out, frowning at the pattern. “I see what you mean though – it is almost like they were looking for something, or testing for weaknesses.”
“In the crust of a planet?” Vivi was skeptical. “With ship-killers? I grant that they make a dent, but on an uninhabitable like this one, that’s about it.”
It didn’t make much sense, but I didn’t have a better explanation right now. “What about the other ships?”
“They seemed like they were thinking about landing, so I warned them off,” Vivi said. “Didn’t get good scans on any of them, but they seemed like pirates of some kind. Scavengers wouldn’t have engaged the other ship, I don’t think. They weren’t willing to put up a fight about it, anyway.”
“That’s kind of weird too, though,” I mused, “I mean, maybe they know there something to be had from this facility, but it’s honestly not that big. What would have been worth fighting over it?”
Vivi shook her head. The planet itself had some mineral resources, we thought, including high amounts of lead, but there was a lot of low-level, strangely regular seismic activity that we hadn’t been able to explain yet, and some other things that indicated something odd was going on here.
These attacks had done nothing to decrease my sense of urgency to figure out what the oddness was. This, our first attempted trip out onto the surface, had been to examine some of the monitoring spells more closely in the hopes of understanding what the purpose of the vast (and still ongoing) data collection was.
I was too tired to go out again today, though, even if it might be safe now.
“Try again tomorrow?” Vivi suggested, in sync with me as always. I nodded gratefully and she grinned. “I’ll cook.”
“Must you?” I groaned. Our tastes in regard to spiciness were…not the same.
“I’ll go easy on you,” she promised, and left the room. I sat a moment longer, glad of the quiet, my ears still ringing a little after the earlier blasts.
One of the periodic seismic rumbles, this one a little bigger than usual, reverberated through the metal below my feet.
Shuddering, I got to my feet and followed after Vivi. Being alone anywhere in this place suddenly didn’t appeal.
Something was wrong with this planet, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what. But, I thought, as I clumped down the corridor towards the mess, too many people had already died for this secret. We couldn’t leave until we had figured out what it was.