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Copyright: Tessie Bradford, 2014
“God damn it!” Adam Reichler cursed as the ship took a hard hit, causing the warning sirens to ring out, again. A meteor storm of this magnitude was something any pilot with functioning brain cells usually avoided like the plague, but desperate times called for desperate measures. He had made a command decision to head directly into the deadly projectiles; the meteors were the least of their current problems.
They were ass-deep in a shit ton of very, very bad. A Camlutian battle cruiser was using them for target practice with spot-on accuracy. On top of most of the ship’s computer monitoring consoles being fried, the propulsion system was now barely functioning; fucking icing on the proverbial cake.
“Status of aft thrusters?” he yelled out.
“Five minutes,” Craig shouted back.
“Gonna be space garbage by then!”
“Okay, make it two.”
Despite the precariousness of their situation, Adam couldn’t help cracking a smile. Craig’s sarcastic, deadpan humor was one of the things he loved most about him.
Clutching the manual controls in a white-knuckled grip, Adam called up every last bit of skill and expertise he had to steer the crippled vessel through the meteor gauntlet on visual alone.
Craig rushed into the tiny cockpit and jumped into his seat. “Here we go,” he announced as his fingers flew across the control keys.
Adam held his breath as seconds ticked by and nothing happened. Then the ship shuddered and lurched, but this time it was due to its engines engaging, not the pummeling of gigantic rocks. His tactical screen displayed just long enough for him to see where they were in the meteor field, and that there was no sign that the enemy ship was still in pursuit. “Cams are such giant pussies,” he commented with a snort of derision. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
“Yes please,” Craig mumbled in response.
When Adam’s gut told him they’d travelled a sufficient distance out of harm’s way, he throttled down to idle. “It seems the stabilizers are working,” he said, finally letting go of the controls and rolling his shoulders in an attempt to work out the stress-induced muscle kinks.
“I’ve run so many bypasses it’s a miracle anything in this ship is functioning at all. We need to land and fast.”
Adam watched Craig’s expression go from serious to downright worried as he tested different functions on the communication panel.
“The emergency beacon appears to be sending a signal, but there’s no way for me to be sure.”
“At least we’re back in Gal-Fed space. If we’re not too far off our original course, a planet in the Aaron system might be able to lock onto us,” Adam offered for encouragement.
“Hope so, because what I do know is that we can’t broadcast out verbally, and if we can’t receive either, well…”
“Yeah, I get it.”
Adam got up and moved to stand behind Craig. He rested his hands on his shoulders and began to gently massage the man who had been his best friend, his partner, his lover for almost fifteen years. Craig reached back and covered Adam’s hands with his. Their eyes met in the reflection on the blank computer screen in front of them.
“It’s going to piss me off hard if we bite it after scoring our largest payment ever.” Craig sighed. “Plus our demise would bring great joy to the Camlutians, and that’s plain wrong.”
“Two damn good reasons why it isn’t going to happen.” Adam kissed the top of his head. “And I’ve got another one.”
“Lay it on me.”
“I think it’s time for us to set down roots somewhere.”
Craig turned and stared up at him with a look of utter shock. “Fuck, you’re really worried we’re not going to get out of this, aren’t you?”
“No! I’ve been thinking about it for a while.”
“Really?” Craig raised a brow. “If that’s so, why are you just mentioning it now?”
“’Cause I’m not the communicator in this relationship?”
“Ain’t that a fact,” Craig agreed eagerly. “You know as well as I do that we both go stir crazy when we’re grounded.”
“If we had a real home again, maybe we would feel differently. I’ve lost count of how many planets we’ve stayed on since we left Earth, Craig. The luster of bopping from place to place, living on the ship or in varying quality levels of temporary accommodations, and being chased and shot at periodically is dimming for me.”
“Wow, I seem to remember broaching very similar subject matter to you before we left on this delivery. You quickly and quite effectively shut me down.”
“So it took a minute for your wise insights to sink in,” Adam replied with a grin.
“Let’s wait and see where we are and how we’re feeling about twenty-four hours from now.”
“Why just a day?”
“That’s my estimate of our life support remaining operational.”
Adam’s heart sank. The odds of being rescued in such a remote area in that amount of time were not in their favor. “Then I say we pick a heading and at regular intervals do a three-sixty roll to try and get a visual on a planet.”
“Sound plan, Captain; I vote for going that way.” Craig pointed his left index finger toward the observation window.
* * * *
“Leena, I’m picking up an automated distress signal.”
“This sector, a non-military Earth class B vessel. They must be in serious distress; the signal is extremely weak.”
“Give me their position and attempt to establish contact,” Leena instructed.
As soon as the coordinates locked into her navigation terminal, she changed course to intercept and increased speed to maximum. People of the Galactic Federation planets provided aide to each other without question. It was one of the many attributes that separated them from the insurgent worlds.
The Earth craft was moving at such a slow velocity, it came into view relatively quickly. Leena maneuvered her cargo ship in a wide circle around it.
“Phaedra, are you getting any response?” she asked her co-pilot.
“No. Maybe there are no survivors and it’s functioning on auto?”
“Possibly,” Leena replied, taking note of the severity and pattern of external damage. The ship had obviously been in battle and escaped. The hull burns indicated they’d received heavy hits from behind. “Or the crew may be alive but unable to communicate.”
She took position in the lead and executed a slow turn starboard. When the Earth vessel followed, her heart thudded in her chest and a wave of intense relief swept through her.
“What in the stars?” Leena mumbled. She closed her eyes a tried to calm herself.
“Leena, are you unwell?” Phaedra asked.
“No, no I’m fine.” She drew a deep breath and adjusted their course to Mesta. “Open a channel to home port. At this speed it will be the first we reach.”