Friday, June 15, 2012

Tales of the U'tanse: Mercy Run - Part 18 of 22

© 2011 by Henry Melton

It was hours when he approached the control room and rattled the wrench on the wall.
He stepped in and tried to make sense of the navigation screen visible behind the pilot.
“<The ship is now safe.  Do you want to know what had been damaged?>”
“<No.  That’s your job.>”
James nodded.  “<What happened to us?>”  It wasn’t really the place of a slave to ask, but he was just too tired to care.
The pilot growled.  For a moment it didn’t appear he would answer, then he raised himself from his crouch.  “<Enemies gave me the wrong information.  I’m a pilot, not one of the Rear Talon guild.  The ship charged much faster than I was told.  If I had waited another minute, the ship would have been vaporized by an overload.  It was already too late to shut down the charging beams properly, so I commanded the ship to leap.>”
He snarled and twitched with satisfaction.  “<I will have some eyes when we get back.  And they think I’m dead.  They’ll never see me coming.>”
James had no idea whether the Cerik was truthful or delusional.  It wasn’t his concern whether one Cerik killed another right now.  They did that all the time.
He waited a moment, and then asked, “<How soon will it take to get to the planet?>”
The pilot growled low.  “<I’m not moving.  We’re close enough.  Take the boat and get rid of your female. Remember, I am getting hungry.>”
“<I was told you would train me on how to fly the boat.>”
“<That was never my job.  The one who brought you should have done that.  Be gone and remember to use the distance shouter, so I’ll know when you mind has been eaten and I can leave.>”
The Cerik settled down into a dan.  
James hesitated just a moment and then backed out of the room.
I was never trained on this.  I don’t even know where the planet is.  Does the pilot?
He reached the room and tapped the controls to equalize the pressure.
She was waiting patiently with the blanket draped over her shoulders.
“Rita, we ...”
“... need to leave.”  She stood up.
“Rita, is the pilot really going to let us fly off without training?”
She just stood there, eyes unfocussed.  
I guess he really is in dan.  
“Come on then.”
He picked up their sack of food and walked them towards the hangar where the other boat waited.  
If the Cerik can fly these things, then how hard could it be?
The hangar room was large enough for several of the boats, but there was only one of them.
If I don’t come back, how will the pilot get back to the surface.  Can he even activate the leap engine by himself?
He looked at Rita, so passive, so detached.  Are you listening to me?
This was all to save her life -- or at least to save the U’tanse from having to kill her. 
None of this.  We have to get clear of the ship before the pilot does something stupid.
He made sure Rita was seated against a wall, in case they bumped against something, and then hesitantly activated the controls.
The menus showed several screens.  There was a navigation screen that only signaled that they were inside the hangar deck. There were controls for the air, for weapons, and for the engines.  He quickly set the air to U’tanse standard.
Power was low.  They’d given Father the dregs of their vehicles, hadn’t they?  Had the Name written me off from the very beginning?  Was it just a gesture to pretend to Father that the Name considered the U’tanse important?
He glanced back to where Rita sat, waiting for him to take care of her.
That’s it isn’t it?  She was tired of taking care of herself and just gave up.
But that doesn’t let me off the hook.
He looked through the controls.  Somehow the boat had to be able to get more power.  Maybe the ship could power up in the middle of space with the pusher engines, but he doubted the boat could do the same.  Little devices get power from the bigger ones.  That was the rule at home.
After digging through the Delense menu pad, he tried the light beams.  Cerik had to be able to power their boats and that’s all they used.  James slashed with his hands, trying to mimic the talon gestures.
Ah!  There it is.  In the navigation screen, there were bubbles like on the main ship’s power settings.  He directed one of the bubbles to the image of the boat.  There was a hum and shortly, the boat had increased its power levels.  James kept at it, adding iconic power bubbles until the boat said it was close to full.
The external hull doors were illustrated on the navigation display.  A gesture caused a warning signal, and after a moment they began to open.  Using the gesture controls was simple.  Everything was automated.  Presumably, the hangar air was pumped out, or else there would have been a gale on the deck when those outside doors came open.
Just go with the flow.  The Cerik don’t worry about all this stuff.
From Father’s coaching and from what he’d seen on the boat ride up from the surface, he soon directed the boat outside.
The navigation screen changed once he cleared the bulk of the big ship.
There were stars, faintly decorating the background.  But there were other things as well.  There was the ship, and there were a dozen balls.
Which is the Ferreer planet?
Rita stepped up beside him.  “I hear them.”
“Is it the Ferreer you hear?”
She pointed at one of the balls on the screen.  “They call me.”
He hesitated.  She was almost acting like a person.  Had the people back Home made a mistake?  They said they couldn’t find Rita’s mind anymore.  Had it come back?
She stared intently at the display.
“Rita, I have to know.  Are you back?  Do you want to go to the Ferreer? I won’t take you there unless you want to go.”
It was a silly thing to say.  They were committed.  What was his alternative?  Hijack the big ship, kill the Cerik and learn to fly it by himself?  
But he couldn’t turn her over to a hive mind if she were struggling to regain her identity.  He just couldn’t.
Rita turned to him.  “We need to go there.”
“Rita, you know what will happen there?  You’ll get absorbed into an alien mind.  They won’t even be people like us.  There will be no way back.”
“We need to go there.  We will have a place.”
He sighed.  “You will have a place.  I can’t stay there.”
She looked back at the display.  Maybe there was a hint of a smile on her face, but he couldn’t be sure.
There is no help for it.
He slashed his hand through the web of light beams,  a pointer extended from the image of the boat to the planet.  The big ship began moving off.  They were moving.
James frowned at the display.  “How can I make us move faster?  It’ll take days at this rate.”

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