"Mayday, Mayday, this is vessel Doubter's Chance, Mayday!. We have a hull breach and drive failure, requesting assistance! Mayday, Mayday! Scoria 3, Planet Scoria Three, do you read? We urgently need assistance!"
The crew of the Doubter's Chance had a reputation for betting against the odds and winning. They had earned their name in one such day.
Today was not that day.
"Mayday, Mayday! This is vessel Doubter's Chance; we have a hull breach, and we need help now! C'mon, where are you!?"
Suddenly, a voice crackled over the intercom, "Roger, we hear you, Doubter's Chance. What's your status?"
The grizzled man at in the comm-booth grabbed the microphone quickly , "We've been caught in a meteor shower and stuffered structural damage, and our Crystal Drive is offline! We have a zero percent possibility of repair, I repeat, zero chance of repair, it's all we can do to keep her together up here! We'll be entering the atmosphere shortly; unless we can get a tanglefield net or a tug to pull us away from the planet we're going to go down in less than five minutes, and—"
The voice cut him off, snobbishly officious, "Your request for landing is denied, Chance. This planet is has a class four restriction, all unauthorized landing is prohibited."
"You don't understand," he snarled back, "One way or another, we're going down; our crystal drive is disabled!"
"Um…I-I'll put you through."
There was a painfully long pause, and when the line was reconnected, an older man replied. "This is Guild Master Lanzecki, on Moon station Shankill. Apologies, Chance. You've come along during our Passover storms, and due to the deadly weather there's no way to get out there in time to help you. Is there any way to prevent entry?"
On the bridge, if the mood could have darkened, it would have. Finally, grizzled man muttered,
Another grungy man ran up behind him and whispered something into his ear, causing his weathered skin to blanch; slowly he nodded, and turned back to the microphone.
"Apologies, Shankill, I've just received word that our primary heat buffer has been punctured. There's no way we'll be able to make it to the ground…" Alive.
The bridge went silent for a long moment.
"We have a last request. Would you transmit our black box recording and last wills and testaments to the families specified within? There aren't many of us who have families, but as captain, I wouldn't want any of them to be…not provided for."
The answer from Shankill took a long several seconds to return.
"Confirmed, Chance. Godspeed."
"Goodbye." He murmured , not bothering to depress the transmit button.
Moments later, they hit the atmosphere.
Officially, the Doubter's Chance ceased to exist several minutes later.
Officially, there were no survivors.
Unfortunately for the Heptite Guild, they were officially wrong.
Chase wasn't lucky to have been resting in the upper level air ducts when the meteor shower first hit; if he hadn't been where he was, when he was, he almost certainly wouldn't have fared any better than the other 9 people that were in the upper section of the ship. But it wasn't luck.
Since he was sitting directly in the airflow he was the last person to suffer from decompression, and the drills, repeated so many times that they were (pun intended) drilled into his brain, finally paid off; within seconds after the telltale popping of his ears that indicated a pressure loss, he was already struggling into his scavenged suit, and by the time the oxygen had reached critical levels he was safe and warm, only worrying about whether the patches in the ancient suit would last long enough to get to a pressurized area. But it wasn't luck. He had chosen this spot specifically for that purpose when he first chose this ship. It had been a crucial part of his choice.
He had had to steal the suit from the ships garbage pile, and he had never been exactly sure what was wrong with it, but he had patched the few leaks he could find and just hoped the dirty thing would be good enough. That wasn't luck, either. Regardless of the name of the ship, he didn't take any chances. By the time he was done with it, the suit would have stood up to Academy Regulations. Wouldn't have looked as pretty, though.
Slowly he crawled down the duct to the first opening, well oiled from many entrances and exits, and carefully lowered himself to the floor of the upper decks. The suit hadn't been designed to fit through such a tight space, but eventually he squeezed through, hoping nobody had seen him; fortunately, a quick glance around betrayed no audience, and he straightened up, still watching carefully for any survivors, but also breathing in the sights around him, sights he rarely had the chance to see.
Back in the ship's glory days, the upper decks had been lined with hundreds of windows, allowing hundreds of passengers to gaze out with wonder at the stars. Nobody really had any idea how old the ship was anymore; almost every part had been replaced at one time or another. Even the original windows were long gone; over time they had been modified to anything from greenhouse radiation windows to personal terminals, but some of them were still unblocked, and they left him with an awe-inspiring view of the stars.
He crouched the best he could in the slightly ill-fitting suit and scuttled across the floor, trying to stay out of sight, knowing fully well that even in an emergency his discovery would result in immediate disembarkation, which in the case of a spaceship run by scavengers and black handed men like the Chance actually meant immediate disembarkation, usually through the nearest airlock.
Of course, they probably wouldn't bother to take off his suit, either. The thought of spending hours spinning through space, until his suit failed, or his oxygen ran out, or he just plain starved to death, made him cringe with a shiver of claustrophobia.
Quietly as possible, he peeked around a corner, and immediately shrank back as he saw a human figure near one of the many desks that littered the rooms on the observation deck. Moments later he realized with a jolt that the figure wasn't wearing a pressure suit. Swallowing growing bile, he edgedout into where he would be easily seen, and paused; the man still didn't move. Finally he walked up to the man and peeked at his face and immediately he wished he hadn't. It was Farlogsen; his eyes bulged out of their sockets, and his tongue, dark purple, was protruding from his mouth, while his entire face was covered with the red of space-freeze. He recognized him, he was one of the eccentrics that had bought part of the Chance in the very beginning, and had been working constantly to keep the old wreck together ever since then. It seemed that not even all his skill had saved him from the initial decompression shock wave.
For a moment, Chase considered turning back. His flawed, ancient suit might do the same to him;—but his goal was still ahead, and finally he turned his head to the side and walked past the corpse of the unfortunate man. He tried to remind himself that he'd been as much a criminal as the rest of the crew, but every time he did, the image of his face, eyes bulging from their sockets, flashed into his mind, and eventually he was forced to resort to turning on a small music player he had stolen from one of the crewmembers. Even though it was filled with music he didn't like, the loud, obnoxious beats drowned out any wayward thoughts, and at last he was able to walk mindlessly forward.
Finally he reached his goal; the old comlink room, with the communication channel that had originally run throughout the ship, sealed (apparently) tightly shut. At some point in the ship's history, someone had apparently tried to modify it into some sort of rudimentary food replicator but had failed miserably, leaving the inside of the room coated with something closely approximated to goat cheese from hell. After that incident, the entire room had been sealed off, but not before two people almost died from uncontrollable vomiting.
Chase had considered making it his room, but he was no more immune to the smell than anyone else; fortunately, he had recently acquired his suit, and with it he re-purposed its equipment to his own uses. The Chance never stayed in port for any longer than it took to complete any transactions and refuel, to avoid any 'unpleasant visitors'. The list included anyone and everyone from Central Intelligence, old flames of the crew, and occasionally even bandits that were down on their luck enough to try for an ancient ship like the Chance. Therefore, for the entire time it was docked, the ship would be constantly under guard; Chase would need a good several days to get into a position onto the ship to be able to leave.
So he turned the old communication room into a spytap on the main bridge. It wasn't even very difficult; the old equipment was still there, all he had to do was disable the microphone on his end and force the far end to stay on. Every day he would listen there for hours on end, hoping one day that they would say those fateful words; Earth! Going to Earth! Specifically, where the central Brain and Brawn academy was located, the central location where all Brawns must go to be trained. Rumor had it that anyone could be a brawn if they were good enough, and Chase was determined that he would be one of those lucky few!
He pressed the buttons that he had set up when he jimmied the lock, and the room quickly slipped a few inches open, just enough to let his bulky suit through, and also letting a blast of air out, escaping into the vacuum that had taken residence in the rest of this part of the ship. Quickly he moved over to his modified connection, connecting the wires to hear what was going on; The Bridge was in the lowest, most protected part of the ship, and they would be the ones discussing just what would be done to fix the ship, and that would let him avoid them until the repairs were done. Finally, he connected the last wire, and crackling voices rang through his helmet.
There was a long silence, and then his mike crackled into life again.
"Apologies, Shankill, I've just received word that our primary heat buffer has been punctured. There's no way we'll be able to make it to the ground…"
The voices faded into a crackling silence, and Chase abruptly, in one freezing moment, realized just how fardled things were.
The Main Buffer was the heat shield on the bottom of the ship, to assist with emergency landings. There would be no need for it if they were doing anything but a dreaded emergency landing, and if it were holed…atmosphere, heated to flame hot by entry at thousands of miles per hour, would boil and char anything it came into contact with.
His mind worked furiously, attempting to discover the safest course of action, and he was already tapping the code to open the door mere seconds later. He tore out the wires of the comlink uncaringly; if the bridge didn't exist anymore, there wouldn't be any use for a comlink to it, would there?
He knew exactly where he needed to go, already; one of the greenhouses had been given additional radiation shielding for an experiment he never understood, but on the plus side, it would give him the tiniest bit larger chance of living.
He was sprinting down the halls as fast as he could when the Chance hit the atmosphere. Beyond that, all he remembered was a period of burning, shaking hell.
He remembered being tossed through the air, arms flying out as he tried to stop himself.
He remembered the sickening noise it made when he hit the wall, as he felt both arms shatter.
He remembered the bright orange glow that surrounded the ship, as pieces of the ship were torn off one at a time.
He remembered somehow dragging himself to a window, and looking down at the rapidly approaching ground. He wouldn't die. He refused!
He remembered closing his eyes—as titanic forces struck the ship with the strength of a mountain, pressing him into the ground with far too many G's.
Then, everything went dark.
Shankill Moon Base
On the Shankill moon base, the weather station operators watched with morbid curiosity as the ship entered the strongest part of the Mach storms which made the weather on Ballybran so famous; while the storms that arose at other times of the year were ferocious, the Passover storms pushed them to a whole new level. Capable of moving massive boulders, crushing mountains, and changing entire landscapes in only the course of several weeks, they were both a wonder and a terror to behold.
Of course, for almost 500 years, no-one had ever been stupid enough to pilot a ship into one, especially not as large a ship as this one, which in most cases wouldn't have landed at all. And so, despite the unfortunate implications of the crash, all eyes on the station were trained on the ship as it entered the atmosphere, even those of the guild master himself.
"Their course is taking them directly into the rim walls of the eye of the storm, sir. Our latest readings indicate that winds might be gusting up to1400 miles per hour in there, but we can't be completely certain."
Circuitry had yet to be made that could stand the simultaneous atmospheric and sonic barrages that made up a Passover storm, leaving the weathermen to do nothing but estimate the weather to the best of their ability. From behind the weather tech, the Guild Master sighed,
"It's probably for the best. Even if they did manage to survive the impact in some fashion, we would have no way to get them under containment fast enough to prevent the symbiote's onset. In the eyes of the guild, it would be best if they all died here."
The tech turned to him, dispassionate, but with eyes sparking, "And what about them? What about their families...and friends?"
The guild master's face was set in stone, "I've looked at their last wills and testaments, and traced them back to any possible beneficiaries. All of them are either dead, or have been off the record for so long that they're legally dead." He shook his head and turned his back to the view screen, not watching as the ship was hit by the first massive gust, sending it spinning in flames towards the earth.
"It's a shame. However, they should be pleased to know that their sacrifice will aid us in understanding the storm mechanics here. Their sacrifice will save the lives of many others."
There was a long silence, which was then broken by the tech's gasp, "Sir, look!"
Lanzecki turned and saw to even his amazement that the entire ship had been seized by a tremendous updraft, and had been tossed, flames doused by the winds, directly into the comparatively calm eye of the storm.
"Astounding…their luck might not be up quite yet."
"Ah—No, sir…it looks like the holes in their heat shield have already destroyed most of the interior of the ship." The tech turned somberly back to face the guild master, "The chance of survivors is…minimal."
They both turned and watched gravely as the ship, thrown like a twig, soared high through the air in its last voyage, until finally crashing to the ground, pieces of metal and glass exploding from the side of the ship as it skidded down a long valley, shredding layer after layer of its thick hull in pieces behind it, until last of all it smashed to a halt, ramming into an overhanging cliff at the deepest part of the valley, and stopping with an ear grinding screech of metal.
In the weather room on Shankill, Lanzecki turned once again from the screen.
"Alert the ground teams to prepare for a search and rescue the instant the Passover storms abate. We will respect their last wishes, all mentioned items that are recovered will be held in storage for two galactic years, and a bulletin will be released. However, inform all ground teams that any part of the ship not specifically mentioned in the documentation can be scavenged by them, if they should so choose. I'm sure they'll be able to find any number of interesting antiques in the wreckage."
Without waiting for confirmation, the guild master strode from the room, leaving the tech to shake his head in consternation. The Guild Master was, and always would be, the Guild Master.
Search and Rescue Team,
Ballybran, Scoria System
A little over a week later, the first teams arrived on the scene. It wasn't even an hour later when the leader of the team, a man nicknamed Bendy, for fairly obvious reasons, kicked one of the struts of the ship angrily.
"Damn it, what on earth were these people thinking? This ship was hardly even staying together, they never should have taken it into hyper without years in dry-dock." He bent and picked up a piece of colored glass, throwing it away when he realized it wasn't crystal.
"Shards, I wouldn't have flown in this ship no matter how much you paid me, it was a wreck even before it became a wreck!"
From a dozen feet away, another member of the team wiped the sweat from her forehead, and snapped out, "Yeah. Why are we being forced to clean this all up, anyway? This thing's nothing but a pile of junk, you'd get more out of it for scrap than by picking it up piece by piece."
Bendy looked thoughtfully at her, then said, "Y'know, we're not actually being ordered to do this, I don't think. The orders were pretty ambiguous, as far as I could tell we're just sorta doing this as a favor to the dearly departed over there." He jerked his hand toward the still smoking remnants of the ship, a klick away. "I was just in it because I thought there might be something in it for me, but it looks like I was wrong." He turned and yelled at the rest of the crew, "Hey! Work's over with, lets blow out of here!" Immediately the crew straightened in relief, and walked back towards their skimmer, moaning about the work and the heat; post-Passover weather was usually extremely humid, with much of the water that was whipped into the air over the storms settling out over the planet over the course of the ensuing weeks as gentle fog, a startling counterpoint to the hell that were the Passover Storms.
Once the rest of the group had reboarded the skimmer, Bendy followed suit, strapping himself into the driver's seat and carefully lifting off, doing one quick pass over the remnants of the ship before he left. He had time for only a brief moment of remorse for the dead crew before he hit the accelerator and flew out of sight.
Rimbol was cruising at thirty thousand feet when he saw something that instantly set his heart pounding; a flash of light from the ground.
In the mountains of the Milekey range, that could mean only one thing; Crystal.
Instantly he set his sled into a dive, at the same time looking through the charts he had piled on the seat beside him. Aha! He thought triumphantly as he found the map for his current area, and eagerly scanned it…Excellent! Not a claim for 50 klicks in any direction! Finally, a claim of my very own!
He had been looking for a claim for almost a year now, but even in that amount of time, some sort of bad luck or fate had kept him from finding anything other than abandoned claims, or worse, not-so-abandoned claims. He hadn't made any friends with being chased off of claim after claim, so he thanked his lucky stars that old singers' memories deteriorated the way they did, otherwise he'd probably have a dozen mortal enemies by now.
He sighed contentedly and set the map down to his side, smiling. At least his worries were over now; he had started to worry that there might be something actually wrong with him; in his continuing failures to find crystal, but with any luck…all those worries will soon have passed!
With a whoop, he seized the controls and did a barrel roll, finally spinning down and into sight of his future claim…instantly, his heart dropped, as he looked with heavy disappointment at the shards of glass that were among the pieces of…metal? He whipped his sled around and looked, wide-eyed, at the smoking ruin of the Chance. Immediately, he snapped his intercom open and hailed the base.
"Base, this is Singer Rimbol, has there been any word of any crashes in…" he paused for a moment, unsure of what he should say. He wasn't sure if there was any crystal here anymore, but just in case… "Crashes on the planet?"
The receiver crackled for a moment, and then a voice came over the com, "Singer, this is home base. My apologies, nobody was available for the beginning of your message, could you please repeat?"
Rimbol grinned at the deferential manner of the officer; everyone was careful with singers, doubly so when they called in from the ranges.
"Sure!" he said with humor, "I'm looking at a smoking wreck right now, any chance a ship's been recorded as going down recently?"
There was a long pause, and when the voice returned it sounded surprised, but slightly warmer, "Ah, affirmative. Didn't you hear? A ship got hit by a meteor shower 'prox a week ago, went straight into the Passover storms, there wasn't anything we could do about it."
Rimbol thought for a long moment, then said, "Hmm, is there anything about salvage rights in the charter? Do you suppose anyone would mind if I took a look around?"
"Um, let me check…" the voice crackled out, and then back in a moment later, "Negative, there's nothing in the regs about salvage, either affirming or banning it. There was supposed to be a salvage team sent out earlier today, but—ah, never mind. Looks like they looked around, but couldn't find anything interesting. Ended up turning around after about an hour, cited bad weather."
Bad weather? Rimbol looked at his weather readout quizzically, and blinked at what he saw. Despite the humidity being above average for Ballybran, it was nearly optimal for a Scartine. Odd.
As he had been talking, he had flown low over the field of debris, but his experience with scavenging on his home world letting him quickly realize that little of value would be intact there. Instead, he pulled up on the controls, finally settling his ship to rest on top of the last remaining portion of the Chance, which was still big enough to dwarf his little sled.
He pressed the com button again, "Well then, thanks. I think I'll stop and take a look around for a while. If anything comes up, just send me the emergency override code and I'll be back in a jiffy!"
Finally, his sled's landing gear fully stabilized, and he hopped from the hatch, whistling a jaunty tune as he began to inspect the remains of the ship.
Back at the base, the coms officer stared, stunned, at the comlink, before she stood and stumbled back to the nearest lounge.
"Whoa, Calyn, what happened to you?"
All the people in the lounge turned to stare at her a she made her way to a seat. Quickly, one of the other coms operators shoved a Yarran beer into her hand, and only after she had taken a long drink was she able to speak.
"A Singer…just said…thank you."
The room fell dead silent, and then in a wave it broke out into laughter; she weakly grinned, and sipped once again at her beer.
Rimbol picked up an ancient plastisteel work station and held it up in the light with admiration.
Astounding! To think that the people who ran this ship were able to do so much with so little! I would have loved to have met them.
Dropping the fused workstation, he stopped and stretched, popping the joints in his back as he stood. He had been here for an hour, and he hadn't yet ceased being amazed.
The crew of this ship must have loved this ship. It must have been cheaper and easier to just abandon it, but they never did. They repaired her, and maintained her, for years longer than it ever should have lasted.
He shook his head. Amazing.
Moving on, he looked to the left and right at the various components that made up the ship. All of them had been damaged by heat from the re-entry, and then they had the telltale signs of what wind could do on Ballybran, but he was certain that there should still be enough viable components left inside to make at least a few hundred, maybe even thousand credits.
Finally, he found what he was looking for; one of the windows had been blown open, something inside having been thrown out with incredible force, enough to shatter even the space-hardened plastic.
Jumping down, he peered inside the dark husk; much of the contents of the ship had been thrown around during the crash, he saw; what remained had piled up in one of the corners, the floor angling slightly down the way the Chance had finally come to land. Just as he was about to hop through the window, however, he felt something…the hair on his arms arose, and his eyes widened as he felt the faint trail of crystal sing along his body. He spun; maybe his luck wasn't all gone, after all!
However, the first thing his eyes settled on wasn't any crystal, but instead the remaining shards of the window, colored a dark reddish brown color.
Huh. What that stuff crusted on the window?, he thought, distracted; as he reached out to touch it, part of the color came away on his hand.
That's strange. It must have come from whatever got thrown out this window. He began to trace where the object must have flown, based on the angles of the cracks, and at the same time absently brought the dry reddish substance up to his nose. That's odd…it smells almost like…? His eyes widened, and a moment later he was sprinting towards the strange lump he had deduced as the object, and he blanched at what he saw. Lying in a dried pool of its own blood, a figure lay on the ground; to his amazement he saw the faint signs of past movement. Somehow, even after being thrown from the ship at what must have been incredible speed, the person had managed to turn over and look at the remains of their ship before they had died.
Their suit must have been shredded during the crash; there were numerous holes rent in the patch-ridden fabric.
Rimbol bowed his head at the person's bravery; man or woman, he couldn't tell. When they had hit ground, blood had sprayed across the helmet, obscuring most of his vision into the inside, causing a pang of sadness for the unnamed person; they hadn't been able to view the ship they had struggled so hard to see.
Just to be certain, he knelt to check for a pulse, reaching through a hole rent in the neck of the suit.
For a long moment, he felt nothing…then he jumped in surprise.
Minutes later, he was in the air.
"Home Base, this is Rimbol! Urgent news, repeat, urgent!"
He mashed the 'emergency' button, hoping desperately that someone would be near the comstation, as he flew at top speed back to home base. He had never had cause to push his sled before, but he did now, causing unpleasant vibrations to shake through the sled in protest. Making sure he was moving in the correct direction, he glanced over at his unexpected passenger; he was stunned that anyone had survived from the crash, but more shocking that they had survived the Mach storms that had boiled around them for a week afterward. Of course, only time could tell if their mind had been scrambled by the legendary noise…
Suddenly, a voice crackled over the communicator, "This is Home Base-what's your situation?" It was the same voice as before, with the political tone once again coloring it.
"This is Rimbol! I have a medical emergency, I found a survivor! I'm returning at maximum speed, I'll be back in 'prox 15 minutes, I need a medical team immediately on landing!"
"But, protocols…" she said, slightly bewildered, but he cut her off,
"Shards, woman! This person has been lying out in the weather for over a week! It's a miracle they're still alive as it is, I needed a medical team yesterday!"
There was a long pause, and finally her voice came back, "You'll have it!"
He slumped forward in relief, "I could kiss you, woman!"
"I'm...Calyn. I-I mean I'll tell them to meet you at the hangar!" With an audible click the other end cut off.
"Thank you, Calyn!" he said, fervently, and then shut off his comlink and began to try finding a way to divert any extra power to boost the speed on his sled. He skidded into the hangar a scarce ten minutes later, and just as promised a medical team was waiting, still readying their equipment as he skidded across the tarmac.
Almost before he came to a complete halt, they were already inside the sled, slicing the remnants of the suit off his passenger…a young man, he realized. Probably not older than 20. Before he could get a good look, they had already sealed him inside a medical human sized pouch that would re-hydrate his body, and zipped him off toward the medical bay.
As he jumped down from his sled, he stretched, and saw that one person was still waiting, shifting nervously from foot to foot as he approached.
"Hi!" he said, with a jaunty smile, infinitely pleased with himself for what he had done. Saving someone's life wasn't something you could do every day! Now he had something he could use to brag at Killa, cut her down to size a little!
"…Hi," the girl said, shyly, "I'm…I'm…"
He recognized the voice suddenly, and his eyes widened, and he quickly snagged her hand and raised it to his lips, "Calyn?" she blushed brightly and nodded, and he smiled gently, "Y'know, I meant what I said up in the sled; not everyone would have gotten a medical team out here so quickly!"
She looked down, embarrassed, but he reached out and pulled up her chin with two fingers.
"Sorry, I'm just a poor old Scartine with no sense of privacy. Forgive me?"
She shook her head, eyes wide, and he realized that they were a wonderful shade of brown.
"You're not old! Or poor! And…" she flushed again, "I…didn't mind."
His grin grew and he snagged her hand again, "In that case, would you indulge me and join me in a meal tonight? I don't know any other way to say thank you for what you did."
"But—Singers only ever talk to other singers!"
He raised his wrist and pointed at the wristband that was still there and he quirked a grin, "Not a real singer just yet!" he chuckled, "Anyway, I've never been much for tradition. Join me?"
She nodded wordlessly, and his irrepressible smile broke forth again.
"Alright, I'll meet you at…D47, at eighteen-hundred? I would love to join you right away, but," he wrinkled his nose comically, "I'm not exactly fit for human company right now. So…I'll see you?"
He phrased it as a question, and as she once again nodded, and he turned and headed off toward the Singer's quarters, calling back over his shoulder, "See you…soon. And thanks again, Calyn!"
Calyn stared with wonder at the door where he disappeared for minutes after he left, until she suddenly realized how long she had been standing there.
"Oh! I need to get ready!"
Spinning, she ran back to her quarters, a nervous grin spreading across her face.
Part one of my Crystal Singer Fanfic! Thank you for reading, it means a lot to me to be able to make you guys happy.