Farlost Episode 45
She’d never seen something evil before. That was Dina’s overriding thought as she stared out the Toad’s cracked canopy at the barbell shape of the Boomer ship. Only kilometres away, and magnified even closer on the Toad’s screens, the two circular sections on either end of the long bar were more hexagonal; the bar a bit thicker than a dumbbell, but it was still a good analogy, she thought. Except for the bristling sensors, antennae and thicker protrusions which looked plenty menacing to Dina, although nothing fired or flared or pulsed out to turn her into meat sauce. She remembered the vids she’d seen, and realized there was no reason for the Boomer to possess ship to ship weapons. It was the ship to ship weapon. She looked over the closest of the two sides of the barbell design. No windows, no obvious weak spots. Just a dark, reflective surface, with the occasional glow of light that seemed to coincide with a change in velocity or direction. No puff of gas like from the Toad’s thrusters. Plenty of little glittering puffs from what she figured was atmosphere escaping. Wavering, damaged and bleeding air, it was still coming. Slow, course correcting constantly, but it was coming. And jesus, it looked angry. “I get it now,” she muttered aloud. The thing was a devil, come to drag them down to whatever passed to hell in these places. “I’m sorry, Pilot Rodriguez.” That deep voice, the Betty’s lobster First Officer’s voice, sounded so sad. For her. She almost laughed: First Officer Doug and everyone on that tram she’d been trying to ferry back to Six and the Betty were all as screwed as she was, but it’s first words were for her. “Not your fault,” she said. “There’s assholes all over.” Mechanical laughter from Salix’s voice box filled the line. Even carved by a machine, it sounded defeated to Dina’s ears. She shook her head. No way. We’re not cooked! “So how do we fight?” “Can’t fight, once they’re tentacles grab you! Can’t fight!” one of the Tumblers squawked. Dina growled. “Well they’re faster than us, even dinged up, you can see that! So they’re going to get their tentacles on us. So what do we do?” Static answered her. “At least tell me what we’re up against!” Newark, Posk, you said they’re like you, right?” “Bigger!” Parroted one of the tumblers. “Us, but bigger, and stronger!” “And meaner!” Said the other. She hoped she lived long enough to tell them apart. “Warrior class,” Salix continued. “Born twice as big, with tentacles reaching twice as long.” “I’ve seen warrior tumblers crush ships hard enough with their tentacles to vent atmosphere,” Doug told her. “Boomer tumblers will be full of drugs to keep them aggressive and attacking even as the rads and vacuum of space eat away at them.” “Once they get to us, we’re done,” Sal summed up. “Not giving up yet, if that’s okay with you.” Dina growled. “We’ll fight, we won’t let them take us!” said the deeper tumbler voice. Posk, Dina guessed. “You’ve got thrust enough to make it back to The Betty, human,” Salix said. “The Boomer’s damaged. We’ll try and buy you—” “Screw you, chia pet!” Dina yelled, riding an anger fuelled by the fact he’d caught her out: she’d been thinking exactly the same thing. Not that she’d throw anyone to the wolves. What good would running do anyway, if there were more of those Boomer things coming? “You couldn’t get away carrying us,” Douglas told her, truthfully, “and we can’t get away at all, so just go. At least it’s a chance. We’ll get a few kicks in, trust us.” “Just quit it with that ‘walk away’ shit and let me think!” Proximity alarms chimed. Displayed on a rear cam, the Boomer ship was forty clicks out. Even damaged and flying wobbly, it would be on them in minutes. Looking over the image, Dina wasn’t impressed. Ship’s not much but a mouth to drop soldiers, she muttered. A cracked and broken mouth. She saw missiles mounted in clusters around either end of its dumbbell shape. Why wasn’t it just vaporizing-no, Dina remembered, they didn’t want to destroy her and her new friends, they wanted to take control of their ships. That gave her manuevering room. She tapped screens, dragged course plots, weighed odds. Then, before she could second guess herself or piss her pants, she poured on the aft thrusters. “Running ain’t this chica’s thing,” she said, looking out the window for one more glimpse of the tram. Her fingers felt for the arm controls, gently releasing both of their grips on the tram. “Was nice to meet you, boys!” She killed the circuit before they could answer. The tram was already five hundred meters away, thanks to her giving it that last goose. She looked down to her screens as she swivelled the ship, and her eyes widened. The Boomer was closer than she thought. Bright glows flared, like some science fiction version of propulsion, and the meter count on the screen showing her the ship dropped below a thousand—and kept right on plummeting. The Boomer ship sniffed at her with some active scan that made another alarm bell blare. Dina slapped the audibles off and stared at the cracked ship leaking some kind of atmosphere. Half a kilometre off, now. It’s trajectory shifted. Vectored on Dina and the Toad, not the tram. Yeah. Dina smiled and goosed her little ship forward. Several more silent alarms flashed on her screens. Starting to look like a dance club in here, she thought. Her mind flashed back to a wooden dance floor beneath palm trees, and her tall, handsome doctor spinning her. She remembered a sweet merengue backbeat and the smell of his aftershave, then shook her head free of the memory. She was beginning a different dance now. And it was one she was gonna to lead. She reached a far screen and tapped a little musical note icon, selected a playlist. Congas, cabasa and cowbell began to fill the cockpit. Dina’s smile widened. Even when she was about to get her ass kicked, Dina loved this part. When she was a little kid in the neighbourhood, she came home from school with bloody noses every other week. Not because she was mean, but she could be. Not because she liked to hurt people, which she didn’t…most of the time. Because nothing made Dina’s blood boil like a bully. Dina’s head started to nod in time with the latin music quickly picking up speed in her helmet, as she articulated the Toad’s mechanical arms forward, pincers wide. One arm had an electron beam mounted on the side. The other, a precision laser cutter. She fired them both up. She grinned, remembering that time in LA she watched two drunk assholes jousting with flagpoles on ten speed bikes in the parking lot outside a liquor store. Loser bought. “You’re buying, assholes,” she snarled, and turned up the juice to both cutting implements on her robot arms. The proximity alarms sounded off over the music in her helmet. Shit, they where like axes in her head. She cranked her music louder. The Boomer ship came on, straight and fast. Flying by eyeball now, Dina waited until it was close enough, then nimbly flipped the Toad around ‘above’ the Boomer, and fired her up afts again, matching its course. The whine from the Toad’s ass end made her teeth rattle. She grinned a feral grin . Under a hundred meters. Eighty. Sixty. The Boomer was venting so much air, Dina wondered what was left for the Boomers to breathe inside! And something was sparking on its far side. Forty meters. Only one of what looked like a bank of thrusters was still functioning. It was only moving so fast because of leftover thrust from it’s last nuke love tap. Twenty meters. Ten. And then Dina was on it. No death rays reached out to torch her as she dug the Toad’s left arm into the Boomer’s rippled, warped hull. More glittering crystals of frozen atmosphere smashed into the Toad’s already cracked cockpit window. Dina didn’t even flinch. Then, dozens of black and pink tentacles where writhing through the crack. Then they were pushing their way around the crevices beneath Dina’s other robot hand. She dimly realized the stars were streaking sideways behind her attacker, and she knew the ship below her had lost attitude control. It was dying. She helped it along, stabbing her right hand inside, and igniting the cutting tools. The atmosphere inside caught fire. The tentacles reaching outwards were engulfed in flame. Dina’s face craned forward, wincing to see the Boomer’s hull through the orange and blue flames licking out. She sang a few lines of the song, her shoulders bobbing along with her head as she pierced another hole with the claw. The gooey center of another Tumbler dripped away, sucked free of her claw and the ship. She whistled, pouring some thrust on, and watched with a mixture of snarling glee and a horror she barely felt as a huge square of the hull came loose. More lashing, whipping tentacle bodies disappeared into space. One flew straight at her. She reared her right arm up and grabbed for the thing, snagged before it got to the glass bottom of the toad’s cockpit. Even as she watched, pieces of it were sucked away into vacuum. Dina was horrified and fascinated by the brutal anatomy lesson. A long muzzle broke through the brambly exoskeleton and layers of gauze protecting it’s soft center. The teeth didn’t look so soft as its mouth opened and long fangs bounced off the Toad’s window and hull. She fired up the cutter on the arm again, and the thing blew apart. Half the mass of mostly black tentacles cindered as they disappeared. The other half now went limp, like a squid out of water, wavering in her grip until she tossed it away. Dina grabbed more of the broken hull and tore it off. Grabbed again, had a scary moment where she thought she’d be flung free, and grabbed something substantial. Something long and heavy, that rippled everything mounted overtop it. She maxed her thruster, and a long beam tore free, and the dumbbell shape broke in two. Dina shrieked black bliss as half the Boomer exploded, and smaller parts exploded again. She immediately landed on the donut on the end of the remaining half, and pulled and pulled until she found another beam and shattered it completely. Something exploded while she was holding on. That brought Dina back to herself. She spent scary minutes straightening the Toad out again. It took longer than before because of the ice water pouring straight inside her spine when she saw her fuel gauges. All in the red. Panting, disoriented, nauseous from more than the spin, she had to have the nav computer tell her where the tram was. With trembling hands she misered out the tiniest of squirts until the Toad was back on track and closing the distance. She realized she was exhausted. Her body felt like cast iron. And she crying. How many had she killed, she wondered. She stared out the window at the tram. Tiny stick figures were waving at her from inside, and several banks of lights were winking on and off. Dina closed her eyes and begged her stomach not to hurt her any more. It felt like her body was trying to expel her soul. She didn’t blame it. She left the radio off. She didn’t want any of the cheers it looked like the creatures on the tram wanted to give her. Not for what she just did. She spent a little bit of time craning her head to dry her eyes on the fiber pads mounted inside her helmet, and busied herself with repair duties on the Toad until she was close enough to grab the tram with her bloody hands. Toad was listing, and she wondered how badly she’d damaged the poor thing. She was dead tired, and she re-engaged the auto to find the right wire on her suit leg to pull to release a very nice cocktail of drugs into her leg. She was making crying sounds again, but her eyes were dry and her emotions were as much on autopilot as the ship was. The next thing she knew, both arms were latched back on to the tram. She didn’t even remember doing it. The lights on the thing were flickering like mad. It hurt her head. She was about to flick the radio back on when she saw she’d grabbed on in a better position this time, and she could see the tram’s airlock open ahead. That’s cool, she thought, seeing as she wasn’t sure she’d be able to get herself back on the tram without a lot of bruising and dangling on the end of safety lines. Then a tree root the size of a horse slammed into the cracked canopy. Not root. Tentacle. Black tentacle. It shattered the canopy. The cracked, black thing surrendered long, desiccated chunks of itself to the vacuum but it never stopped reaching. Until it curled around Dina and squeezed.
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Audio releases
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40
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