Project Disconnect – The Escape

(Co-written with Michael Weeks; a glimpse of Kip before we meet his ship and crew.)

Kip winced as the CP-250 Wrecking and Salvage ship slammed against an unseen object on the port side. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his shaking hand. The control panel of the tiny ship seemed altogether foreign to him as he glanced back and forth between its sensor screens and life support systems. He looked through the glass viewports behind him–hoping he wouldn’t catch a glimpse of the three pirate space-skimmers that had broadsided his ship with magnetic rounds minutes earlier. Hull integrity was dropping and it was only a matter of time before the tiny ship would begin to break apart if Kip didn’t start repairing it.

Kip’s eyes widened as he furiously jammed at the controls, sending the small ship into a steep vertical climb. A massive asteroid quickly absorbed his entire view field as if it was an infinite wall of rock, blocking out all view of the stars behind it. Kip swore as the engines roared into action, trying to keep the small ship from pounding into the stony barrier before it. As the ship angled upward, the view from Kip’s cockpit ports began to change from a cratered wall to the bright horizon. The forward momentum of the CP-250 was not easily redirected, though, and Kip soon realized his small ship was about to bounce off the massive asteroid instead of safely arching over the tall ridge just ahead.

Kip grabbed the safety harness attached to his chair and frantically strapped in. Navigational warnings began to shriek from the control panel as the altitude monitor dropped like an anvil.

Grinding. Crashing. For a time, burning. A blur of sensation slowly faded away, allowing Kip to recollect the shattered remains of his senses. When he could finally piece together the world around him, he realized that he needed to move, and fast. The viewport showed a backdrop of stars and darkness that Kip was all too familiar with; what it didn’t show was the half of Kip’s CP-250 that was splayed upon the asteroid like a dollop of jelly on toast.

Kip shook off the remaining dizziness and attempted to bring his systems back online. To his dismay, silence replaced the series of whistles, clicks and beeps that usually followed his interaction with the outdated ship. Groaning, he unfastened himself from the helm and made his way back into the CP-250’s main corridor, hoping to discover whatever was keeping the ship from operating correctly.

Kip quickly found that the problem was far greater than he first thought. Upon opening the bridge airlock door, a gasp of escaping air jetted past him, and for the brief instant before he shut the port again, he could see that instead of a hallway with multiple doors and system interfaces, his ship abruptly ended in a wall of asteroid. Almost instinctively, Kip grabbed the space-suit he had stowed behind the helm and adroitly slid into the protective skin. He’d been mocked before for keeping his bridge cluttered with what some called ‘junk’, but times like these reminded him why he ignored every jibe.

When his suit’s oxygen meter glowed a healthy green, Kip again opened the bridge airlock, swung through, and closed it again behind him. The ship seemed to have been split in two, leaving only a portion of the hallway between Kip and the asteroid surface. Kip’s quarters, the life support system, and cargo hold were simply no longer present. Kip decided to collect what he could from the remaining rooms and take a look outside.

Finding only an overused toolbox and a high-powered work lamp, Kip fastened them to his suit and opened a ventral airlock to hop outside. No hissing accompanied this door’s opening, as the air had already drained from the main portion of the ship. The asteroid was dimly lit by the sun’s reflection off the other asteroids in the field, but Kip still fired up the flood lamp and turned it onto the poor ship.

“Yuck. Nobody deserves this, even an ugly son-of-a-bitch like you.” The CP-250’s hull was bent and broken, and Kip was surprised that the bridge had remained as intact as it had. Turning the lamp about the asteroid, Kip saw the ship’s aft floating nearby in pieces–some strewn around the area and some being tossed about in the churning field of asteroids. Kip watched, disheartened, as what used to be his quarters collided with a hurtling rock, sending the crumpled piece of metal spinning and flinging his few belongings into space.

Knowing the ship was now beyond saving, Kip set to doing what he did best–scuttling. Over the next half-hour, he tore off the destroyed ship’s long-range antenna, found a pistol and solar blanket among the debris, and siphoned what oxygen he could from the ship’s supply into a (now) portable tank. Collecting his effects and his wits, Kip started hopping along the asteroid’s surface in an effort to reach someplace where he could set up the antenna as a distress beacon. He’d hardly made a dozen steps before the hum of a ship overhead reminded him what had sent his ship careening into the asteroid in the first place. The pirate vessel slowly hovered over Kip, and just as he turned off his lamp and dove for an outcropping to hide, the pirate craft lit a flood light and began to search for the scrambling captain.

“Damn.” Kip cowered below the outcropping, looking over his collected tools and materials. It wasn’t enough that the pirates had destroyed his ship, they were after his head too.  Kip paused for a moment in his own thoughts. Come to think of it, the pirates had only hit him once. It was the asteroid field and his own inability to navigate it successfully that had been the undoing of the tired CP-250, and not the pirates. He cursed louder as his pride evaporated along with his hope for escape.

The second and third pirate skimmers appeared now, releasing their own flood lights upon the barren asteroid surface. He could see the first skimmer opening up just beside his hiding spot as one of the pirates emerged on a small personal skiff. Kip reached for his pistol, checked its magnetic rounds and moved into a crouched position.  He knew that the skiff was his best chance for any kind of temporary escape; maybe he could use the element of surprise to catch them off-guard before their flood lights caught him hiding in the dust.

As the skiff drifted toward the wreckage, it dawned on Kip that the pirates might assume he was dead. Half of the poor, old wrecker was impacted on several other asteroids at the moment–who wouldn’t think that its captain was likewise strewn across the asteroid field? Kip carefully eyed the three skimmers and began to slink away from his protective outcropping, keeping as close to the ground as possible.

Kip crawled from rock to rock, checking behind him each time. Movement in such low gravity levels was hard enough, so keeping himself hidden among the shadows of the rotating asteroid felt next to impossible. He muttered under his breath every time he lost his grip and bounced around the dusty ground. Kip had managed to put about 50 meters of distance between him and the pirates when he noticed something glinting in the sunlight. Peering out from behind a large stone, he reached for his pistol. His hand came up empty.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me!” Roughly 20 meters behind him was his pistol, slowly spinning above the ground and reflecting the sun’s light like a beacon to anyone looking in its general direction. “Well this is just great.”

Kip watched as the small skiff cruised over to the hovering pistol to investigate. The pirate dismounted the skiff and floated to the ground, inspecting the deep grooves and tracks Kip’s bouncing body had created along the way. He signaled with his hand in the direction of the tracks, obviously communicating with someone piloting the larger skimmer. The engine of the angular outlaw ship murmured as the craft spun to face the direction of the pointing pirate.

Blinding flood lights illuminated Kip’s path across the dusty asteroid. Now completely unarmed, without a ship, running out of oxygen, and with pirates hot on his trail, he looked for any kind of answer or hiding place. He needed a miracle. Instead he saw the mouth of a large cavern; out of desperation or foolish hope, he made for the dark opening.

The flat sound of a magnetic round echoed in Kip’s ears as a shot glanced off the right side of his helmet. Kip soared into the darkness of the cavern as more rounds flew past his flailing body. As he descended, the dull, white nose of a large transport ship suddenly appeared out of the darkness. “Oh… no, NO!” Kip yelled a second before his body collided into the front of the hidden ship. Stunned, he rebounded off its hull like a rag doll. Almost instantly he found himself wrapped around the end of its starboard wing, grasping for anything that would keep him from sliding off into the blackness below.

“Don’t sneak up on me like that!” Kip blurted as he grabbed a handle near the ship’s dorsal hatch. After doing a quick scan of the ship, he couldn’t find any descriptive labels or identifying characteristics. “Hmm. Never seen your type before. Aren’t you going to introduce yourself?” Kip’s probing was cut short when a shot ricocheted against the ship’s hull. He tried to wrench open the hatch, but it wouldn’t budge. “Listen honey, we can get to know each other later–I need inside RIGHT NOW!”

As if in response, part of the ship suddenly swung around; a mobile weapon boom or sensor house rotated around the ship with surprising speed. Kip wasn’t the only one surprised by the sudden motion—one of the pirates, attempting to sneak up on his prey, was knocked clear by the swiveling boom. Had Kip looked up, he’d have seen the flailing outlaw floating out into the aether, writhing against inertia until pummeled by a micro-asteroid. Kip’s eyes were instead focused on the approaching boom, and as it swung over his hatch, he let go of the ship for a split-second. The boom stopped over the hatch, and Kip again grabbed hold of a handle as a hatch on the boom itself opened underneath him.

Wasting no time, Kip slung his body into the ship. He found himself sitting in a curved hallway, eerily lit by a strange, faintly-humming light. The hatch spun shut as Kip hopped to his feet, collecting his wits. “Huh.” Kip hid none of his confusion as he wandered the alien ship. “Alright, what are we gonna do about these damn pirates?” The sound of the boom swinging outside startled Kip momentarily, almost as much as the sound of steel plates withdrawing from the walls, revealing windows across the ship. Two pirate craft loomed outside the cave entrance, dodging asteroids and shining search lights onto the parked ship. “Yeah, those guys!” From the boom, a flood light blinked on and showered the pursuing craft in a fiercely bright light. As the pirate ships scurried from the blinding light, Kip chastised the ship, “I could already see them; we need to DO something about them! You know, swat them like the pesky flies they are!”

Kip was quite surprised by how the ship carried out his request. With a slight lurch, the ship lifted off and exited the cave, dashing directly toward the larger of the pirate ships. The smaller craft bolted to starboard, but the larger held its ground and loosed a few rounds. The shots went astray, and Kip’s ship cruised directly towards the attacker. Just before collision, the ship’s boom swiveled to the front, and with a powerful blast from its repulsor drive it sent the pirate craft drifting back into the path of an incoming asteroid. Kip sucked in his breath as he watched the pirate destroyed by the spinning rock. “Whoa whoa whoa! We don’t have to kill ‘em! Just…  just… let’s get out of here!”

The ship turned and thrusters roared. Kip hustled down the hallway, looking for the bridge. Beyond the many windows, asteroids flew by, but the ship deftly maneuvered around each one. Still hustling, Kip noticed that he’d done a full lap of the ship, and still hadn’t found the bridge. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the fleeing pirate regroup with his last comrade, as both ships started their pursuit. “OK, seriously, I need someplace to SIT!” In answer, a door hissed open down the hall. Kip dashed to the opening, but frowned when he found the only seat in the small room was a commode. “This… doesn’t help me. This is a TOILET!” Kip shouted, walking back into the hallway. The door closed behind him, and Kip looked back out into the field—just in time to see a missile from the pirate ships detonating against a nearby asteroid.

The ship rocked with the explosion, but continued its delicate dance between the tumultuous asteroids. “Listen—we have to do something, or those jerks are going to tear you apart. You have to have some kind of weapons system, or some more tricks up your sleeve,” Kip pined as he stared back at his pursuers. Another explosion shook the ship, sending Kip falling down the hallway. A door opened, and Kip fell straight through it, landing in what he found to be a very soft and comfortable bed. The bedroom had a great window, and as Kip looked up, the view into space shifted; the ship itself rotated, and Kip found himself looking astern at the following pirates.

A whistling sound came from many directions, and through Kip’s peripheral vision he noticed a series of tow cables shooting out from the ship. Pitons drove into surrounding asteroids, and as the ship continued forward, the now attached rocks flailed and jostled about as they dragged behind the ship. One of the pirates could not correct his trajectory to avoid the arcing stone, and his ship was caught in the nose, sending it tumbling forward into another asteroid. The remaining outlaw cleverly slowed, and picked up its chase beyond the range of the trailing rocks. After regaining a lock, it loosed a missile. Kip snickered lightly as his ship released the attached asteroids and retracted the tow cables, leaving a screen of rocks that promptly blocked and detonated the incoming torpedo. Blinded by the sudden explosion, the remaining pirate flew through the dust, smoke, and debris, emerging from the rubble with a hull dotted with pock-marks and scored with burns.

Kip rested his head against the pillow. “Whew. I’ve been in my share of dogfights, but never anything like THAT–especially from bed!” Reaching the edge of the asteroids, the ship entered open space, and began to close the steel window shutters along the bedroom wall. Kip caught one last glimpse of the hobbled pirate craft, which had by then exited the field behind them. As the windows closed, Kip’s conscience got the best of him.

“Nobody deserves to drift like that. Can we at least send him towards a station?” Kip felt the ship correct its course, making a slow and large loop before leveling out and sweeping by the incapacitated ship. Two of the tow cables again shot out, the pitons embedding into the pirate hull. The ship slowed momentarily, but soon had regained speed with the other craft in tow.

After the outlaw’s trajectory was fixed, the cables released, sending the hulk cruising through space toward a distant refueling outpost. “That should give that asshole some time to think about what he’s done,” Kip noted, closing his eyes. “Very nice work, um… ship. Is it OK if I call you Ship?” The only response Kip received was the dimming of his cabin’s lights. “Whatever. This whole ordeal tired me out. I’ll let you fly us back to Gerald’s. Co-ords are 151, -12, 64. Be a dear and wake me up once we land, alright?” Kip smiled as he drifted into slumber, while his new ship carried him home.

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