Farlost, Episode 43
Dina stared through the inner airlock door, still unable to make herself walk in. She had her helmet up, and smiled weakly at the four things inside the tram. She recognized their voices. She'd heard them off and on for hours. She was here to help save them. Staring at a giant cricket/lobster thing, a walking shrub and the two chest-high, multi-tentacled rolling things, Dina almost forgot all of that. Then her heads-up display beeped, and scrambled sounds came from the circuit to The Betty, and she remembered they were all in harm's way. "I'm Dina Rodriguez, off Haskam Heliocentric Lab Six. Permission to board?" The plant man flashed her two thumbs up. The tallest thing answered. "Of course, pilot," It's deep soothing voice was at odds with its chitinous skin and eyes on stalks. "We thank you for your assistance." Dina fought not to shake her head, not to outwardly address the weirdness of the moment. She hid it behind questions. "Is anyone hurt?" What she could do to patch them up if they were was beyond her. "No one, no! No one!" one of the things with brambles and tentacles said, bouncing clear off the ground. He reminded Dina of her mother's dog. She grinned a lopsided grin. "OK. Are oxygen and power stable?" The giant seafood thing confirmed that oxygen and power indeed were stable. He finished the sentence by clicking his huge mandible bones together. Dina's nose was tickled by something sweet and odd in the air. She wanted to ask if he was sure about the air being good, but she didn't. Somehow that seemed rude. She couldn't think of more questions. All four beings stared at each other. The brambly tentacled things rolled in place. The walking bush flicked something like a finger over a leaf growing on its neck. Dina stared. Everything here was strange. Alien. Then she remembered these folks were stranded, and she was the cavalry. So what if they were strange. Then she laughed. "Me vale verga." She didn't give a shit that they were strange. She stepped over the bottom of the inner airlock door. Instantly her knee cracked. She felt an invisible monster suck her foot down to the floor. Almost, almost like... Gravity? Her knuckles squeezed where she held the airlock's frame. She grit her teeth against a sudden scream and threw her other arm out for the door frame. Holy hell, it hurt! The lobster ran forward-an eerie sideways skip, it's mid-sized, mid-body limbs coming down to the floor right beside her. She would have screamed, would have jumped back at the suddenness, the alienness of the movement, except she felt as if the meat on her leg might strip away from her bone if she moved the wrong way. The alien limbs boxed her leg securely and pushed it backwards through the airlock door. The monstrous torque on her knee dissipated. It spasmed for a moment longer, before the ligaments and bones relaxed, unhurt. Dina stared down at her knee. The creature patted it. "I'm so sorry for not warning you," the insect on steroids said. The walking bush sauntered over. Dina stared through holes in its head where eyes should have been. "Yeah, would have been good if one of us warned you we brew our own gravity." "It's more of a paint job than a brew--never mind," the stereotypical bug-eyed monster thing said, chuckling with mild, self-deprecating laughter. "thank you again for putting yourself in harm's way, pilot..." "Dina's intergalactic taxi service. Nice to meet you." The tentacled creatures slapped the ground and rolled in place. The towering chitinous thing laughed again, and raised one of his middle limbs. "I am Douglas." He turned and pointed to the walking shrub wearing pants and boots and what looked like Kevlar. "This is Salix." Salix flipped off a jaunty imitation salute. "Salix is a scarecrow." "yeah?" Dina raised an eyebrow. "Those other two don't look like a tin man and a lion." Doug made a sound. The mandibles on his lower jaw trembled. Dina backed up a step, eyes widening before she realized it was laughter. Twenty minutes later, all four were watching one hell of a fancy hologram floating in the middle of the tram. The place was twice as big inside as the Toad, Dina thought from where she still floated in the airlock, closer to the size of a city bus. She floated near the inner door, occasionally letting her fingers intrude into the part of the tram where honest to God gravity would tug them towards the floor. She giggled, only a little out of step with reality. Keep holding it together, chica, she told herself. "Baby nukes," she said, staring at the plotted path of an incoming object being displayed in the hologram. "That's how these Boomer things stop and go so fast?" The tumblers were squealing--angry, not frightened at all now they’re about to be boarded. The smaller one, Newark, slashed a thick pink tentacle through the holo. "They're my kind, but the bad kind of my kind, coming !" Dina flashed a questioning look at Douglas' face. He was their leader, the Betty's first officer, and her automatic instincts to check in with the boss had kicked in--after she stopped staring in expectation of being eaten whenever Doug opened its very weird mouth. Salix leaned toward her. Her gaze switched to him just as his voice box translated "soldiers". "More than soldiers." Doug rumbled. "Boomer duty is a suicide mission. Those who volunteer are promised their families will be celebrated for it." "Soldiers that are dumb!" chirped Newark. Posk's tentacles vibrated all at once, in what Dina took for vociferous agreement. Dina stared at Doug, still thinking he looked like a crab or a lobster stuffed into overalls. "Seems to me," Dina said slowly, coming to grips with the idea even as a tiny part of her laughed hysterically - the part that had checked out sometime between 'faster than light travel' and 'aliens'. "Seems to me," she said again after chewing her lip, "that just braking that way, anywhere close to us, could roast us, or cracked us open to vacuum by the shock wave." Salix nodded. "Not good." Dina shook her head. "I'm not stocked to repel an assault!" she muttered. Doug leaned in close and put a digit on her shoulder. She stared at it and smiled. "And yet, you rode to our rescue." She looked up at his kind, alien, and really kinda gross face. Okay, she thought, maybe I'm a dead latino space pilot, but hey, I saw freakin' aliens. "If I can't keep 'em away," she said, a determined and wicked smile lighting her face, "why don't I roll out the welcome mat." Dina swung quickly into motion after deciding on the game plan, closing up her suit and dialing back through the airlock. Not long after, she pulled herself down into the Toad's cockpit, slapping to close the canopy above her. "You're brave, Pilot," Douglas's voice said in her ears, mingled with one of the tumblers' chirps of agreement. She stared back at the tram. "Brave or crazy? Been called both in my time." She took a contented sigh. "Doesn't matter, I always did get off on shit like this." All the big things had been easy decisions. Pilot school, signing big contracts, deciding to go the distance with her sexy black doctor man. No matter the cliff she decided to jump off, once she got real cool and in the groove, everything made sense and came easy. She started slapping controls and getting ready to meet the Boomer. "Una pavada," she muttered to herself with a smile. Forty minutes later, the LIDAR array was screaming out the Boomer's meteoric approach, though go it still remained too small and too distant for optics to pick out of the blackness. "They gotta brake sometime!" she muttered, staring out the cockpit window. Which she realized was stupid, since she'd polarized it, expecting a nuclear blast to send a sun-tan her way any moment. If they showed up, they meant them harm. Would cause them harm by setting off the nuke that slowed them down too near her and the tram. So if they showed up, Dina didn't have to ask any questions, waste any time. She'd just get down to business. In the meantime she waited. Dina Rodriguez hated waiting. She cycled through the feeds HHL-6 had captured since their arrival in the gravity well of the Thorn. She stopped on a gigantic silver ship. It looked to her like a thick arrowhead, twisted in Dali-esque curves with melted droplets radiating away from the main hull in spirals. Light green lines shot through the video, lines that indicated the ship was climbing out of the Thorn's depths--and headed in their direction. Like her friends in the tram her ship was locked onto, like all the other alien metal sparks of light around the Thorn, the silver ship put a lump in her throat. She didn't think for a minute it meant them any harm. She couldn't wait for it to get here. "Hey, guys?" she called out thoughtfully. "Yes, pilot Dina? Yes?" Diana's eyes both darted to the side, back towards the unseen speaker built into the inside of her sealed helmet. It was one of the tumbler. "Anything at all you can tell me about our bogey? The one that's climbing up, not the one that sent the Boomers." Salix's voice replied. "It's pretty," he offered. "It is pretty," Douglas agreed. She sighed, taking that to mean they were all in the dark. "Definitely pretty." She bit her lip as she worked through a decision. "One of our guys says it...it told him it was coming to help." There was silence on the line. Another tumbler voice this time. "Does your guys hear voices lots?" the voice sounded a tad higher to Dina than the first. she guessed that made this new voice Posk. "Not till we found ourselves here," she replied, and shrugged alone in the Toad's cockpit for no one to see. "Taggart has seemed pretty solid through all the crazy raining down." "Then hope he's an empath, not a nut job," came Salix's proxy voice. "Better for everyone." Dina nodded, and flicked on through the data stream. "Hurry up and show up, puta," she growled at the LIDAR screen. "Their guidance system will drop the last nuke and kill their speed at the last moment they can," Douglas said in her ear. "They do this to evade countermeasures and to keep us off balance." "They want us in one piece," Salix's machine-translated voice said, "but want us bleeding from that last blast." She checked her harness, checked that her head was strapped into place and closed her eyes. She breathed and settled in to wait again. It wasn't long. Without warning, the hand of God reached down and bitch-slapped Dina Rodridguez... ...Dina woke up to the sounds of alarms. She stared down a long, black tunnel at a spot of flickering light, far away. It's not coming from miles away - her survival instincts yelled inside her head - it's the Toad controls right in front of your face, you dizzy bitch! Her hands were moving before she even knew she'd returned to consciousness. She swore a blue streak as soon as she could make her hard-hammered chest draw a fresh breath. When she could make sense of the flurry of alarms turning the Toad's cockpit into a modern art installation, she felt her muscles already moving smoothly, her fingers deftly assisting the computer to kill the mad spin and tumble the tram was once again barrelling through. A lot of time passed. Dina disappeared into fighting the spin. Her suit was drenched. Her forearms ached from fine and violent work controlling the stick. Then things were levelling out. She had fought the Toad - and the tram, in the grips of its powerful robot arms, too - onto a flat path. "Yo cago en la leche de tu puta made!" Dina panted in victory, when she was finally able to take her hands from the thrust controls and release the strap holding her head down to her acceleration couch. Her helmet sensed the release. Straps holding her forehead and neck in place beginning to deflate, inside. She screamed something else, really warming up a good hate for the thing that had just punched her toad and the tram so goddamn hard. Salix's voiced came on the open line to the tram: "You give Gruber's mouth a run for its money." "Internal gravity kept us safe, in case you were wondering," Doug's weird laughter joined the plant's machine voice. "I am assuming from your, ah, sustained vocal prowess that you too are uninjured, Pilot Rodriguez?" Dina slapped at a monitor cycling through camera views, searching for the killers who had confirmed their intent just by arriving. "How the hell should I know! I'm pissed the hell off! Everything hurts, down to my lady parts, but I have atmosphere control and all my thrusters are firing! That's good enough for now!" Her sensors were off line, though, and she was slapping through live camera feeds the screen find the sons of-- "There you are," she crooned. The Boomer really did look like a dumbbell. A broken one, now. It was damaged, leaking gases and spinning off-kilter just seventy kilometres away. For kamikaze asshole aliens, she had to give it to them. To hit the mark this close, surfing the shock waves of nukes, that was some good piloting. She didn't realize she'd said the compliment aloud until Douglas replied to it. "Very good piloting. The Guard are very skilled butchers. Their arrival was rough but we're still airtight, and the Boomer actually did us a favour: our acceleration and trajectory will have us meet with Six and Betty sooner, now... " His last words died out. Dina guessed he was seeing the same thing on that fancy holographic of his as Dina was seeing through the Toad's no longer polarized, and now-cracked, canopy. The Boomer was changing its vector, making an ugly job of it sure, but it was coming fast, and it was coming straight for them.