Solaris Seethes (Solaris Saga book 1)

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Chapter 16: Pirates!

Laughter spilled from the mess hall (a simple area with a long counter that lined one side with a hot plate, microwave oven, and polished, steel cabinets, and an aluminum table on the opposite side) amidst the clinking of forks as everyone gathered for supper, a meal consisting of rehydrated protein and vegetables—none of which tasted savory—and filtrated water. Rynah paused in the shadows of the doorway. She remarked at how they were worlds apart, yet managed to get along as though they had always known each other. Sorrow filled her as she remembered her friends and the times they had shared. She wiped away the tear that had dropped from the corner of her eye.

Tom handed a bowl of slop to Brie. “Bon Apétit, my lady.” He sat down with his own. “I hear you two are training to be Vikings. I should join you. I am big and strong and” —Tom glanced at the sour expression on Alfric’s face— “though maybe I won’t since I value my life.”

Brie and Solon chuckled.

Knowing she could not remain hidden, Rynah entered the eating area and filled a bowl before joining them at the table. “Might I join you?”

“Certainly,” beamed Tom, getting her a chair. “It’s not often you choose to join us for a meal.”

“I thought I might try to get to know you all a bit better,” said Rynah.

“Well, what do you want to know?” said Tom, pleased to have another person to talk to. “I am an open book.”

“What do you do back home?” asked Rynah.

“I live in Georgia,” said Tom, “with my grandma. My parents died a few years ago.”

“No siblings?”

“No,” said Tom. “I had a sister, but she died at birth.”

“Sorry,” said Rynah.

“Anyway, my grandmother noticed that I had a knack for putting things together, so she got me into the Science Academy,” said Tom. “I was actually giving a presentation to the academy heads when I was unexpectedly called away.”

“What was your presentation on?” asked Rynah.

“I had made this engine that is powered by magnets and utilizes the earth’s magnetic field to run, thus having no need for solar panels or fossil fuels. It is self-sustaining and efficient. Though I haven’t worked out all of the kinks.”

“Could such an engine work?” asked Rynah. “I mean no disrespect, it’s just we had no such thing back home.”

“It works, but hasn’t been perfected for use on big machinery.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” said Rynah.

“It came with me if you want to see it.”

“Maybe some other time. What about you, Solon? What do you do back home?”

“My father arranged for me to be a scribe,” said Solon. “My brother had joined the infantry, but I was not fit for such service. To avoid being stuck with me forever, I was sent to the king’s library. It is a center of learning as well.”

“Do you not like it?” Rynah had detected a note of distaste in Solon’s voice.

“No, it’s not that, it’s just… I would much rather be outside with the animals and the trees. I want to learn about life and experience it, not record someone else’s in a scroll.”

“Maybe you can,” said Brie.

“How?”

“You are here and the only one from your society who is. Perhaps you can bring them back a tale of adventure or some kind of new outlook on life.”

“You have a bit of wisdom in you,” said Solon.

Rynah chewed her food methodically as she watched the interaction between them. Is this what Solaris saw? she thought to herself.

A loud explosion sounded outside the hull of the ship as it pitched forward, sending them and their food flying.

“Pirates!” yelled Solaris over the speakers.

“Pirates?” said Tom. “Like, of the Caribbean?”

Rynah gave Tom a quizzical glance, having no idea of what he referred to, as she dashed out of the eating area and down the grated corridor to the command center.

“How many are there?” she demanded as she jumped into the pilot’s seat and put the headset on, which linked her telepathically to Solaris.

“I counted four ships,” said Solaris.

Their elliptical ships moved in from all sides, cutting of any chance of escape.

Four! Cursing, Rynah wondered if they would ever be able to outrun them, much less overpower them. She took the controls in her hands and banked to the right, dropping low, before zooming upwards to avoid one of the pirate ships. A missile headed straight for them. Rynah thought about slowing down, thus coming to an abrupt halt, forcing the missile to shoot past them and crash into one of the pirate ships. She gunned the engines and sailed through space, hoping to put what distance she could between them and the pirates.

Tom appeared on the flight deck. “What can I do to help?”

“Put this on” —Rynah handed him another headset— “and get in that chair.”

Tom put on the helmet and sat in the co-pilot’s seat.

“Are you aware of my thoughts?”

“Yes,” said Tom, remembering that Rynah had told him the helmet not only linked him telepathically to the ship, but to anyone wearing the other helmet as well.

“Remember,” said Rynah, “just think it and it will happen.”

The ship jerked as an explosion rippled through it.

On screen, Rynah thought. The holographic screen flickered to life, depicting three remaining pirate ships still in pursuit. A red dot appeared on the screen. It stretched from the pirates to them and Rynah knew it was another missile.

“Hang on!” she yelled into the intercom.

With their thoughts as one, Tom and Rynah barrel-rolled to the left, moving out of range of their enemy’s targeting systems. In another part of the ship, Brie, Solon, and Alfric rolled across the floor as momentum knocked them around like bouncing balls. The ship righted itself.

“They’re still hot on our tail,” said Tom.

“I have scanned their trajectory,” said Solaris. “These are the Fragmyr Pirates.”

“Sritor,” cursed Rynah in her own language. “Of all the pirates to run into.”

“Who are they?” asked Tom.

“Our worst nightmare,” replied Rynah. “Once they pick a target, they follow it until they have either conquered it, or destroyed it, or both.”

“Can we outrun them?”

“There is no outrunning them,” said Rynah.

Tom thought of various ways to deal with the situation at hand; each thought ran through Rynah’s mind as well in their telepathic connection.

No good, she thought. None of these will ever work. We can’t outrun them.

“But you can outthink them,” said Solaris.

A blast ricocheted off the hull of their ship, propelling them sideways until Rynah straightened them out.

Solaris, said Tom, telepathically, is there a place where we could lose them? Anything that is like a maze or full of places to hide?

There is an asteroid field about three parsecs from here.

Show me, said Tom.

A map appeared on the screen before them.

This is suicide, said Rynah, catching onto Tom’s plans.

So is staying here.

Solaris, set a course, said Rynah. I hope you know what you’re doing, she told Tom.

So do I, Tom replied.

Another missile detonated just above the bow of their ship, ripping holes into the outer hull and causing air leaks. Bits of ceiling and wiring fell on top of Rynah and Tom. Coughing, they shoved it off them as sparks zapped above their heads.

That was close, Rynah said to Tom through the telepathic link.

Linked together, they commanded Solaris to maximize her engines’ output, propelling them through the empty reaches of space and straight for the asteroid field. One of the pirate ships pulled up alongside, matching their speed. It shot a giant grappling hook at Solaris, slamming into her with a loud thunk, but it bounced off.

“What was that?” asked Tom.

“Grappling hooks,” hissed Rynah. “They’re trying to latch onto us.”

She veered the ship to the right until it slammed into the pirate vessel, forcing it off course. A series of squeals and scrapes against the left, outer hull filled their ears as metal raked against metal until they had broken free. Another of the pirates pulled up alongside. Looking out the window, Rynah watched as one of the pirates stood in the open hatch with a spacesuit on, aiming his spear gun at them. She glanced to her right and noticed another ship doing the same. Realizing that they meant to set a net, she issued commands to Solaris.

“My bottom thrusters?” questioned Solaris. “Are you crazy?”

“Just do it!”

Solaris powered her bottom thrusters just as both pirates fired their spears. With a jolt, the ship shot upwards in a vertical streak, forcing both Rynah and Tom deeper into their seats as though an anvil had been dropped on them. The pirates’ spears hooked into each other’s ships, forcing them to whip around in circles, entangling themselves further until they crashed in a fiery inferno.

“Yes!” shouted Tom with glee. He received a piercing stare from Rynah. “Sorry, got lost in the moment.”

“The asteroid field is straight ahead.”

They raced through the blackness of space straight for the giant boulder ahead of them. Two pirate ships dropped out of hyperspeed beside them.

“I thought there were only four,” yelled Tom.

“Apparently they have more,” replied Rynah. Solaris, set a course across the lead’s bow.

The ship banked as Solaris adjusted her course to Rynah’s command.

“Rynah?” said Tom as he watched the pirate vessel get closer while they moved in a diagonal towards it.

I know what I’m doing.

Tom wasn’t so sure. Fire illuminated outside the command center’s window as another missile exploded beside them. The pirate ship drew nearer.

Rynah?

Rynah ignored him. Punch it, Solaris.

Solaris rerouted all power to her engines, accelerating them to a speed almost impossible to control.

Wide-eyed, Tom watched as not only the pirate ship grew larger in the windshield, but so did the giant asteroid beyond it. Rynah, this is insane.

Rynah focused on the rocks ahead of her. Her stoic face betrayed no emotion, least of all fear.

Tom gripped the controls more tightly with his sweaty palms. He glanced at Rynah and her statue-like posture before averting his eyes back to the pirate vessel and asteroids directly in front of them.

When I tell you to, Rynah spoke telepathically to Tom, yank the controls to the left and then immediately to the right.

Understood. Tom still wondered about her plan, but realized now was not the time to argue.

They picked up speed. The other pirate ship followed behind, unaware of the collision course Rynah had in mind.

NOW!

Tom yanked the controls to the left, as Rynah had instructed. They just missed the ship in front of them. A roar resonated throughout the ship as the vessel that had pursued behind them crashed into the other pirate ship. Fire and metallic debris pelted—Pip! Pip! Pip!—the side of Solaris’ hull, leaving dents and scratches (which vexed her immensely) in what had been unsoiled, varnished, copper cladding. As instructed, Tom veered to the right, dodging the asteroid his first course correction had taken them towards.

A space rock next to them erupted into billions of pieces as a missile hurled into it. Tom steered the ship away before putting them back on course. Another asteroid exploded beside them.

“They never give up, do they?”

No, said Solaris.

How many are there? asked Tom, I thought they had only four ships.

There are hundreds of pirates, replied Rynah. She course corrected and avoided colliding with another asteroid that had strayed into their path.

A beeping noise filled their ears. Rynah checked it just as they started to slow down. One of the power generators has been hit, said Rynah. I need to repair it if we’re ever going to outrun them. She threw off her helmet. “Tom, you have the bridge. Stay inside the asteroid field, but try not to hit anything.”

“No problem,” said Tom through gritted teeth as he steered around another piece of space rock.

“Alfric,” Rynah called into the intercom, “meet me in the cargo bay!” She darted out of the command center and down the metallic steps to the hallway. Her heart pumping, Rynah raced through the interior of Solaris to the cargo bay where the suits were, her boots releasing an echoing thump with each step.

She reached a corner. Skidding to a halt as she slowed, Rynah grasped a pole and whipped herself around the turn. Stairs lay just ahead. Refusing to slow down, she gripped the metal rail and placed the sides of her feet against them as she slid to the bottom. She spotted Brie and Solon.

“You two,” she said, “go up those steps and to the right. Strap yourself in the seat and fire at the pirates.”

“But…” began Brie.

“Just do it!” Rynah shoved the both of them away as she turned and ran for the cargo bay. The ship lurched, sending her flying. Debris crashed around her, cutting off her path to the cargo bay. Searching for an alternative route, she spotted a pole. Rynah studied it. Steam burst from a pipe, almost catching her in the face with its fury.

“You’re not taking my ship,” whispered Rynah to herself.

With long strides, she hurled herself at the pole, wrapping her hands and legs around it. Air rushed her, whipping her emerald hair as she slid down it to the bottom until she landed with a loud plunk! An ear-splitting explosion rocked the vessel, propelling Rynah forward. She careened down the ship as the gravity field shifted. A loose cable caught her attention. Throwing her hands out, Rynah grasped it, pulling herself to a gut-wrenching stop. Straining, she heaved herself upward toward the cargo bay door. Sparks zapped around her. Ignoring her strained muscles, Rynah climbed up the cable.

Suddenly, her center of gravity shifted again as the ship regained its normal gravity field. Knowing that she didn’t need the loose cable anymore, Rynah dashed through the doors to the cargo bay where Alfric waited for her.

“Suit up,” Rynah said, releasing the spacesuits from their prison in the storage locker.

Once she had her protective suit on, Rynah jabbed the button to the door, sealing the room and releasing the pressurized air. She snatched a line. She hooked one end to Alfric, snapping it into place and the other onto a hoop on the ship. With another line, she tied the two of them together. Another button opened the door, revealing the chaos that reigned outside. Laser fire pelted past them, striking the outer hull and sending a series of fireworks into the vacuum atmosphere. Rynah poked her head out.

“All right,” she said. “You stay here and hold onto this line while I step out.”

“I do not like this plan,” said Alfric.

Rynah didn’t either, but she knew what she had to do. “I have to repair the power generator, and that can only be done on the outside. Just don’t let go of this line.”

In response, Alfric gripped the rubbery rope, giving her a stern, but resolute expression. “On my honor.”

Rynah reached out, grasping one of the rungs on the side of the ship. Lunging, she reached with her other hand and placed her feet on the rungs below her. She reached up and grabbed the rung above her. She pushed with her legs and pulled with her arms as she climbed the outer hull of the ship.

A pirate vessel soared past her just as another missile exploded nearby. Rynah glanced at Alfric, who remained in the doorway with a firm grip on the cable. She climbed upward, observing the battle (ships firing lasers, fiery explosions, and many near misses) that raged around her. This is a really bad idea. Pushing such thoughts from her mind, Rynah continued, wrapping her gloved fingers around another of the metal rungs.

She reached the top of the ship. Her breath fogged the visor of her helmet, making it difficult to see, since with each movement, she sweated even more. A bead of sweat trickled down her face. Ignoring it, Rynah pushed herself onward as she climbed the side of a ship, dodging and weaving among a sea of pirates and weapons’ fire.

“Alfric,” said Rynah, “I’ve reached the generator. Hold the line steady.”

“Understood,” came Alfric’s deep voice into her ear.

With a shorter cable, Rynah secured herself to the top of the ship. She punched in the code to open the access panel. It blinked green, but refused to open when Rynah pulled on it. She yanked again, using all of her strength, but it was sealed tight.

“Come on!” she yelled.

Realizing she would never get it open, Rynah pulled out a hammer from around her tool belt. She hated the idea of breaking the panel. With little choice, she raised the hammer and smashed it against the metal plating. Rynah struck it again and again. With each strike, a dent appeared until the plate popped out of its hold and floated away.

Rynah studied the generator. Sparks popped from a loose wire that had been severed. Rynah frowned. She’d have to repair it with a quick fix. She pulled out more items from her utility belt. A laser pulse slammed into the ship next to her, leaving a blackened scorch mark on Solaris’ outer hull. Rynah ducked her head, covering herself from the blast. She looked around. One of the pirate ships lined up in front of Solaris. It sped past, soaring above her as it released a storm of laser fire, pounding the ship. Rynah flattened herself on the metal siding. Each strike sent a ring into her ears as they battered the ship. Once over, Rynah checked herself, making certain she wasn’t hurt.

She turned back to the power generator. With a set of wire cutters, she cut the damaged wire away and let it loose into space. Rynah pulled some fresh wire from her belt. She measured the length needed and cut it to fit. Wishing she didn’t have to do this with the suit on—threading wire is much easier when you can feel it with your fingers—she attached it to the conduit. Once the connection had been made, Rynah lifted a lever and turned a switch.

“Solaris,” she called, “try it now.”

The generator hummed to life as it turned back on, sending a flood of electrical power through its wires to the inner working of the engines.

“Systems restored,” said Solaris. “You have done it.”

Rynah unhooked the short line she had used to tether herself to the ship. She maneuvered her way back to the rungs and climbed down to where Alfric stood, her lifeline in his hands. She felt with her feet as best she could as she navigated her way back. A ship sailed past her again. Rynah felt that they taunted her, but she refused to dwell on it; her mind focused on getting back inside the ship.

A tremendous jolt flung the ship sideways, causing Rynah to lose her grip on the rungs and somersault forward. She crashed into the side of Solaris, knocking the air out of her lungs. Dazed, she failed to react as her line jerked, flinging her away from the ship and into the blackness of space. Rynah clung to her line.

Back within the cargo hold, Alfric braced his feet against the floor and held tightly to the cable and the only thing keeping Rynah from being lost forever. Another missile exploded beside the ship, jerking him off balance. Alfric rolled across the floor, releasing his grip on the line.

Outside the ship, Rynah felt her lifeline slacken. Oh no! She flew away from the ship. “Alfric!” she called.

Coming to a halt, Alfric noticed the cable unraveling as it disappeared. A Viking who prided himself on his honor, he refused to fail in his word to Rynah. He dove for the cord. Desperate, he grasped it and wrapped it around his hands. Alfric stood to his full height, his powerful muscles straining as he held the cable. Hand over hand, he reeled it in. Another plume of laser fire assailed the ship. Alfric refused to duck for cover as it struck the floor beside his feet, singeing his boots. Concentrating only on Rynah, Alfric continued to pull on the cable.

Heaving, Rynah watched as the cargo door neared at an agonizingly slow pace. More explosions roared around her as ships whizzed past, and Tom, with an adroit skill he didn’t think he possessed, steered them clear of collision. She watched, helpless, as each movement waved her like a ragdoll. Rynah felt like a fish on a hook, a feeling she detested. The door neared.

Though tiring, Alfric refused to slow his efforts. He worked faster. Rynah’s life depended on it. With each passing second, the cord coiled at his feet. He shifted for a better stance. The ship lurched again, but Alfric maintained his balance. When Rynah was within arm’s reach, Alfric stretched out his hand, allowing Rynah to latch onto his arm with a viselike grip. He yanked her inside to the safety of the cargo hold. They laid still for a moment to catch their breath.

Another onslaught of laser fire from the pirates forced Rynah back to the present, and the fact that they were not far from danger. She dived for the control to close the cargo doors and pressed it. The doors slid shut and sealed, thus repressurizing the room.

Rynah pulled off her helmet. “Thank you,” she said to Alfric. “I guess I owe you one.”

“You owe me nothing,” said Alfric. “I gave my word and kept it.”

Rynah didn’t know if that was a compliment or not. She patted the Viking’s shoulder in gratitude before scrambling out of the suit and darting out of the cargo bay.

Brie and Solon followed Rynah’s instructions and hiked up the steps two at a time until they reached the top level. Turning right, they dashed down the narrow hallway, which ended in a room that was right above the command center. Brie paused in the doorway. Models of two guns, which poked out of that side of the ship, the size of her, lay in there with a chair behind each. This is asking too much, she thought. I never killed anything before. She crept to one of the weapons, feeling numb as she touched it.

“Is this what she wanted?” Brie asked.

“I believe so,” replied Solon as he situated himself in one of the chairs.

“What are you doing?” asked Brie.

“What Rynah asked me to,” said Solon.

“But you don’t know how to use one of these.”

“Then I will learn.”

Solon noticed a helmet next to his chair. He snatched it and put it on, his mind connecting with the ship’s, and with Tom’s. “It appears to be thought controlled,” he said.

Solon? came Tom’s voice in his mind.

Yes.

How did you get into my head?

I am in a room with two weapons, where Rynah instructed me to go.

Oh. I guess aim and fire at the pirates.

Unsure of herself, Brie settled into the other chair after watching Solon communicate telepathically with Tom, not that she knew he spoke to him. She found a similar helmet and placed it over her head.

Hello?

Brie! said Tom in her mind. Can you show Solon how to use those guns?

I’ll try, answered Brie, amazed that the helmets linked their minds.

She searched the controls around the guns. A red switch looked promising. Brie flipped it. The gun whirred to life and moved, following the various ships that soared past the protruding window. A transparent holographic view screen popped up with red crosshairs. Having played a few video games at a friend’s house, Brie knew what the crosshairs meant. She found the trigger on the weapon and accidentally pulled it. An ear-splitting pop and a yellow burst of light escaped from the barrel of the gun. Stunned, Brie sat statuesque for a moment before regaining her senses.

Solon, flip that switch, she said.

Solon did as instructed. Like Brie’s weapon, his whirred to life and swerved, following the various flying objects outside the window. Soon another transparent, holographic screen appeared, but in front of him, with red crosshairs.

Okay, Brie said to him, through the link, this is like a video game in how it works. Line the crosshairs up with the target you intend to fire at. Pull the trigger—it’s that thing there—and the gun will fire.

Solon nodded. He understood some of what she had said, but not all of it, and decided he would just learn as he went.

Tom, Brie said, you’ll have to help us. Tell us who to fire at.

At the pirates!

Brie frowned. She had already figured that part out. “Here goes,” she said out loud.

One of the pirate ships turned in their direction. It lined them up in its sights. Brie knew what was coming. Doing her best to push her fear away, she told herself it was only a video game, and the more ships she hit, the more points. She lined the crosshairs over the pirate vessel. Brie pulled the trigger. The laser gun recoiled as it shot a burst of laser fire at the ship. Brie watched wide-eyed as it struck the target and caused it to burst into a pile of flames and shattered debris.

Good shot! came Tom’s voice in her head.

Brie didn’t think there was anything good about it, as now everyone on board was dead.

Reading her emotions, Solon turned to her. “Self-defense is never murder,” he said out loud to her so Tom wouldn’t be privy to it. “Those pirates mean to harm us. We have two choices, surrender or fight back.”

Brie bit her lower lip. She knew he was correct, and she had no intention of becoming a pirate slave. Light flashed in front of her as another missile detonated. Continuing to rein in her fear by telling herself this was a video game, Brie lined up another ship in her sights.

Always let your breath out before you fire, her father’s instructions from long ago echoed in her head. Before he died, he had taken her out in the desert and taught her how to handle a gun. “One day, you will be grown up and on your own, and you may need to defend yourself from a predator.”

“What predators?” she had asked him.

Her father never answered, but he knew what dangers the world held.

Brie pushed her painful memories away and concentrated only on the moment. She released the breath she had held in her lungs and pulled the trigger. Again, laser bursts spilled from the barrel and plowed into her target. She watched as the second pirate ship she had fired upon was destroyed.

You’re a natural, Brie, encouraged Tom.

Brie ignored him. She only wanted to survive this onslaught.

Look out!

The craft rolled to the right just as a pirate ship in flames careened towards them, almost striking them. Tom straightened out the ship and continued through the asteroid field.

Solon noticed another pirate vessel heading straight for them. He lined up the crosshairs like Brie had told him to and squeezed the trigger between his fingers. The laser fire hit the rear of the pirate ship, causing it to dive into a passing asteroid and burst into a plume of smoke.

Nice, said Tom in their minds.

Rynah hurried up the steps to the command center. “Report,” she said.

Tom turned around. “Brie and Solon are in the weapons array like you asked. So far they have disabled three of their ships.”

“Really?” Rynah’s surprise did not go unnoticed. She hadn’t expected Brie to embrace the use of the laser guns. “Solaris, are you still with us?”

“Yes,” replied Solaris. “The power generator you repaired seems to be working fine.”

Rynah jumped into the main pilot seat and put the helmet on.

“They don’t seem to be letting up,” said Tom as he steered them away from an impending asteroid. The bottom of the ship scraped the space rock, much to Solaris’ disgust.

“I have an idea,” said Solaris.

“What is it?” asked Rynah.

“Play dead.”

“What?”

“Play dead,” Solaris said again. “These pirates will not give up until they have captured us, or think we are dead.”

“She has a point,” said Tom.

Rynah thought about it a moment. Brie, meet me in the weapons bay. Rynah threw off the helmet. “Alfric,” she said over the intercom, “go to the weapons bay.” She turned to Tom. “Find an asteroid big enough for us to hide in. When you do, let me know.” Rynah dashed out of the room and down the steps.

“Right,” said Tom to himself. “Find a place to hide in all this. That should be easy.”

Down in the weapons bay, both Alfric and Brie waited for Rynah. She ran in out of breath. “Open the hatch to that tube,” she said to Alfric.

He obeyed. His sinewy muscles demonstrated every ounce of his strength as he twisted the handle and opened the hatch.

“Brie, help me load stuff into the tube,” Rynah said.

“What stuff?” asked Brie, confused about Rynah’s plan.

“Anything that looks like junk around here. I want you to load it in that empty tube. When finished, we’ll fire it and hope the pirates believe we’ve crashed.”

Catching onto her plan, Brie went to the far end of the weapons bay and grabbed anything she could hold onto. She dragged it to the tube and handed it to Alfric to stuff in there. With diligence, they worked, finding anything they could, anything that could be lost.

Rynah came upon a broken table. This might have been used as a storage area at one point. “Brie, over here.”

Brie ran to Rynah. They each took an end of the table and lifted it, carrying it over to the torpedo tube.

“We need to break this up so it will fit.”

In answer, Alfric unsheathed his sword and hacked away at the wooden table. Splinters flew from it with each strike. The dull roar of another detonated missile warned them that time grew short. They flung the pieces of the shattered table into the torpedo tube.

“Close it up,” said Rynah.

Together, they shut the hatch and Alfric sealed it, twisting the circular handle until it wouldn’t budge.

“Tom, we’re loaded,” Rynah spoke into the intercom.

In the command center, Tom concentrated on avoiding the floating asteroids and numerous pirate ships. He pushed the controls down to avoid a ship that almost collided with them. Tom jerked the controls to the left and upward avoiding two asteroids.

He spotted something. Solaris, is that a cave over there?

Solaris ran her scanners. Yes.

Formulating a plan, Tom knew what to do. Solon, target that dark spot on the asteroid ahead of us. When I say, fire.

Got it.

Tom steered the ship dangerously close to the asteroid. He veered upward, twisted, and dove for the dark spot on the space rock.

NOW!

A hailstorm of laser fire erupted from Solaris’ guns as Solon opened fire on the spot Tom had indicated. Bracing himself, Tom hoped he had learned enough about flying in the short time he had been on the ship to succeed in his plan. Solon’s assault on the asteroid sent giant bits of rock flying in every direction.

“Now, Rynah!” Tom yelled into the intercom.

The ship burst through the falling debris and into the cave beyond, smashing into stalactites and shards of ice. He slammed the brakes—so to speak, because all he had to do was think it—and brought the ship to a screeching halt. Solaris, turn us around.

The controls worked themselves as Solaris read Tom’s mind. She made a 360-degree turn until the front end faced the opening of the cave. Tom watched as the debris that Rynah had fired from the torpedo tube sailed outward and floated up to where the pirate ships circled above. One crashed into the wall of the asteroid near the cave opening.

“Perfect,” Tom said to himself.

When Tom had issued the orders, Rynah slammed the heel of her hand into the button that released the contents of the tube. A whoosh sound filled the area as the contents were thrust from the tube and out into space.

The ship jarred as Tom steered them into the cave. Forced off their feet, all three careened down the weapons bay, sliding across the slick, metal floor. Rynah caught hold of a rail. Alfric managed the same. Poor Brie was not so lucky. She screamed as she headed straight for a wall at a dangerous speed. Alfric dove for her. His massive size propelled him past Brie where he turned around and snatched her in his arms, before they hit the wall with a sickening crunch.

“Alfric! Brie!” Rynah watched them, worried when they didn’t move right away.

“We’re okay,” coughed Brie. “Alfric?”

“I am well,” he said. Even though he had taken the brunt of the impact, Alfric remained uninjured.

The ship came to a halt. All had stilled. The three of them waited in anticipation, not wanting to make a sound for fear that the pirates would hear them on their radar.

Tom stiffened his muscles so as to remain still. He watched the beam of light from a passing pirate ship go past the opening of the cave. Amid the smoke and debris, he hoped that they wouldn’t be noticed.

Another pirate ship flew by. It turned around and came back, hovering before the cave entrance. The searchlight flickered, sending its ray into the depths of the cave. Tom held his breath as the light drew near. Agonizing seconds ticked by as the ship sent its light as far into the dark cave as possible before—it turned off. Left in complete darkness, Tom watched as the pirates flew away, leaving them alone and presumed dead.

Tom exhaled, letting go of the air he had withheld in his lungs. After a few more minutes passed, he chanced speaking. “Solaris?”

“My scanners indicate that the pirates have left. We are safe, for the moment.”

“Rynah, we’re clear,” Tom said over the intercom.

Rynah relaxed her tense muscles when Tom delivered the news. Reverting back to her usual commanding manner, Rynah turned to Alfric and Brie. “Suit up. We need to make some repairs, and I’m afraid it involves going for a walk.”

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