My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 70

Carth stared at his instrumentation, but it was immune to his hopes and prayers. He'd tried to reboot it twice, to no avail. " T3 up and running?" If it was, they could plug the droid into the systems, bypass them all and give him at least some partial system control.

"No." She snapped into her mic pickup, her voice coming straight into his ear. "Down. Everything back here is down. How screwed are we?"

He took a deep breath, running through the options in his mind yet again, doing his best to ignore the sideways glances that Dustil kept throwing at him. If he stopped to actually consider that Dustil was next to him, that Sarah was in the main bay tearing it apart, he'd lose it. He had to keep his head, keep his cool. It was all up to him this time. "We're upwards of eighty percent screwed." He snapped back. He had a plan, but it was stupidly risky. It was also all he had to offer. Theoretically, it was possible. Carth had never actually done it before. He'd never met anyone who had.

"So we're twenty percent not screwed?"

"Twenty percent not screwed." He agreed, watching the planet fill his view port. He was about to attempt a landing with no instrumentation, flying by the seat of his pants, with a freighter which had no control surfaces. But she did have two things that might...might...just squeak him through this. He'd have to wait until he hit enough of an atmosphere to even check to see if they worked...he'd never done anything more than realize that they were there. He'd had them refueled on Ord Mantell as simply an expression of his compulsive over preparations. If it was there and required fuel, he'd topped it off.

"When will we know?" That was her actual voice, she stood behind him.

"When I get in atmosphere and try to start the push thrust engines." He had never checked their output, they could be little more than a compliment to the landing thrusters or they could be a full engine array designed to fool the sensor suite of a pursuing vessel. He was praying for the made sense with a smuggling ship like this one. He'd just never expected to have to rely on it. The Deadweight had had one, just in case, and he'd given himself only the most cursory level of self training in it.

"I see. Do we have fuel for a push thrust system?"

"Topped off on Ord Mantell. They were big tanks." Yes, they had been. Exorbitantly large for simply a stop gap for the landing thrusters. He just had to keep telling himself that. As soon as he hit air, he was going to have engines. No instruments, no control surfaces...but he'd have engines. And a cockpit view. He could do this. He really could.

"I'll get out of your hair, then." She breathed, stepping back and he bit his lip. He didn't want her to go, but on the other hand, she had to survive this. And she had the best chance of that farther back, in the main bay. She hadn't said it, he hadn't said it, but it hung there. In fact...

"I love you. I love you both. And neither one of you are going to be up here for this." A copilot was simply going to be useless up here for this. "Take him with you, please." If anybody could save Dustil, it was Sarah. It was Revan.

"Father, I..."

"Go with her, Dustil. I've got this. I promise." He'd made so many promises to Dustil, promises he'd never kept. But if he didn't keep this one, there would be no more promises to make to either one of them. It would all be over.

"Come with me, Dustil. Your father has got this." Sarah exuded a quiet, focused confidence, and Carth understood so much in that moment. This was why, how, so many people had followed her into the impossible. It wasn't that she had so much faith in herself, it was that she was willing to give so much of her faith to others. The thought of failing her seemed so terribly wrong. Such a breach of her trust.

I've got this. He just had to focus. And that would be better done alone in the cockpit, away from distractions. Just him, and the Hawk. He took a deep breath when Dustil unbelted himself from the copilot's seat and stood, following Sarah away into the depths of the ship.Check list. He grimaced at the very idea. Coming in hot meant he'd have to manage a belly landing, gear up and locked. It would shear the ventral gun assembly clean away and breach the hull at the gimbal, no matter what he did or didn't do.

He reached out, locking the now useless main engine throttles forward and out of his way, and bringing the push thrust throttle up to an accessible grip. This was crazy. Wonderfully crazy. He gripped the throttle, staring through the view port. If he tried to start the engines too early, it would be bad. If he waited too long, it'd be bad. Maybe they taught this kind of stuff in the Naval Academy, but he'd never gone. His training had been militia, then on the job...with Saul. In fact, he'd never even been to Coruscant before.

The freighter began to shimmy, cutting into the first resistance from the thickening atmosphere and he forced himself to remain still, to remain calm. He would only get one chance at this.

The shimmying because a bucking, rattling down the chassis of the small freighter, and he fixated on the view port as he listened to his ship. "Come on, baby." He whispered, repeated into a mumbling mantra under his breath. "Hold on."

The bucking became a slamming, the small ship shuddering, weaving and still he didn't move. It still wasn't the right time. It had to be the right time.

And then, suddenly, it just was. He thumbed off the engine start button cover and sank it down...more than half expecting to get absolutely no response. Instead, he got a coughing hiccup and then suddenly...power. Engines. He had engines. Not just little maneuvering and landing jets, but engines. Real engines. And the next miracle, his screen scrambled to life... someone had tied the essential running systems into the push thrust as an auxiliary power source. Whoever they were, he loved them. He had the barest minimum he needed to get this thing on the ground, mostly intact. It was going to be a hard, hot ditch, but it wasn't impossible anymore. He had never heard a sound nearly as beautiful as those engines going into start up. There was way too much red text on those screens to think this was going to be an easy go, but it was doable. He could do it.

"We're up to only sixty percent screwed, darling." He breathed into his mic. "And I can deal with sixty percent screwed. Brace for impact." Everything beneath him was blue...water from horizon to horizon and he grimaced. There had to be someplace to put down at, or their sixty percent screwed went up to a hundred percent.

"Starboard...twelve degrees."

Sarah's voice in his head...pure and clear. He made the adjustment, arguing with the engines until he got the freighter on that path and steadied out. And there, on the horizon, a hazy edge of something that wasn't water. He bled off as much altitude as he could manage over the ocean, measuring what he was coming up on. It would be ugly if he had to abort the landing, to attempt to come around again. He'd lost so many controls.

"I see it." He stated, getting his first fairly good at luck at where she'd led him to. The coastline was a heavily eroded cliff sinking into a band of stunningly white sand, and exactly in front of him, a long cut into those cliffs, cushioned deeply with that same sand. He'd have a straight run in, all he had to do was avoid the... He grimaced, fighting back a cringe. A Hammerhead rested in the shallows just off to the port side of his inbound course, her paint still bright enough to show red and white against the bright turquoise of the water. She was too large for this sort of landing, bringing that in without anything must have been a true nightmare.

He tore his attention from that, measuring his own landing. Even with the cut, there simply wasn't enough room to bring her down without using the still waters of the bay to cut down on his speed and he had no braking other than to cut engine thrust. It was a feat in itself to bring her in low, just skimming the tops of the waves, the skimming becoming more and more forceful as he nudged her deeper and deeper. He wouldn't have much time...these engines could...would...flood out. He needed to end up on the beach, no matter what, or they'd never fly again. There would be no pick up crew coming...

She bellied out, cascading water and murky sand away, grinding and jerking along the sandy floor of the bay and he closed his eyes. It was too late. He was committed to this 'landing'. All he could do was hold the stick straight, bleed off of the throttles and stubbornly ignore the sudden chorus of breech warnings that screamed through the vessel. She was tossed back into the air, and in spite of his own wisdom, he opened his eyes again. They shouldn't be... she hit again, this time well on the dry section of beach, made one threatening groan, and became suddenly still. This had better be high tide...

There was an ominous split through the view port plastisteel directly in front of him and he stared at it, stunned. It widened, spidered out, and a large chunk dropped insultingly into his lap, letting in a billow of warm, dusty, sea scented air which reminded him horribly of Telos.

He could hear cheering from the back, Mission yipping in relief. "Deploying landing gear." He muttered, "Everybody stay in their seats, okay?" The gear should be fine, it had been protected in its stanchion and cradle assembly. It would lift the stationary freighter a few meters higher, and reveal the damage...the lost gimbal. And it deployed without a hitch, one solitary comforting faint and blinking green light in a sea of red ones. He powered the entire mess down, unbuckled from his seat and rose on shaking legs. He didn't want to be here anymore.

"Great job, Flyboy." Sarah stood in the hatchway, a steadily growing smile on her face. She had that look he loved, he'd done well, he'd exceeded expectations. He was good enough for the role he'd ended up in, a role very very few pilots would ever be good enough for. He was special. Her eyes focused over his shoulder and a flitting frown chased across her features as she measured the damaged view port. "You okay?"

"Yeeeesssss. Physically, I am fine. I might need a moment or two in the refresher..." His guts were swimming and his stomach was trying to crawl up the back of his throat. "But I'm good. Everybody back there okay?"

"Yep." She took his hand, and he smiled down at her. "Go." She whispered, "I'll handle the crew while you take a minute. I judge by the hole in the lower hull and that one in the cockpit that even if the air isn't breathable, it doesn't matter now?"

"Fair observation." He agreed, moving past her and heading towards the 'fresher. His path took him through the main bay, through the crew. "Give me a second, Mission. I'll be right back out." He preempted her gushing celebrations, once Mission got started, that was the end of that. He loved her dearly, a strange realization, but he needed a bit of space, right there, right then.

The refresher was blessedly quiet, calm and still. He washed his face, trying to ignore the faint tremble in his fingers, and then sat in the corner, supported by the two cool metallic walls. He could sense Sarah, working deliberately to calm the crew, and now that he grasped that, he could turn away from it. He wanted to see this through his own measurement, not hers.

Check list. They were all still alive. He'd pulled off a landing under terrible circumstances, and he was alive. His son was still alive. His beloved. His crew. Nobody seemed to even be injured beyond a bruise or scrape. That was the most important thing. The ship was damaged, but mostly intact. He'd done it. He pulled himself back to his feet and stared into the mirror above the sink, meeting his own eyes. He'd changed so much in such a short amount of time, but he wouldn't do any different if given the choice. What would he be willing to give up? Sarah? Even knowing she was Revan, knowing what she was responsible for...he couldn't imagine not having her in his life. And this path had given him Dustil back. Given him Mission. Hell, even Canderous. It had torn Bastila from him, and that was something he couldn't let go. Somewhere along this path he'd gone from being completely alone, adrift and clinging to the life raft of his 'duty' to this, and this was nothing he was willing to give up. He just needed to stand up and be there. He rinsed the bile from his mouth and stretched the tension from his limbs before stepping back out again.

"Hey, kiddo. You're okay." He breathed when Mission caught sight of him, crowing in joy and throwing her arms around him. He returned the embrace, grinning when Canderous slapped him on the shoulder. The moment he disengaged from Mission, Dustil was there, awkward for a second.

"Dad..." He finally managed, and gave up, embracing Carth as exuberantly as Mission had. "You did it."

I did it. Zaalbar growled something that sounded appropriately enthusiastic, clapping Carth on the back. Carth could stand there forever, with his son, but Dustil stepped back after a few moments and Carth didn't fight it. "Where's Sarah?" She was the missing one, she should be here, but she wasn't.

"Up on the dorsal surface. With a set of range finders." Canderous replied. "How much damage do you think we've taken?"

"We've lost the majority of systems. We have a push thrust array with a good amount of fuel remaining, but that's it We've lost the ventral gimbal. And the cockpit central view port." It was bad. Even if they got the Hawk back up, they'd have to run that whatever the hell that was, and then they'd be right back where they started at... dead in space and under fire. "I'm going to go confer with the boss." Hopefully, she had something. She had been here before...her memory was spotty but had been pretty useful recently. Once she'd realized who she was, she'd become much more stable.

She was on the dorsal surface, scanning the horizon and the sky with a set of range finders, her hair shifting in the tropical breeze. "Well?" He asked.

"They aren't giving chase. I don't see them. I don't feel them. It's like they're willing to let the planet have us. But..." She passed the range finders over her shoulder at him. "...There it is."

It was visible to him without them, a bright patch in the sunlit sky, like a huge comet, tail and all. The Star Forge. So close, and so desperately far away. He took the binocs, sighting in on it. Yes, there it was. But his attention was more useful when locked on what rested behind him, the Hammerhead in the shallows. He turned the lenses towards it. It looked good. Almost intact, what had looked like damage now proved to be animal and plant contamination.

"Do you know what she is?" He asked. How had she made it all of the way out here? She had to have come with Revan...with Malak. She hadn't been here long. She was definitely a Hammerhead, the same as Endar Spire.

"That's Testament. Our first flagship. I don't remember why she's down, but she obviously is."

"She looks good. Salvageable." And if she was salvageable, then there was probably enough on her to repair the Hawk. She should have a bay filled with what he needed.

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