“We’re not going to make it.”
Deniv was fighting with the manual controls, his hands shaking to pull the flight stick up and keep the shuttle level, let alone into orbit.
“Stabilisers and vents are clogged, General.”
Draliv, still holding his side, stood behind Deniv’s forward pilot seat.
Markeros was acting as navigator.
Sensors were the only way to fly.
The British Isles was covered in dust and smoke, spreading from the impact of the asteroid to cover a huge portion of the planet. London had collapsed around them as they took off. The sensors were haywire, reporting all sorts of craft still trying to escape.
Draliv was saddened to see many aerocraft, designed purely for atmospheric flight, trying to reach orbit and failing. Even hover-cars were trying it.
What choice was there? he thought. That or wait for the planet to break up around them. Was that how Litin Prime looked? Thousands trying to escape with no hope of getting away?
The thought made him want to scream out.
Why was he stuck on this planet, when he could be home, fighting the Grag again?
Why would his government tell him to seek asylum? Who would he seek asylum from now, with the Terrans’ homeworld hours from annihilation? The Alliance? The thoughts ran through his head over and over.
“Is there no way at all? Not even a suicidal chance?”
Deniv shook his head. “We’d have to wait until the planet is collapsing in on itself, and use the force of the gravity to propel us out into space.”
“We can’t do that?”
Deniv grunted as he levelled the shuttle, taking it down a little so that the engines didn’t just stall.
“No, sir. We’d need to rig up a special gravitic antennae to channel the energy into the engines. That could take hours, if not more, and that’s if I even had the know-how.”
Draliv blew out a sigh.
“What about another ship?” asked Markeros.
Both of the aliens frowned at him.
He pointed to the sensors, showing a map of the planet.
“We’re coming up to Manhattan Spaceport. There’s got to be something we could cannibalise?”
Deniv looked at the General.
“I don’t see another choice, sir. We need to get off the planet. We need to get home.”
Draliv nodded. “Get to it.”
The clouds and dust, Draliv couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began it was so grey and foggy, started to part, the Atlantic Ocean churning up enough force to still have an effect on the weather.
They could see the East coast of the American continent, what used to be called the Eastern Seaboard according to Markeros, and fires were raging all along it. Cities were burning, the sea’s temperature was rising as well at an astronomical rate.
“There’s magma coming through under us somewhere,” Markeros commented. He’d been keeping up to date with the reports coming in on the asteroid and its hideous effects on Terra’s surface.
“Then we need to hurry,” Draliv nodded.
Manhattan Spaceport was nearly empty, by the look of it. A ship lifted off, its lights bright in the darkness of the enforced night. It blasted clear, roaring into the sky, its engines burning brighter through the clouds.
“I’m detecting a comms unit active down there, General,” Markeros reported, falling into old military habits. More and more, Draliv got the impression the young Terran viewed him as his commanding officer. Something had passed between him and Deniv, something they hadn’t expanded upon.
“Can you patch in?”
Markeros nodded, tapping a few controls quickly. He had learnt the Wintness-class shuttle’s controls alarmingly quickly. He was a credit to his unit.
“Comms Unit 9083989893-X-Ray-Lima-Gulf, do you read?”
The speakers crackled a little, but a voice came back. He sounded weary and exhausted, his voice pained and struggling.
“We read you. Who is this?”
Draliv laid a hand on Markeros’ shoulder. “This is General Draliv of the Litin Prime Defence Force, currently aboard a shuttle headed for your location. Our ship is clogged with dust, and we’re having trouble achieving orbit. We’re about to land at Manhattan Spaceport.”
“Have you got room for another eight?”
Draliv looked around at the cramped shuttle.
“It’ll be a tight squeeze.”
“Fine by us, General.”
“See you in five.”
“Looking forward to it, sir.”
“Put us down as close to that comm unit as you can, Deniv.”
Draliv turned to the passengers already onboard. Some of them were ambassadors, with a few aides and even a military guard from the Terran Navy. They were injured and shell-shocked. He didn’t care, as long as they were useful.
“Do any of you know anything about starship repair and maintenance?” he commanded.
All but the military guard shook their heads.
“What’s your name, son?”
“Chief Petty Officer Wallen, sir,” the enlisted man replied, standing from his seat despite the shaking of the shuttle.
“Can you assist Lieutenants Deniv and Markeros with repairing the shuttle?”
“If it means getting us off this planet, then yes, sir.”
* * *
The shuttle came down straight, Deniv not bothering with field protocols.
Draliv knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the young man would one day become a great leader himself.
It thunked down a little too hard, the dust starting to settle here too.
A Terran in a dirty set of fatigues waited for them.
Draliv, Deniv, Markeros, and Wallen descended, the man before them wearing officer’s pips. He saluted the General. Draliv, however, noted the Terrans among the quartet, and wondered if there were dark racist thoughts passing through the officer’s mind.
“Welcome to Manhattan Spaceport, General Draliv.”
“Lieutenant Gardner, 239th Terran Army Infantry. I’ve been in command here, organising the evacuation.”
“You only have seven men, Lieutenant?”
Gardner looked behind him at his bedraggled and worn out men.
“Yes, sir. I started off with a hundred.”
Deniv swore softly, but realised he hadn’t been quiet enough, and Draliv hissed at him.
“What happened, Lieutenant?”
“Earthquakes took out most of the city around us; we watched as most of the company were crushed or fell into the cracks along with probably a few thousand civilians. That ship you just saw was the last of them.”
“You didn’t go with them?”
Gardner gave a chuckle.
“We asked politely, but they said there was no room. The crew shot six of my men to prove it.”
“Frag,” Draliv cursed. “Can you assist with the repairs?”
Gardner nodded, and pointed to a trio of small ships, two of which would plainly never fly again without serious intervention. The third looked more promising, but it was missing a rear landing stanchion, and was leaning directly on its engine block.
“How long have we got?” he asked Markeros.
“An hour?” the officer answered, looking at the increasingly ash-filled sky. Draliv knew he was trying to work out if it was ash from the planet’s crust, or if it was the remains of people. Draliv looked at Deniv, who had a very worried look on his face.
“Can you do it?”
“Do we have a choice, sir?”
“That’s the spirit.”
Wallen and two of the Infantry were tasked with pulling the faulty pieces out of the shuttle, whilst the rest charged over to the stricken freighter.
When Draliv thought nobody wasn’t looking, he leaned on the hydraulic ram of the ramp, his body shaking and weak. Blood was still seeping from the wound on his side.
I won’t see home after all, he thought.